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9 May 2024
Adult court matters Wider justice system

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

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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 February, we have worked on the following three issues in particular.  

1. Chancellor’s Spring Budget statement

In March, we responded to the announcement from the Chancellor on the Spring Budget. While we welcomed the additional money announced for mediation in family courts and for early intervention, we highlighted that the budget statement was, once again, a missed opportunity to properly invest in justice.

Our Chief Executive, Tom Franklin, noted that “all parts of the justice system, from the provision of court legal advisers and probation officers, to the dire state of our court buildings, need considerable new investment if justice is to be served fairly and efficiently.”

The Treasury has previously allocated £220 million across two years for spending on court repairs, maintenance and upgrades. The MA has urged the government to ensure that accessibility is the driving principle behind this spending. This follows on from our report on the inaccessibility of magistrates’ courts which was published in June 2023 and found three quarters of magistrates’ courts are insufficiently accessible.

2. Our new position statement on the Single Justice Procedure

In March, we published our new position statement on the Single Justice Procedure (SJP), with 12 recommendations to improve its operation, transparency and fairness. Although we have been supportive of the principles behind the SJP since its inception, it is clear that the system requires improvement to protect the most vulnerable and ensure that justice is seen to be done.

Based on our recent member survey, our recommendations include:

  • Making it a requirement that prosecutors see all pleas and mitigations prior to cases being heard by the magistrate.
  • Reviewing and improving the training magistrates receive before they sit on SJP cases.
  • Safeguarding the SJP process so that neither magistrates nor legal advisers feel any pressure to process more quickly than they want to.
  • That the government should make provision to boost transparency by publishing more data on the SJP, nationally and broken down by region.

We are pleased that these recommendations are now being considered by the government, and that they stimulated such an important conversation in the media with around 550 pieces of coverage mentioning the MA in the week that we published our new position statement. Read our press release here.

The MA has also secured agreement that the ‘3:1’ procedure for the SJP – where three magistrates work independently with a single legal adviser – would be rolled out on a voluntary basis only for existing magistrates.

3. Imposition guideline: continuing our work

Also in March, the chair of our adult court committee, Val Castell, gave evidence at a parliamentary roundtable hosted by the Commons’ Justice Select Committee in response to the Sentencing Council’s Imposition of community and custodial sentences guideline. This is a continuation of our involvement with the Imposition guideline; the MA responded to the Sentencing Council’s consultation on the subject in February. At that time, we welcomed the proposed guideline and said that the sections addressing specific offender cohorts offered valuable sentencing guidance. However, we also called for comprehensive training to help magistrates navigate the guideline and the need for probation services to be properly resourced and supported to support the guideline’s implementation.

We are pleased to see our recommendations echoed in a letter from the Justice Select Committee to the Chair of the Sentencing Council, following the recent roundtable discussion.

This work is reflective of that done by all five of the MA’s policy committees. We will be recruiting for four of these committees this year. If you fancy helping shape our policy work and the future of the magistracy, stay tuned for more information.