HMCTS have published their response to the consultation on Mechanisms and Governance for Overseeing the Recruitment and Conduct of Justice of the Peace. The document sets out final decisions relating to some of the roles of bench chairmen and the structures and processes for advisory committees. Responsibility for pastoral care issues, such as managing sittings and approving periods of leave of absence up to twelve months, remain with bench chairmen; although bench chairmen can refer problems relating to a magistrates' sittings to the advisory committee if they feel it is necessary and must also provide regular reports to the advisory committee on any issues that have arisen. Magistrates may also appeal any decision to refuse leave of absence by going to advisory committees.
The functions of recruitment and conduct matters will now be dealt with by separate committees but, to retain the knowledge gained through dealing with recruitment and HR matters, members of the conduct committees will be selected from recruitment committees. Recruitment will now be through a nationally consistent process: all recruitment committees will be provided with a toolkit which will include interview questions, case studies and guidance on how to use social media and encourage more diverse applications.
There will be 24 recruitment committees, in line with Training, Approvals, Authorisations and Appraisals Committee (TAAAC) areas and seven regional conduct committees. This will ensure a closer connection between recruitment and the local area while allowing conduct matters to be dealt with by more specialised and skilled committees who can more easily maintain their competence. Secretariat support for all the committees will be regional, which will ensure the responsibility lies with one specialist lawyer.
The MA is pleased that some of our recommendation were listened to in relation to this consultation. The MA was clear that oversight of pastoral decisions (especially those with the most serious or permanent repercussions) should remain with advisory committees. We were also very supportive of a national process for all recruitment (including family), with clear guidance to be provided for advisory committees, especially in relation to direct recruitment to family. The MA were very clear that recruitment should not be at a regional level, and proposed the connection to TAAAC areas, if the number of advisory committees was to be reduced. Although we did not feel the functions of advisory committees should be split, we were very clear that if conduct was to be dealt with at a regional or national level then the functions would need to be divided, as functions other than conduct should remain at a local level. We suggested that one national conduct committee would be unworkable, so are pleased the decision is to create regional conduct committees. We also stated that regional advisory committees retaining existing functions would create an unreasonable workload. Although we had hoped secretariat support would be provided at the same level as the different committees, we were clear that the priority was to ensure consistent and specialist support and we can see that this is most easily provided by one named individual with overall responsibility at regional level. The full MA response to the consultation can be found here.