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9 February 2024
Diversity, disparity and inclusion Wider justice system

A round-up of our recent policy and advocacy work.

A hijab-wearing Black woman working on laptop

Every day, the Magistrates’ Association (MA) advocates on behalf of our 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 November, we have worked on the following four issues.

1. Community sentences: House of Lords publishes report

In December, the House of Lords Committee on Justice and Home Affairs published a report on community sentences that drew on the oral evidence and recommendations that our Chief Executive, Tom Franklin gave last year.

Our evidence highlighted the “unique flexibility” of community sentences and magistrates’ broad confidence in them, and was informed by a survey we conducted of 500 members on their experiences. More than half of the respondents (59 per cent) were confident in community sentences, but significant concerns about their availability and lack of data on their effectiveness presented a barrier to their use. We recommended that this be addressed robustly.

The report’s recommendations echo much of our evidence and members’ experiences. It highlights the importance of rigorous and well-funded community sentences as a viable alternative to short prison terms, which is ever more important in the context of pressures on prison capacity. However, the current underuse of community sentences, coupled with a decline in their use over recent years, underscores the urgent need for investment and reform.

We are also using the findings of our survey to engage with HM Prison and Probation Service so that probation is better informed about the experiences of magistrates. The government’s response to the report is due at the end of the month, and we will keep members updated.

The MA has been proactive in addressing the wider issues in prisons, and its impacts on the use of community sentences. In October last year, we published a media statement setting out our position on measures announced by the Lord Chancellor to increase prison capacity. Our statement supported measures to reduce the use of short-term sentences but said that the success of these measures highly depends on the availability of suitable community sentence alternatives and the proper resourcing of the probation service. 

2. Single Justice Procedure: the experience of members

Following recent scrutiny of the Single Justice Procedure (SJP) and the role of magistrates in the process, we surveyed members earlier this month to increase our understanding of the experiences and perceptions of those involved.

The survey, completed by 611 respondents across England and Wales, sheds light on various aspects of the SJP process. We will analyse the survey data to identify issues and raise them with HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS), and the Ministry of Justice and keep you informed of any updates.

We are grateful to all those who filled in our survey. If you did not get a chance to do so or wish to tell us what you would like to see to improve the process, please write to us at

3. Accessibility: continuing our work

Following the publication of our report, ‘Inaccessible Courts: A Barriers to Inclusive Justice,’ in June 2023, we have engaged directly with the chief executive of HMCTS, Nick Goodwin, to express our concerns and advocate for necessary changes.

We have also continued to engage with members to hear about their issues with accessibility. While some disabled magistrates have since reported positive experiences and collaborative efforts by court staff that have helped them continue sitting, others have faced significant challenges. We have heard of instances where personal medical details were requested to support reasonable adjustments, along with intensive assessments and interviews. These have left magistrates feeling undervalued and humiliated.

We are concerned that there may be no guidance issued on how to handle reasonable adjustments and that if there is, it is not being applied consistently. In response to these disparities, we wrote to the chief executive of HMCTS last month regarding:

  • The training, if any, provided for court staff on handling reasonable adjustments
  • The policies governing this for magistrates
  • Concerns about the consistent application of adjustments
  • Procedures for addressing shortcomings
  • What mechanisms there are for monitoring and evaluation.

We will keep members apprised of any reply. As ever, we want to hear about your experiences navigating the support you get to sit as a disabled magistrate, including your experiences—good or bad—of engaging with the reasonable adjustments process. Please let us know your views at

4. Imposition guideline

We are in the process of responding to the Sentencing Council’s consultation on the revised Imposition of community and custodial sentences guideline. The proposals contained in the consultation make several changes, expanding the information and guidance available to magistrates, including when sentencing particular cohorts of offenders.

We were quoted in a BBC article in November, in which we welcomed the review of the Imposition guideline and emphasised its importance in the sentencing process. Please keep your eyes on our website and social media, as well as eNews, for more on our response when it arrives.