Some argue that the magistracy is in crisis. It has indeed suffered a number of setbacks in the last ten years – it has shrunk by a third, it is now in some ways less diverse, magistrates have lost their role in administering the courts, and at least a third of the courts in which they used to sit have closed.
But there are a few reasons to be more optimistic about their future. There is a huge response to every magistrate vacancy advertised, magistrates will be allocated more serious cases and they will be spending less time on the dullest cases. The criminal courts charge, which was driving magistrates to resign, has been abolished.
The task facing the government and the judiciary is to decide whether to let these trends continue, or to make some radical reforms to the way magistrates work. This think-piece reflects evidence prepared for the Commons Justice Committee inquiry on the role of the magistracy.