The system of administration of justice by lay magistrates is more than 650 years old but it was not until 1920 that it was proposed to establish an association of magistrates.
The idea came from Alderman Wilkins, a magistrate for Derby, and at the invitation of the Lord Mayor of London about 200 magistrates met at the Guildhall in the City of London, which resulted in the first meeting of the Magistrates’ Association at Central Hall, Westminster on 28 October 1921, at which Viscount Haldane was elected the first President.
Although in its early years the MA’s membership was fairly small, it included amongst its members some very illustrious justices. The legendary Margery Fry, who was one of the first women to be appointed a justice in her own right in 1921, was a driving force in the MA.
The MA encouraged its members to undertake basic training immediately after appointment and to keep up with changes in law and procedure. It was not until 1949, when the Royal Commission drew attention to the subject, that the real importance of training was recognised by the government. Most of the Commission’s recommendations regarding training were implemented in the Justice of the Peace Act 1949, which provided that the magistrates’ courts committees should make and administer schemes of instruction in accordance with arrangements made by the Lord Chancellor.
At its inaugural meeting in 1921 the MA had around 500 members. By its Silver Jubilee in 1945 it had 5,288 members and 16,354 at its fiftieth Anniversary in 1970. In 2001, the MA’s membership was over 28,000 of which over 26,000 are active (ie serving) magistrates.
Today, the MA continues to represent the vast majority of magistrates in England and Wales, both active and retired.