A majority of magistrates are women but the sustained increase in their numbers may be concealing a reduction of social diversity on the bench, the national chair of the Magistrates Association has suggested.
The latest statistics show that 54% of all magistrates in England and Wales are women but Malcolm Richardson asked if that meant more middle-class partners who are either not working or only work part-time were joining the bench.
Well, good grief, why is that a problem? They are the ones with the time for it!
“There’s nothing to encourage and quite a lot to discourage employers allowing their employees to [join the bench]. There’s no requirement, as there is with reservists in the armed forces, to release them from work. The government must do more to encourage [those in work becoming magistrates as well].”
Like what? Make it a requirement? That’ll go down well!
The selection process needs to change, he believes. Recruitment of JPs is often opened on a county-wide basis and closed when three or four times the number of applicants to places has been reached.
“So it’s those people who have easy access to computers, are good at filling in forms and have knowledge of the process,” he said. One recent application competition in Buckinghamshire “was only open for a few hours”.
But aren’t those people the very ones suited to the job? Doers it help to have a PC-illiterate, actually illiterate, disorganised person on the bench?
Is it so someone can be ‘judged by their peers’?
Jo Shaw, of the Feminist Lawyers Society (Ed: Who knew..?), said: “I agree it is vital for our judiciary at all levels to reflect society, including socio-economic background. However the issue raised by the chair of the Magistrates Association about the risk posed by this trend of larger numbers of women magistrates is odd and suggests an agenda other than a wish for greater diversity.”
*rolls eyes* Unless you’re totally thick, ‘more diversity’ is exactly what he’s calling for…