Black Lives Matter supporters urged to become magistrates to boost diversity

Black Lives Matter activists fearing racial bias in the courts should consider becoming magistrates to help improve diversity and increase trust, long-standing members of the bench say.

Magistrates courts in England and Wales deal with 90 per cent of criminal court cases every year but are facing a recruitment crisis, with the number of magistrates falling 43 per cent in the last eight years from more than 25,000 to less than 15,000 in 2019.

Fifty-two percent of those face mandatory retirement within the next 10 years, as magistrates currently cannot sit beyond the age of 70.

Now the Magistrates Association, which represents magistrates in England and Wales, is hoping the recent Black Lives Matter protests and the resulting scrutiny of policing and the justice system might inspire more people to volunteer in the courts.

Jacqueline MacDonald-Davis, who has been a magistrate since 2005, told the PA news agency: “It is about being involved. No longer standing on the sideline and shouting in, (young people) have to engage in the process – which is exactly what they are doing now.

“Part of that process is saying ‘I should become a magistrate’ and ‘I should be looking for jobs in the legal system’.”

There are concerns that younger potential candidates will be deterred by the magistracy’s image as the preserve of middle-class, middle-aged white men. But the magistracy is actually one of the most diverse areas of the justice system.



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Fifty-six percent of magistrates are women and 12 per cent identify as being of black and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, rising to 28 per cent in London. By comparison just seven per cent of court judges are people of colour, and only 32 per cent are women.

But Ms MacDonald-Davis believes more action is needed to attract younger BAME people to the bench.

Highlighting her own experience of becoming a magistrate, she said: “I recognised that I was in the minority. But the question I always ask myself is ‘What are you going to do about it? Are you not going to put yourself forward because you may be the only one?”

MP David Lammy’s 2017 review into the treatment of BAME communities in the justice system found despite making up just 14 per cent of the population, they accounted for 25 per cent of prisoners.

This figure rose to 41 per cent of the population being held in youth custody.

John Bache, who has chaired the Magistrates Association since 2017, believes that a justice system that reflects the community it serves could be a small but vital part of the process of engendering trust.

He said: “I think when a defendant comes into court and he sees three white faces and his face isn’t white, I can see that he will think that those magistrates aren’t going to understand his situation.

“Diversity is really, really important.”

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