The role of the magistracy Contents

7A strategy for the magistracy

Development of future policy

123.As will be clear from this Report, much of the evidence we have received indicates that the magistracy faces a range of problems and difficulties that have escaped the attentions of policy makers in recent years—or, at least, have prompted little reflection or strategic decision-making. In its written submission, the senior judiciary identified a range of opportunities for enhancing the role of the magistracy, including by adherence to the new Allocation Guideline,328 by considering whether magistrates might have greater sentencing powers329 and by reviewing the right to elect trial by jury–recognising that views on the latter are divided.330 As noted above, no objection was raised in principle to magistrates undertaking prison adjudications.

124.In a similar vein, the Ministry of Justice expressed a wish to give magistrates “the strongest possible role in a more proportionate courts system,”331 recognising that the courts and justice reform programme currently taking place creates an opportunity to consider the future role of the magistracy “not just in relation to new and innovative facilities and swifter processes, but also new powers and responsibilities”. 332 The MoJ’s submission goes on to detail a list of issues that it is considering, including the role of magistrates in problem-solving courts; the potential for greater flexibility in Local Justice Areas;333 improvements to the recruitment process—including attracting more diverse candidates; making sure that magistrates’ training needs are adequately met; and improving the appraisal process.334 It concludes by saying it will work closely with the senior judiciary and the magistracy to consider how these proposals may be achieved.335 In short, the Ministry is aware of many of the issues raised in evidence to us, but appears not to have decided how to tackle them.

125.When the Minister gave oral evidence to us, we pressed him for details of his Department’s thinking on the future of the magistracy. He was ready to accept that many of the issues we identified were ones that needed to be addressed,336 and said that they were being looked at,337 or that options were being considered;338 and he reassured us that his Department wanted to get things right.339 However, in most respects he avoided giving any clear indication of future policy developments.

126.The magistracy faces a range of unresolved issues relating to its role and its workload, together with serious problems with recruitment and training; we conclude that these now must be addressed as a matter of urgency. The wide range of recommendations that we have made indicate a need for strategic leadership. It is unfortunate that the Government’s evident goodwill towards the magistracy has not yet been translated into any meaningful strategy for supporting and developing it within a changing criminal justice system.

127.We recommend that, as a matter of priority, the Ministry of Justice, together with the senior judiciary, consult widely on, then adopt, an over-arching strategy for the magistracy, to include workforce planning, consideration of the impact of court closures, wider promotion of the role—in particular to employers—and the shared role of the Ministry and the judiciary in ensuring the future of magistrates’ training. The strategy should also consider the potential for the role of magistrates to be expanded, in particular within any future proposals to develop problem-solving courts.

328 MAG0072, paragraph 7

329 MAG0072, paragraph 9

330 MAG0072, paragraph 10

331 MAG0050, paragraph 1

332 MAG0050, paragraph 5

335 MAG0050, paragraph 47

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17 October 2016