Appeal for more People from the South East to Volunteer as Magistrates
People from all walks of life in South East England are being urged to consider becoming magistrates as applications open in South East England for this vital role. The appeal is part of a national drive to increase the number and diversity of those volunteering across England and Wales.
The Judiciary of England and Wales and the Ministry of Justice are calling on people from South East England to be part of a new wave of volunteers, giving back to their local community and helping the magistracy better reflect the diversity of British society.
No legal qualifications or experience is required to be a magistrate, but volunteers will work closely with two other magistrates and a legal advisor, who offers guidance on the law. The role also gives people a chance to give back to their community, build relationships with new people and develop new skills.
From teachers to electricians, to stay-at-home parents, anyone aged between 18 and 70 who can commit to at least 13 days a year for at least five years is encouraged to come forward.
With support from magistrates in South East England, the campaign seeks to boost numbers by recruiting 4,000 new magistrates across England and Wales over the next few years.
Data from 2022 on the diversity of the current magistracy in South East England shows an increase in the number of women (59% of the magistracy), people under 50 (20%) and people from an ethnic minority background (11%) volunteering to be magistrates compared to last year*.
The Judiciary of England and Wales and the Ministry of Justice are continuing to build on this work to attract a wave of volunteers who are even more representative of the community they serve.
Magistrates are given robust training and an experienced mentor in their first year to develop their skills and legal knowledge. Magistrates typically develop highly transferrable skills such as critical analysis, complex problem-solving, mediation, influencing and decision-making, all of which stand to benefit them in their wider lives. Research from the Ministry of Justice amongst HR and business leaders showed they felt people who volunteer as magistrates were likely to have sound judgement (89%) and effective decision-making (81%).**
Existing magistrates are stepping forward to talk about the benefits they’ve seen in terms of their skills boost and the benefits of giving back to encourage others to take part. For example, Kim from Minster, Isle of Sheppey, Central Kent, has been a magistrate for 24 years. Her friend suggested joining a pilot scheme for visually impaired magistrates because she’d always been interested in the justice system and law.
On her role as a magistrate, Kim says: “I’d encourage anyone to consider this as it’s very different from other voluntary positions. Each sitting is very different, never dull, and there’s always something of interest that you discover when dealing with cases. You meet people from all walks of life and it’s very rewarding to help and make a difference in their lives. You need to be a good listener and work well within a team to make decisions. The skills you then develop are useful in all aspects of your life – both personal and professional.”
Gary from New Milton, Hampshire, has been a magistrate for 12 years. He saw a photograph of new magistrates in the newspaper and thought, ’I could do that’ – he has never looked back.
On his role as a magistrate, Gary says: “It’s a rewarding job. It’s always satisfying to see people make what some would consider small steps. However, for some people they are massive strides in their life. Don’t worry – you’ll be well trained. All you have to do is be yourself, be able to listen and offer a fair opinion of the potential outcome when coming to a decision. All the skills you’ll develop will then stand you in good stead for other parts of your life – personal and professional.”
Being a magistrate is a part-time role that can fit around other working commitments. From making an impact on families’ futures and children’s lives as a family court magistrate, to handling criminal cases as a criminal court magistrate, candidates are being sought to fill positions across all jurisdictions. Whether a family or criminal court magistrate, whichever role volunteers take up, magistrates regularly make decisions that will shape the lives of individuals for years to come.
Justice Minister Mike Freer said: “Magistrates have a vital role to play in our justice system and we want to see every part of society represented on their benches. By volunteering their time and experience from other walks of life, they play a hugely important part in transforming lives and delivering justice for victims.”
Mark Beattie JP, National Chair of the Magistrates’ Association, said: “Magistrates are the cornerstone of the justice system of England and Wales, so we welcome this continued drive to recruit much-needed volunteers to help deliver speedier justice for all. Diversity is one of the strengths of the magistracy, so we would encourage those from underrepresented groups and areas to apply to perform this most rewarding of voluntary roles. We look forward to sitting alongside you and to welcoming you as members soon.”
Applications are now open in South East England; anyone looking to volunteer should visit icanbeamagistrate.co.uk for more information.