The role of the magistracy: follow-up Contents

7A strategy for the magistracy

Our predecessor’s conclusion and recommendation

120.The overarching conclusion of our predecessor Committee was that the magistracy faced a range of unresolved issues that had prompted little reflection or strategic decision-making on the part of policy makers in recent years. The Committee recommended that these should be addressed as a matter of urgency by development of an overarching strategy for the magistracy, to include workforce planning, consideration of the impact of court closures, promotion of the role—including to employers, and magistrates’ training. The strategy should also consider the potential for expanding the role of magistrates, particularly within any future proposals for problem-solving courts.151

The Government’s response did not address this recommendation.

121.On 12 January 2017, the Committee wrote to the then Secretary of State for Justice, Liz Truss MP, pressing a number of issues raised by its report and seeking clarification on the Government’s response; it expressed surprise that the Government had not addressed that key recommendation for a national strategy for the magistracy.152 The Secretary of State replied:

I am determined though that we do not set magistrates apart from the wider judiciary; it is critical that they are rightly recognised as an integral part of the judicial complement. My department is currently working on an overarching judicial strategy, to ensure that we can build and support a modern, talented, engaged and highly-motivated judiciary that reflects the society it serves and cements our reputation for global excellence. The magistracy is, of course, a key component to which this strategy will apply. In the meantime, I am confident that each of the areas you had envisioned for inclusion within such a strategy are already being addressed within a cohesive and coherent framework. 153

Progress on a national strategy since 2016

122.During this inquiry, leadership magistrates told us that a judicially-led working group is developing a national strategy for the magistracy, led by the Magistrates Leadership Executive and working with the Magistrates Association and the Chief Magistrate’s Office.154 According to Jo King JP, the aim of the strategy is to bring together a three-year plan to develop the magistracy, covering a range of work relating to areas such as recruitment and advisory committees “so there was an oversight process and we could identify the gaps, and then work with the agencies… in particular the MoJ, in resolving some of those.”155 Duncan Webster JP, the National Leadership Magistrate, acknowledged that the availability of resources was holding back this work, not only in terms of funding for more initiatives, but because the MoJ and HMCTS were losing many members of staff as a result of the reform programme and the establishment of centralised service centres.156 He commented:

the initiatives that we want to take forward need the support and the resources of HMCTS staff. Things have to wait in a queue until they have staff available to support us in delivering some of these initiatives.157

123.Participants in our informal evidence session were aware of the development of the magistracy’s national strategy, but considered it “early days” for this initiative. There was general support for the idea of the Government developing a national strategy for the magistracy, provided its purpose was clear. It was recognised that any strategy would be of limited value unless properly resourced, as well as being subject to regular review.

124.The then Minister, Lucy Frazer QC MP, confirmed that the impact of policy reform and the future direction of the magistracy were being considered “as an ongoing process, rather than one with an end date.” She said her Department was working closely with the magistracy in development of its national strategy. In addition, the Government had a wider strategy for all judicial office holders, into which its own strategy for the magistracy was incorporated.158 When we put it to her that the Government was obliged to ensure adequate funding for the magistracy,159 she agreed that the Lord Chancellor had a duty to ensure a fair and efficient court service and “obviously funding is part of that”.160

125.Ms Frazer told us that the Government had no dedicated policy team for the magistracy:

We have officials in a number of Departments who work on a variety of matters connected to and concerning the magistracy. We have people in the reform team. The magistracy are engaged at every stage of our reform. There would be liaison with the magistracy on reform. There are other parts of judicial liaison where HMCTS liaises with the magistracy.161

126.We welcome the initiative of leadership magistrates in developing a national strategy. However, their strategic objectives are unlikely to be achieved without the backing of HMCTS funding. We doubt that this initiative can fill the gap created by the Government’s failure to develop an adequately funded, overarching national strategy for the magistracy. Merely identifying the magistracy as a component within the Government’s strategy for the judiciary as a whole is inadequate to recognise the distinctive and pivotal role of 15,000 magistrates working as unpaid volunteers within the criminal justice system.

127.As in the 2016 report, we urge the Government, in consultation with the senior judiciary and leadership magistrates, to develop and adopt an overarching strategy for the magistracy, to include workforce planning and recruitment; promotion of the role to employers and to a diverse range of potential applicants; resources for magistrates’ training; and mitigation of the impact on magistrates of court closures. The strategy must be supported by adequate funding. We further recommend that the Ministry of Justice establish a dedicated policy team to oversee all aspects of its support for the magistracy.

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

159 Under section 3(6)(b) of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005

Published: 18 June 2019