Headlines: April 19th, 2004

A scheme designed to give more people from the minority ethnic communities first hand experience of the work of magistrates’ courts is to be tried out in London and eleven other areas after successful pilots in seven other parts of England and Wales.The Magistrates Shadowing Scheme is run jointly by the Department for Constitutional Affairs and Operation Black Vote. The aim is to enable nearly 100 people from black and minority ethnic communities across the country to shadow two mentor magistrates over a six-month period.The participants will observe court proceedings and watch how decisions are made. They will each be expected to spend at least 10 days sitting with their mentors on a broad number of cases, in a programme that has been devised by Operation Black Vote and the Magistrates’ Association.The launch of the London scheme marks the second phase of the Magistrates’ Shadowing Scheme, which will also cover Merseyside, Birmingham, Nottingham, Leicester, Watford and West Hertfordshire, Oxford, Derby & South Derbyshire, Bradford, Walsall, Vale of Glamorgan and Burnley. In each of the regions six to eight people have been selected by OBV and the local Lord Chancellor’s Advisory Committee. They are from a broad mix of African, Asian, Caribbean, Chinese and other minority ethnic communities. They will each attend a two-day seminar where they will consolidate and put into perspective what they have experienced.

The shadowing scheme backs up a 3.3 million pound national campaign to recruit magistrates. Advertisements aimed at young people and those from diverse backgrounds and people with disabilities are to appear on buses in many regions.

Simon Woolley, from Operation Black Vote said the shadowing scheme was a ground-breaking project working towards a more equitable and inclusive civic society and he was convinced it would be as successful as the organisation’s MP shadowing scheme has been for the UK’s African, Asian, Caribbean and other ethnic minorities. The Chair of the Magistrates’ Association, Rachel Lipscomb, hopes that with the support of the shadows magistrates would have increased opportunities to speak to many other groups of people about the valuable work of the lay magistracy.