As members of the MA may be aware, three areas have been identified by Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) to see the gradual roll out of direct recruitment to the family magistracy – Greater London, Birmingham and Greater Manchester. This follows a data collection exercise which suggested there would be an insufficient number of family sittings to meet the needs of a number of areas, including those selected for the initial stage of the roll-out. Directly recruited family magistrates would not have sat as magistrates in the adult criminal court, but instead be recruited and trained to sit only in the family court.
The MA have flagged our concerns about the pace at which these changes are being introduced. Members of the MA Policy Team and Family Courts Committee have been involved with the HMCTS working group on this issue from the outset. Early in the process, the MA submitted a short paper to the group highlighting the need for well-considered responses to an evidenced need.
As it became clear that direct recruitment would be introduced with some immediacy, Malcolm Richardson (Chair of the MA) sent a letter directly to both the Senior Presiding Judge and President of the Family Division outlining the MA’s concerns about the speed at which HMCTS wishes to introduce direct recruitment. This was followed by a meeting with the President of the Family Division. The MA also outlined their concerns to Susan Acland-Hood, Chief Executive of HMCTS.
Some of the issues that the working group are still looking to resolve include recruitment methods, eligibility criteria for directly-recruited family magistrates, observations in the family court, training needs, requirements for minimum sittings and the impact on diversity, swapping between jurisdictions and the process for this and the lack of scrutiny, oversight and evaluation . The MA has been clear that communications to the existing magistracy are vitally important to ensure confidence in the proposed process.
Whilst the MA will continue to outline their concerns, we also have an important role in scrutinising and providing feedback on the gradual roll out process as it unfolds. The MA will continue to work with HMCTS, the Judicial College and National Bench Chairmen Forum to ensure magistrates are fully informed of the changes and that direct-recruited family magistrates are appropriately trained and ready to take on the challenges of sitting in the family court.