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January 24, 2014

Is there a better process for recruiting magistrates?

The magistrate recruitment process takes longer than any recruitment process I’ve ever heard of. Two years from start to finish is not uncommon. Most areas are only opening up recruitment once every two years. So that involves a potential wait of four years, even for the few successful ones. You have to be pretty persistent to wait this long, and many good candidates may find “replacement” volunteering opportunities in the meantime. This is a long term problem – it took aeons when I applied for the magistracy in 2002. Magistrate recruitment could never be done super quick. Each person’s references and criminal records do need checking. But even for high security jobs, similar checks are done in days, not months. Maybe the process needs reform? maybe we need to reform the whole system? Advisory Committees interview and select magistrates, while the administration is done by HMCTS staff. Local Advisory Committees were set up in the days when recruitment involved a tap on the shoulder and a conversation over sherry. Magistrates and some lay people sit on each Committee, themselves selected through an open process. And each Committee is chaired by the local Lord Lieutenant. It is definitely not the fault of advisory committee members that the recruitment process takes so long. An expert needs to do an audit of the process to see if it could be done more efficiently. But I am concerned about several aspects of the Advisory Committee system. I wonder how diverse are the Committee members? Lets see a breakdown on every dimension. Also when fewer than 500 magistrates are recruited each year, is it efficient to run over 50 completely separate institutions to support the process? All paid judiciary (apart from a few very senior appointments) are recruited through the Judicial Appointments Commission, an independent body set up in 2006 to make the process fairer and more open. I am all for the involvement of magistrates themselves in recruiting magistrates, but wonder whether the JAC could provide the framework – for instance they would have the resources to scrutinise every application, rather than just the first to apply. Consideration of the JAC taking over is one of the recommendations in my new report.