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November 17, 2013

Should more ex-offenders be magistrates?

Many ex-offenders are probably already magistrates.  A huge proportion of the male population has been cautioned, fined or convicted in court.  Often for minor crimes committed as teenagers.  The Police and Crime Commissioner elections, when upstanding citizens were barred from standing because they had a criminal record, shows how counterproductive a rigid policy can be.  Fortunately magistrate recruitment is not so rigid.  Any offences have to be declared, including cautions, but only those who have committed serious offences are actually barred from applying.  Somewhere in the inner recesses of the judicial office will be data on how many serving magistrates actually do have a criminal record, but this has never been published. The issue has been re-ignited by Richard Monkhouse, the new Chairman of the Magistrates’ Association. Richard said to the Law Gazette that people who have committed public order offences or common assault should be allowed to apply, and that “they’d bring a bit of reality into the courtroom”.  It was a brave thing to say and I totally agree.  It is crucial that magistrates reflect their community.  Its important that they are honest and have integrity, but these qualities are shared by offenders and ex-offenders. And, as Richard suggested, someone who has been through the system and been punished by it, has a very different perspective.  As it stands, magistrate recruitment is frozen in many areas of the country but, when it opens up, it would be great to have more ethnic minority magistrates, more younger magistrates and more magistrates who are ex -offenders.