Lord Beecham has recently asked some key questions about magistrate numbers. Numbers overall have fallen yet again to only 20,101 – down 1525 since March & down 9740 since 2007. So in only eight years, magistrate numbers have fallen by a third. This is mostly because court work has reduced, but begs the questions – have district judge numbers reduced the same amount, and should ways be introduced to redistribute work from crown courts to magistrates’ courts? Though we don’t have up to date figures on the number of district judges, indications are that total numbers have not reduced much in the same period. We don’t know why DJ numbers have not reduced at the same rate as JPs. There has definitely been a freeze on DJ recruitment for a while, possibly in recognition of this discrepancy.
The struggle to get more work into magistrates’ courts continues. The LibDems have blocked suggestions that magistrates should get greater sentencing powers, but the MA has managed to curb use of out of court disposals. The great change which will reduce the need for lay magistrates still further is the proposal for magistrates to sit alone on “administrative” hearings. This is going through parliament currently, so far, I think, unopposed. But, when enacted, work available for lay magistrates will shrink radically and I think numbers will go below 20,000 in 2016. Recruitment will again be more or less frozen, with devastating consequences for diversity.