The role of the magistracy Contents

4Training and appraisal

How magistrates’ training is organised

63.As with all judicial office holders, training for magistrates is supervised by the Judicial College, a body that is overseen by the Lord Chief Justice. Working closely with the Magistrates Association, the College is responsible for the national syllabus and in most cases it prepares training materials. Some training is delivered directly to magistrates and legal advisers by the College,176 but other training is the responsibility of the local justices’ clerk–although it may be delegated to a training officer or bench legal adviser. Local branches of the Magistrates Association may also provide specific training, including on non-core issues such as alcohol or drugs awareness. Planning and overseeing the local delivery of training is the responsibility of the Magistrates’ Area Training Committee (MATC), which produces an annual training plan for the area and reports annually to the Judicial College. The MATC also co-ordinates the activities of the area Bench Training and Development Committee, which is in turn responsible for identifying training needs and overseeing the mentoring and appraisal schemes for the local bench. It was drawn to our attention that a recent consultation has set out proposals for rationalising the current arrangements.177

64.The submission of the Judicial College described the competence framework for magistrates, which sets out the knowledge, understanding and skills they need to demonstrate to perform their role; the Adult Court Competence Framework builds on the six key qualities required to become a magistrate.178 The College further explained that:

Core training for each jurisdiction—adult, youth and family—is compulsory and continuation training of 6 hours every 3 years for each of the ‘tickets’ (adult winger, adult chair etc) that a magistrate holds is described as ‘essential’. If a national need for training is identified and deemed a priority, through the Judicial College training subcommittees, then the College’s legal team, often with assistance from HMCTS legal advisers and with input from the National Bench Chairmen’s Forum, the Magistrates Association and the Justices’ Clerks’ Society, will prepare a training pack and materials for local delivery.179

On its website, the Magistrates Association gives more information about training for a new magistrate, who during the initial months sits in court with two experienced members of the bench and is mentored. At the end of the first year, the magistrate receives consolidation training and, approximately 12 to 18 months after appointment, undergoes an appraisal which is carried out by a trained magistrate appraiser, sitting as part of the bench in an observation role. Subsequent appraisals take place every three years to ensure that a magistrate’s competence is retained.180 As we discuss below, while magistrates are expected to undertake training throughout their careers, there is no mandatory Continuing Professional Development scheme.

The resources available for training

65.Funding for training is provided by the Ministry of Justice, although the Lord Chief Justice decides how this is allocated. Magistrates’ training at the Judicial College is prepared, produced and delivered by a small legal team (the equivalent of three full-time posts). According to the Judicial College, expenditure on magistrates’ training has reduced from £72 per sitting magistrate in 2009/10 to £30 in 2013/14. Although more recent information was not made available to us, it appears to be undisputed that this downward trend has not been reversed. The College attributes this reduction to the discontinued use of external venues, reduced catering and stationery costs and the provision of more distance/on-line learning, together with fewer magistrates attending training and a reduction in the number of courses delivered. The Judicial College also told us that one of the risks identified in MATC reports for 2013 - 2014 was a continuing fall in the delivery of local training designated as ‘desirable.’181 According to the Magistrates Association, training for magistrates “increasingly struggles with its resources”182 and Bedfordshire Magistrates Association recounted that “resources are so tight that, recently in Bedfordshire, the local Magistrates Association were invited to meet the cost of the venue for a training day (rather than HMCTS)”.183 Shropshire Bench suggested that, as a result of budget cuts, training and development for magistrates “is reaching dangerously low levels”184 and Dr Chris Knight JP referred to “increasing financial pressure not to bring magistrates together for training purposes as regularly as previously.”185

66.In its written submission, the senior judiciary assured us that “the level of training and ‘continuous development’ of the magistracy is considered to be entirely satisfactory for the present arrangements within the magistrates court.”186 When we asked Lord Justice Fulford about the reduction in expenditure on training, he told us that he did not believe that training had been cut; instead, greater care was being taken in how it was delivered:

Large, possibly expensive halls are no longer rented. We do it at court, in the main. We try to do it on days when magistrates are, in any event, attending to sit, so that they do not have to come for special training sessions. If you look back at the training packages that were offered in the past and are offered now, it is our view that they are effectively the same.187

67.However, the Judicial College explained to us how its own limited resources made it dependent on assistance from court legal advisers–employed by HMCTS–to prepare, deliver and evaluate training for magistrates and that it had some concern about their current availability:

Assistance is not consistent and in this pre-HMCTS Reform process it is often difficult for legal advisers or their managers to commit time to work that is not part of their core role. That has an enormous knock-on effect on the College and could potentially impact on the quality of the product … ….An agreement has been drafted which underpins HMCTS’s assistance to the College and this is a positive step forward but the overall resourcing remains a concern.188

We asked Lord Justice Fulford about the extent to which magistrates’ training was dependent on the goodwill of legal advisers and HMCTS staff, and whether they were now being pushed to do more. He acknowledged that the judiciary was “highly dependent on people giving of their own time” and that “in all areas of the delivery of justice—court staff, judges, legal advisers and justices’ clerks—people are really going the extra mile in order to make sure that we deliver a first-class service.” In contrast to the Judicial College, he suggested that it was “part of some or all legal advisers’ jobs to assist in training”.189

68.We received the clear impression that the landscape of magistrates’ training is a somewhat crowded one and we welcome the decision by the Ministry of Justice to consult on proposals for rationalising the rules relating to training for magistrates.

69.In spite of assurances from the senior judiciary that the Judicial College receives adequate funding for magistrates’ training and that the goodwill of HMCTS staff can be relied on to provide support, the evidence that we received in the course of this inquiry from a range of authoritative sources suggests that this is not the case. We recommend that the Judicial College be provided with more funding to support magistrates’ training and that a more realistic view be taken of the ability of HMCTS staff, in particular legal advisers, to assist with training given the current pressures on their time.

The quality and range of training

70.We also received evidence of concerns about the quality of training for sitting magistrates, often closely linked to constraints on resources. Jo King JP told us that, while mandatory training for magistrates is largely very good, in relation to the non-essential training “there can be variations in how that is delivered and in the quality of the training”.190 According to the Judicial College, another risk identified in MATC reports for 2013 - 2014 was the use of trainers in some areas who are not qualified to deliver training to magistrates.191 An example was also given of a two-day course that HMCTS had “shoehorned” into one day,192 and the Executive Committee of the Powys and Herefordshire Branch of the Magistrates Association gave an example of the impact of limited resources on training for magistrates in rural areas:

The training was set for a venue that for many potential attendees would involve travel exceeding 200 miles round trip in December, this would be 12 plus hour day. On enquiring of the provision of an overnight allowance … … this was not authorised and as an alternative 1.5 hours training was offered at a local venue. This raises the question of if 1.5 hours was now considered adequate why was a full day offered in the first instance?193

71.For the most part, the evidence that we received indicated broad satisfaction with the range of topics covered in continuation training for magistrates—although there was a suggestion that training was sometimes provided too long after changes had been implemented.194 However, a few criticisms were made of the training for magistrates who take up specialist or leadership roles. Dr Simon Wolfensohn JP expressed a view that Youth Court training “has gone to a pretty low level now;”195 it was also suggested to us that Youth Court magistrates in England and Wales are less well trained than their Scottish counterparts.196 Jo King JP told us that the role of bench chairmen had “changed immeasurably over the last five years”; as well as having a pastoral support role for members of their bench, they were now expected to be key decision makers and strategic thinkers—indicating that additional leadership training might be needed for them.197

72.Professor Mike Hough and Professor Julian Roberts drew our attention to research that had found “widespread dissatisfaction” among magistrates with the level of training on sentencing guidelines:

The reduced sittings of many magistrates means that they have less familiarity with the guidelines, and therefore expressed a need for more training … …. In addition, the volume of new and differently formatted guidelines has proliferated in recent years.

This view was supported by Professor Jane Donoghue, whose submission highlighted the importance of systematic training of magistrates “in ensuring sentencing consistency”.198 The Judicial College sought to reassure us that magistrates’ training emphasises consistency in decision-making, including in sentencing, and that training materials refer to the Equal Treatment Bench Book and have fair treatment “woven through” them.199 Nonetheless, several witnesses felt that magistrates should be better trained in equality and diversity issues.200

73.Several witnesses emphasised the importance of magistrates receiving training beyond the law and court procedures. The Criminal Justice Alliance201 and the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner Northumbria202 were among those who thought that more training should be offered on mental health issues. Domestic violence was also identified as an important training topic.203 It was pointed out by Dr Jenifer Harding JP that courses did not have to be specific to magistrates but could be shared—for example, with health or probation services—in order to reduce costs.204 The role of training in bringing about culture change was illustrated by evidence from Liz Harrison JP, who told us how her bench had responded to a cross-agency commitment to enhancing procedural fairness within the CJS in her area:

We have just completed a number of locally designed workshops for magistrates, looking at more effective communication in court, at more effective and useful reflection and feedback on performance, and at more rigorous fines enforcement. If successful we will not only improve the effectiveness of what we do, we will also raise morale across the piece.205

74.We were impressed by magistrates’ commitment to training and their willingness to give their time to doing it. However, we are concerned by evidence suggesting that training for magistrates is not always of sufficiently high quality. In addition we conclude that the range of training available is sometimes too narrow to equip magistrates for the role that they are expected to fulfil and to help them contribute to cultural change within the criminal justice system. We recommend that the Judicial College, in consultation with others, undertake a comprehensive review of magistrates’ training needs with a view to developing a training programme that supports a modern magistracy, taking proper account of the investment of time required from those who organise and deliver training. The review should also consider the particular training needs of magistrates who put themselves forward for specialist roles in the Youth and Family Courts, as bench Chairs and to sit as panel chairs.

Making training more accessible

75.It was suggested to us that training could be made more easily accessible for employed magistrates and those with caring responsibilities. Dawn Nicholl JP206 and Luke Rigg JP207 proposed that courses be held at weekends and Richard Goold JP pointed out that training could start earlier, perhaps at 8 am, to avoid taking up a full working day.208 While supporting the idea of weekend and evening training, Malcom Richardson JP noted the financial implications of providing it:

Of course, that means that there are costs to HMCTS in terms of opening up buildings, making legal advisers available to do the training and things of that sort. There has been a real clawing back of any preparedness to do that—understandably, because of budgets.209

76.Some supported an increase in online training to improve accessibility. Alwyn Lloyd Ellis JP thought that “e-training would be very attractive to magistrates who struggle to get time off work”. 210 While there was support for online and distance training from a number of other witnesses,211 concern was expressed about the prospect of this delivery method replacing face-to-face training that provided valuable interaction with colleagues and the chance to ask questions.212  This point was made by the Magistrates Association, who told us that their survey results indicated that “magistrates appreciate the need for a mix of methods, but would welcome an increase in face-to-face training”.213 In a similar vein, Dr Simon Wolfensohn JP emphasised the need to recognise different ways of leaning, especially for older magistrates who often preferred face-to-face methods over e-training.214

77.As part of the comprehensive review of magistrates’ training needs, we recommend that a balance be maintained between different ways of learning, recognising that online training, in spite of its convenience and cost-effectiveness, cannot provide the quality of engagement and interaction provided in face-to-face settings. We further recommend that a reasonable proportion of face-to-face training be offered at times that are convenient to employed magistrates and those with other weekday commitments.

Continuing professional development and appraisal

78.Magistrates are required to undergo an appraisal every three years; this is carried out by another member of the same bench who sits in an observational role on a panel alongside the magistrate in question. Continuation training of six hours every three years for each of the ‘tickets’ held by a magistrate (for example, adult court winger, adult court chair) is described by the Judicial College as ‘essential’;215 magistrates are responsible for their own learning and are expected to provide information to their appraiser. However, as noted above, they are not subject to a formal Continuing Professional Development (CPD) scheme—that is, a systematic approach to developing and maintaining professional knowledge and skills that involves keeping a record of achievements, reviewable as part of an appraisal process.

79.The National Bench Chairmen’s Forum was among those who expressed concern about how well the current arrangements operate in practice:

not all magistrates attend training and it is not compulsory: there is no system of sanctions in place for those who do not attend and too much reliance is placed on the appraisal system, which is not robust enough and does not identify those who fall below required competencies.

Others expressed even stronger dissatisfaction. For example, the appraisal system was described in two submissions as being a “tick box exercise”216 and elsewhere as being “unfit for purpose”,217 “quite ineffective”218 and “woeful”.219 Nicholas Moss JP observed that objectivity in appraisals can be inhibited because appraisers are likely to know those being appraised “so they can be reluctant to be over-critical.”220 It was pointed out by Birmingham and Solihull Magistrates’ Bench that the system was ill-equipped to deal with performance management.221 Margaret Robb JP suggested that magistrates whose appraisal identified a training need were seen as inadequate and that “by implication, the ideal situation would be the absence of any need for training!” Similarly, Jo King JP acknowledged concerns about the low number of magistrates identified with training needs by the appraisal process.222 It was suggested by the Criminal Justice Alliance that “More effective use of appraisals would help ‘manage out’ less competent magistrates and, if replaced, consequently facilitate recruitment of a more diverse magistracy.”223 The Judicial College has accepted that “issues have been raised” in relation to the robustness of the appraisal system, as a result of which it has led a review by a scoping group with membership from all stakeholder groups. It informed us that “Work on revising the system, the supporting Good Practice Guidance and all of the associated training has been planned for 2016–17.”224

80.A number of the submissions that we received called for the introduction of a formal CPD scheme.225 Sheena Jowett JP commented:

at the moment we have one continuation training every three years, prior to appraisal. If we looked at having some sort of continual professional development over those three years, when it came to the appraisal time you could say, “I have done these online courses. That is what will make me a competent magistrate. You have witnessed me sitting in court as a magistrate, but this is the evidence I have.”226

As a member of two professional bodies, Dominic Groble JP pointed out that “both organisations expect me to maintain my competence and professionalism through CPD and reserve the right to manage my membership if I should fail to keep myself up to date.” He went on to suggest that magistrates who have become “dormant” might be transferred to the Supplemental List.227

81.The Magistrates Association also proposed the introduction of a formal accreditation system for magistrates, linked to a CPD programme. According to the Association, accreditation might be offered following the three-year appraisal, and need not be limited to achieving a single level. Taking on additional roles such as adult court chairman, or becoming a family or youth magistrate, could contribute towards subsequent levels of accreditation. The Association also suggested that accreditation would make magistrates more attractive to employers, helping them to see magistrates “as an opportunity rather than a potential liability”.228 The Association’s Chair, Malcolm Richardson JP, also suggested that an accreditation scheme would provide “evidence to those who suggest that we are not up to either the job that we do now or the extended job that we are proposing we ought to be empowered to do.” 229

82.We asked the then Minister, Shailesh Vara MP, whether his Department would be able to provide any additional funding, should this be required to introduce a revised appraisal scheme for magistrates—for example, for mandatory continuing professional education. He resisted making any commitment in his response to what he considered to be a hypothetical question:

Rather than simply saying, “Can we have more money?” I would first want to know what other proposals had been thought of. It is also important to remember that the training of magistrates is a matter for the judiciary.230

83.We conclude that the current system of appraisal for magistrates is inadequate, and we welcome the fact that this is currently under review. We are not convinced of the value of having a magistrates’ accreditation scheme, but the evidence that we received gives clear support for the introduction of formal arrangements for Continuing Professional Development. We recommend the introduction of a more robust appraisal scheme for magistrates, which can identify inadequate performance and impose remedial measures to address it, including reviewing of the future of magistrates who have become insufficiently committed to their role. The appraisal scheme should be linked to a mandatory scheme for Continuing Professional Development, developed as part of a comprehensive review of magistrates’ training.

176 MAG0072 - annexed submission of the Judicial College. In 2014/2015 the College delivered 30 courses directly to magistrates and legal advisers (including on Bench Chairmanship).

178 Judicial Office [MAG0072] - annexed submission of the Judicial College

181 MAG0072 - annexed submission of the Judicial College

182 MAG0058, paragraph 35

184 MAG0034, paragraph 4.1

185 MAG0024, paragraph 4(a)

186 MAG0072, paragraph 5

188 MAG0072 - annexed submission of Judicial College

191 MAG0072 - annexed submission of the Judicial College

192 MAG0028, paragraph 4.1

194 Albert Pearce JP [MAG0021]

196 Standing Committee for Youth Justice [MAG0056]

199 MAG0072 - annexed submission of the Judicial College

200 Transform Justice [MAG0079]; Prison Reform Trust [MAG0053]; Coventry and Warwickshire Bench Executive [MAG0060]

201 MAG0048, paragraph 17

203 Coventry and Warwickshire Branch, Magistrates’ Association [MAG0033]; Dr Jenifer Harding JP [MAG0074]

204 MAG0074, paragraph 11.1

211 For example, the Association of Lord-Lieutenants [MAG0046, paragraph 13]; Central London Bench [MAG0013]; Richard Goold [MAG0001, paragraph 17]

212 For example, Corby Magistrates’ Bench [MAG0012, paragraph 4.1]; Christine Holmes JP [MAG0023], Ian Clarkson JP [MAG0068]

215 MAG0072 - annexed submission of the Judicial College

216 Phil Lloyd JP [MAG0017, paragraph 11]; Birmingham and Solihull Magistrates’ Bench [MAG0022]

217 Somerset Bench [MAG0018]

218 Graham Jagger JP [MAG0007]

219 Corby Magistrates’ Bench [MAG0012, paragraph 4.3]

224 MAG0072 - annexed submission of the Judicial College

225 For example, Professor James Crabbe JP [MAG0009, paragraph2]; John Dehnel JP [MAG0020, paragraph 9]; Robert Lynch JP [MAG0010]

228 MAG0058, paragraphs 42 to 45.

© Parliamentary copyright 2015

17 October 2016