The role of the magistracy: follow-up Contents

4Training and appraisal

Our predecessor’s main conclusions and recommendations

59.Our predecessor Committee received evidence that funding for magistrates’ training was less than adequate, and that training was not always of sufficiently high quality or breadth to equip magistrates for their role. The Committee concluded that the appraisal system was inadequate. It recommended more funding to the Judicial College for magistrates’ training, a comprehensive review of magistrates’ training needs and the introduction of a more robust appraisal scheme linked to continuing professional development.71

Magistrates’ training

60.Training for the magistracy has a complex structure. It is supervised by the Judicial College, which works closely with the Magistrates Association in developing courses, while other training is delivered locally by Justices’ Clerks and legal advisers. In April 2017, Training, Approvals, Authorisations and Appraisal Committees (TAAACs) became responsible for planning and overseeing local delivery of training in relation to the crime jurisdiction, while Family Training, Approvals, Authorisations and Appraisals Committees (FTAAACs) oversee the training of family magistrates.

61.John Bache JP, the Chair of the Magistrates Association, told us it was “early days” so far as judging whether the new TAAACs were working more effectively than the multiple committees under the previous structure. However, the new Committees had encountered some problems with recruiting members “because the workload is quite excessive.”72 Duncan Webster JP, the National Leadership Magistrate said that, as they cover larger areas than the benches, there was “a feeling from bench chairmen that the [TAAACs] [ … ] and FTAACs are in some way disconnected from the running of the benches.” He went on to say that the Committees had “a lot on their plate”, given the number of new magistrates that they had to train.73

62.The adequacy of magistrates’ training remains contested. While speaking highly of the mentoring system for new magistrates, many participants in our informal session thought that training was poor or insufficient. Participants observed that legal advisers, who are otherwise deployed in court, may not be skilled trainers. Employers were often reluctant to release magistrates for training. Training provision varied with location (for example, one area provided IT training while an adjacent area did not) and in some areas, magistrates were expected to travel long distances to participate in courses. Training combined with bench meetings was found to have encouraged attendance, however, and there was some support for online training, as it provided continuous access.

63.Duncan Webster JP thought that training should be reprioritised. Although the minimum level of training had been delivered throughout England and Wales, he thought it was a challenge for magistrates to keep pace with changes in practice and procedure on only 26 sittings per year.74 He commented:

I think the training budget needs to be looked at by HMCTS [ … .] I do not think that meeting the minimum requirement is sufficient. Magistrates like to be competent. Being competent gives them confidence, and confidence equals morale.75

64.John Bache JP added:

I think the public have a right to expect magistrates to be up to date as well. At the end of the day, magistrates can put people in prison for six months, or two years for children, and they can take people’s children away from them. That is quite a powerful thing to do.76

Mr Bache also drew a distinction between essential training and other training, not essential but relevant, and thought at least travelling expenses and some basic refreshments should be provided for evening training.77 Some participants in our informal session spoke of their interest in having more training on wider issues such as prisons, the benefits system, county lines and domestic abuse, which could take the form of short briefings or discussions with the police.

65.Referring to the “dynamic environment” in which magistrates work, Jo King JP emphasised the importance of magistrates’ personal commitment to keep up to date with law and procedure throughout their careers.

We have had a recent update to the “Equal Treatment Bench Book”, for example, which is not something on which magistrates will be formally trained but is presented in a very accessible way so that people can self-learn from it.78

Senior District Judge Arbuthnot similarly noted that magistrates may use the Learning Management System, a digital training platform held by the Judicial College.79

66.Jo King JP told us she thought that the annual training budget per magistrate had decreased to £26.80 However, Senior District Judge Arbuthnot explained that calculation of training costs was not straightforward and that this figure did not give a complete picture:

A few years ago, training took place out of the courts, at conference centres and so on. It is now more in-house. Continuing training is almost always conducted in the courts. The cost is quite a difficult concept. It depends on how you calculate the costs of the legal advisers and whoever is delivering training.81

67.The Chairman of the Judicial College, Lady Justice Rafferty, provided a fuller explanation:

Designed and published by the College, the majority of magistrate training is funded by HMCTS and delivered locally. Funding does NOT come from the Judicial Office budget. The shift of training provision to HMCTS accommodation has reduced costs. Over time budget arrangements in HMCTS have changed, precluding a true comparator of costs from year to year.82

She explained that a few courses provided directly by the College for local bench officers/leadership magistrates83 are delivered on the same basis as those for the salaried judiciary; funding for these is within the College funding scheme and not within the £26 to which Mrs King referred.

68.Lucy Frazer QC MP did not disagree that training was important but maintained that it was a judicial function, and that financial provision for it therefore fell to the Lord Chief Justice. Her Department made annual provision for judicial training, but “it is up to the judiciary to determine how it allocates that among every part of its jurisdiction.”84 However, she accepted that under the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 the judiciary has a right to assert its requirements for supply in order to carry out its job independently.85

69.We are concerned by the suggestion made by leadership magistrates that, taken as a whole, magistrates’ training—however funded and delivered—falls short of fulfilling the training needs of the magistracy. The importance of adequate training in supporting magistrates’ morale and building their confidence cannot be underestimated. We recommend that the Ministry of Justice increase its funding to HMCTS and the Judicial Office to allow additional investment in magistrates’ training. We further recommend that, when considering staff resources for courts, HMCTS give greater recognition to the important training role that Justices’ Clerks and legal advisers fulfil in relation to magistrates. We also recommend that attendance at evening or weekend training sessions should qualify for expenses and Financial Loss Allowance on the same basis as sitting days.

The appraisal scheme for magistrates

70.Under the new appraisal system for magistrates, appraisals are supposed to take place every two years, rather than three. Jo King JP told us that it would be “very interesting to see whether [this] is effective in identifying those magistrates who are not keeping up to date and competent.”86 Senior District Judge Arbuthnot described the new appraisal scheme as being “fairly straightforward” compared to the scheme for judges, which uses the Judicial Appointments Commission competences. For magistrates, she said, it was more a matter of “ticking boxes, to make sure that the minimum is there”.87

71.The new appraisal system attracted some criticism from participants in our informal session. Some commented on variation in the quality of appraisals, although others thought the system in principle a good one and that appraisals were taken seriously. However, the “tick box” approach of the appraisal forms was considered by some as too process-centred, leading to a focus on minimum competence rather than performance improvement; the absence of “continuing professional development” (CPD) was also noted. Some considered that it would be more appropriate for an outsider to conduct an appraisal than a colleague on the same bench. It was suggested that poor performance was still not being tackled properly and that it was unsatisfactory to await the next appraisal to deal with performance issues. Participants also noted that cancelling appraisals (for example, because of illness) could allow people to “fall through the cracks” unless the appraisal was promptly rescheduled.

72.Senior District Judge Arbuthnot agreed that appraisal should be linked to training and assured us that the Magistrates’ Leadership Executive was conscious of this and “looking at it as a dual thing.”88

73.We are concerned by evidence indicating that the new appraisal scheme for magistrates has shortcomings similar to those of the previous scheme and we welcome the steps being taken by the Magistrates’ Leadership Executive to align appraisals with training. In particular, we believe appraisal should focus on good or improved performance rather than the maintenance of minimum standards of performance. We recommend, as did our predecessor Committee in 2016, a mandatory scheme for continuing professional development linked to the scheme for magistrates’ approval, and we request, in the response to this Report, an indication of the range of CPD that might usefully be provided and the funding that might be required for these options.

71 The relevant Chapter of the Committee’s report, including recommendations, can be found here.

74 As a minimum, magistrates are required to sit for 26 half days, or 13 full days, every year.

83 Ie, courses for bench, family panel, and TAAAC chairmen

Published: 18 June 2019