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Fit for purpose: do magistrates get the training and development they need?

Penelope Gibbs
19 Dec 2014
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 worthwhile training to be essential for the bench to keep up to date with not only developments in law, but in changing society too
New approaches to training and learning are essential. The Judicial College and Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service are not the best placed organisations to devise, design or deliver an educational programme
Quotes from current magistrates

Do our magistrates have the skills and knowledge they need in today’s courts? Magistrates have to decide between guilt and innocence; sentence offenders who often have very complex needs; and ensure that cases are swiftly and efficiently managed. New magistrates have no legal training and need have no experience of the criminal justice system and those who get caught up in it before they join. So it is critical that magistrates get the training and support they need, and that those with poor skills and knowledge are identified and helped to improve.

But the compulsory training magistrates receive is incomplete. It does not examine the causes of crime, the effectiveness of sentences, or include visits to see community sentences in action. Magistrates are never required to do training in equality, domestic violence, drug addiction or mental health. They are not obliged to do continuous professional development, or even to keep a personal record of what courses they have done. As budgets have tightened, the amount of free training offered to magistrates has reduced.

Since responsibility for magistrates’ training was delegated to the judiciary in 2005, there has been no major independent review of its quality and whether it meets the needs of today’s courts. This report calls for such a review but none has been commissioned.