Every day, the Magistrates’ Association advocates on behalf of its members. Our national officers, together with our five policy committees and supported by our small staff team, cover a wide range of issues that matter most to our members and represent the organisation on external bodies. Since our last advocacy update in May, we have worked on the following five issues:
1. Community sentences
In May, our Chief Executive, Tom Franklin, gave evidence to the House of Lords, outlining the Magistrates’ Association’s perspective on the use, availability, and effectiveness of community sentences.
Our evidence was informed by a survey of nearly 500 members and emphasised the importance of workable and widely and reliably available community alternatives that magistrates have confidence in.
2. Mandatory mediation
The following month, we responded to Ministry of Justice (MOJ) and Family Procedure Rules Committee consultations on mandatory mediation. These highlighted our support for efforts to reduce the strain of private law cases in the family court through a robust approach to mediation for those who can and should avoid court. In particular, we supported the proposal for mandatory ‘reasonable attempt’ at mediation, combined with parenting programmes before any private law application.
Read our full responses to find out about our other calls for improvement in the family court, including better information provision for separating parents.
3. Transforming court-ordered compensation
In June, we also submitted a proposed amendment to the Victims and Prisoners Bill calling for the establishment of a ‘Central Victims Fund’ to spare victims the often prolonged distress that is caused by the current system of intermittent reparative payments. We believe that if victims receive their court-ordered compensation upfront, re-traumatization can be avoided.
We will continue to advocate for this crucial change and monitor the passage of the Bill through Parliament.
4. Relationship building
In the same month, our National Chair, Mark Beattie JP, and our Chief Executive, Tom Franklin, met the newly appointed Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Alex Chalk KC MP, and the Minister for Courts, Mike Freer MP. They discussed our reports on accessibility and magistrates’ expenses, securing an advocacy win on the latter (see below).
Following the meeting, we provided the ministers more information on the difficulties faced by disabled magistrates. We will continue to work with key decision makers on accessibility.
In July, we issued a media statement welcoming the increase in the number of magistrates and urging the MOJ to investigate the reasons for the lower success rate of applicants from ethnic minority backgrounds compared to that of white applicants.
We have also secured three influencing wins:
Following the publication of our advocacy report on the costs of volunteering as a magistrate, we have been advocating for simplifications to the expenses process. We are pleased to announce that the MOJ has accepted our recommendation to abolish the annual declaration requirement for magistrates claiming expenses, which came into effect at the end of July.
Our ongoing work on magistrates’ expenses was initiated as a result of a member motion at our annual general meeting (AGM). If you have an idea for reform and want to make a similar impact, we encourage you to let us know your ideas for motions for this year’s AGM and conference in November.
2. Out of court disposals
The MOJ has incorporated recommendations made in our advocacy report on out of court disposals (OOCDs) in a proposed Code of Practice, released for consultation this month. The proposals include excluding certain offences, such as knife crime, from being eligible for OOCDs and ensuring appropriate oversight through scrutiny panels, which reflect key concerns raised in our report.
We will respond to the consultation in full, mirroring the views of our members and our research in our response. We will continue to work with the MOJ and the National Police Chiefs Council on our other recommendations. Read our media statement.
3. Sentencing guidelines
We plan to respond to the Council’s upcoming consultation on proposed changes to the imposition guidelines.