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Is magistrates’ training fit for purpose?

Penelope Gibbs
01 Jan 2015

Spend on magistrates’ training has gone down from £110 per magistrate in 2008/9, to £26 per magistrate in 2013/14.  Ministry of Justice  cuts have affected all services but this seems particularly savage.  Magistrates complain that very few courses are offered to them, and that it is very hard to get travel expenses paid for “unofficial” training. Transform Justice’s latest report looks at magistrates’ training and development and whether it meets the needs of magistrates themselves, and of those who use the court – offenders, advocates and witnesses.  The picture is not good, particularly from those who interact with magistrates.  They want magistrates to have a much deeper knowledge of what works in terms of rehabilitation, of the particular needs of children, young adults, women, those with mental health issues and drug addicted offenders (to name just some) and of the reality of imprisonment today.  Magistrates are not satisfied either.  One said  “As someone who has been involved in education all her life I am truly shocked by the lack of professional training in what should be a professional role… I believe constructive and worth-while training to be essential for the bench to keep up to date with not only developments in Law, but in changing society too”.  While this magistrate wanted better training, there is very little training that magistrates’ can’t avoid if they want to.  They have to do a three day induction course before starting to sit, and another induction to become a chair, but there is no other training which is actually compulsory, so they can sit year after year without even going to courses on new legislation.  Meanwhile keen magistrates find it hard to go on any courses beyond those on new legislation.  If say, a magistrate wants to go on a course on domestic violence, and this is not offered in the local area (which it probably isn’t) they won’t get the specialist training in domestic violence they need.  If they do find a course in the community, they will have to attend it in their own time, and at their own cost.