Call for Black Lives Matter activists to become magistrates to boost diversity
BLACK Lives Matter activists concerned by racial bias in the justice system 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% of criminal court cases every year but are facing a recruitment crisis.
The number of magistrates has dropped 43% in the past eight years from more than 25,000 to less than 15,000 in 2019.
Some 52 per cent of those remaining 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, said: “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’.”
Some on the bench fear many younger potential candidates will be deterred by the magistracy’s image as the preserve of middle-class, middle-aged white men.
In reality, the magistracy is actually one of the most diverse areas of the justice system.
Some 56% of magistrates are women and 12% identify as being of black and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, rising to
28% in London.
By comparison just 7% of court judges are people of colour, and only 32% are women.
MP David Lammy’s 2017 review into the treatment of
BAME communities in the justice system found that, despite making up just 14% of the population, they accounted for 25% of prisoners.
This figure rose to 41% of the population being held in youth custody.
One significant finding was that BAME defendants were consistently less likely to plead guilty than white British defendants.
This disparity was found to be a major factor in the disproportionate make-up of the prison population.