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October 18, 2013

How to retain a vibrant magistracy?

John Fassenfelt, outgoing Chairman of the Magistrates’ Association, has inspired the setting up of an all party parliamentary group on the magistracy.  This is quite a brave move since magistrates have been under pressure to be seen and not heard. In his speech John said “Some recent events have come about when magistrates have been discouraged locally from I was also shocked by the case of the Manchester magistrate who was reprimanded for warning an offender against following the road of her drug addicted brother.  She was reprimanded partly because of what she said in court, partly because she also spoke to the press.  I understand the theory of judicial independence, but feel the practice has got a bit rigid.  In the courtroom, judges and magistrates need to make decisions based purely on the evidence.  But speaking out to the press or to parliament about the system is different, as is a personal story about how it’s a bad idea to get addicted to drugs.  None of these compromise the decision in court.  Since magistrates were deprived of power and influence over the management of their local courts, one of the few ways they can influence the system is by speaking out.  If they were given more power over recruitment, training, expenses and so on, they might not feel the need to bend the ears of journalists and politicians.