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Bricklayers, teachers and stay-at-home mothers are being encouraged to become magistrates in what ministers described as the largest recruitment drive in the 650-year history of the magistracy.
The programme is looking to employ around 4,000 people to help tackle a backlog of more than 300,000 cases, which has lengthened during the course of the pandemic.
The Ministry of Justice said the £1million campaign aims to attract people of all backgrounds ‘from teachers to bricklayers, to stay-at-home mums’.
The campaign will target younger people to reduce the average age of the magistracy in England and Wales as recent statistics showed just one per cent of magistrates are under 30, while almost half (49 per cent) are over 60.
Anyone over the age of 18 who is able to dedicate a minimum of 13 days service a year and ‘can display reason and sound judgment’ has been urged to apply.
The announcement comes days after the Ministry of Justice said it was giving magistrates more sentencing powers meaning they would be able to jail offenders for up to 12 months, doubling the current maximum, in an attempt to free up around 1,700 days of Crown Court time a year.
The Ministry of Justice is appealing to people from all backgrounds – including bricklayers and stay-at-home mums – to apply to become magistrates
Teachers are among those being encouraged to apply to become a magistrate to help tackle a backlog of more than 300,000 cases (stock image)
Justice Secretary Dominic Raab said: ‘Magistrates are the unsung heroes of the justice system and we want people from every part of society represented in their ranks.
‘If you care about your community and want to give back then I would strongly encourage you to apply to become a magistrate. There are few other opportunities that can make such a difference in people’s lives.
‘Alongside our plans to double their sentencing powers from six months to a year, this recruitment drive will ensure magistrates can play an even greater role in restoring the swift justice the public deserve.’
A Ministry of Justice spokesman added: ‘It represents the largest recruitment effort in the 650-year history of the magistracy and could increase the workforce by up to a third in the coming years.’
Justice Secretary Dominic Raab (pictured yesterday) described magistrates as the ‘unsung heroes of the justice system’
The Ministry of Justice said it will be looking for good communication skills, a sense of fairness and the ability to see an argument from different sides.
Candidates will be sought to fill positions across criminal work, youth cases and certain civil and family proceedings.
Adam Rathbone, a lecturer from Newcastle who became a magistrate in his twenties, seven years ago, said: ‘I grew up in a very deprived part of Middlesbrough and saw a lot of crime as well as victims of crime.
‘Magistrates are the balance between the police and professional judges and the public.’
Bev Higgs, National Chair of the Magistrates’ Association, said he was pleased to support the recruitment campaign.
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: ‘[The campaign] represents the largest recruitment effort in the 650-year history of the magistracy and could increase the workforce by up to a third in the coming years’ (Westminster Magistrates Court on Marylebone Road)
Last week, lawyers warned giving magistrates more sentencing powers would increase court backlogs as more defendants will choose to ‘take their chances’ in front of a jury at crown courts.
International and national human rights and criminal lawyer Kirsty Brimelow QC said defendants may risk a jury trial rather than risk a lengthened imprisonment from a magistrate.
Barrister Max Hardy said the proposal would ‘cost the taxpayer a lot of money’ as crown court trials are ‘dramatically more expensive’ than those heard in the magistrates’ court, while an increase in the number of prisoners serving short term jail terms would also hit the public purse.
Mr Raab’s announcement came after the Colston Four – who threw a statue of slave trader Edward Colston into Bristol Harbour in 2020 – opted to stand trial in front of a jury, where they were eventually found not guilty of criminal damage.
Figures show more than 60,000 Crown Court cases are outstanding in England and Wales, plus more than 300,000 in magistrates’ courts.
Source: Daily Mail