Headlines: October 8th, 2003

A recruitment campaign to ensure that there are enough magistrates to fill the benches has been launched by the Department for Constitutional Affairs. The turnover of magistrates averages about 1500 per year, but it is planned to increase this to 2,500 so that the annual workload of 1.2 million offences can be dealt with speedily.The Department will work with 90 local Magistrates Advisory Committees in England and Wales in a 4 million pounds three-year co-ordinated regional recruitment campaign. This will include a free-phone hotline 0800 003007, bus, radio and media adverts, and leaflets. The campaign will target younger people, ethnic minorities in cities where they are under-represented and people with disabilities. Lord Falconer, the Lord Chancellor said: “One of the main difficulties in recruiting from minority ethnic communities lies in the generally held, but erroneous view, that to become a magistrate you have to be white, middle class, middle-age and professional. This is a preconception which we have to challenge.”

To become a magistrate applicants need to demonstrate to recruitment panels that they have social awareness, integrity, listening and communication skills, the ability to relate to others, sound judgement and commitment. There are about 32,000 lay magistrates in England and Wales of whom less than four percent are under 40 and about 80 per cent are over 50.