Don’t force mag­is­trates to re­tire at 70

Yorkshire Post - - OPINION - Ros Alt­mann Ros Alt­mann is a Tory peer. She is a for­mer Pen­sions Min­is­ter.

MAG­IS­TRATES ARE call­ing for the Gov­ern­ment to aban­don its pol­icy of forc­ing them to re­tire at age 70, in­tro­duced by leg­is­la­tion from 1993.

Most mag­is­trates work un­paid and vol­un­teer their ser­vices to use their train­ing in the in­ter­ests of jus­tice.

How­ever, over the past 10 years, the num­ber of mag­is­trates has halved to 15,000 and more than half of them are al­ready over the age of 60.

This is caus­ing a se­vere short­age in our jus­tice sys­tem. Here’s why new leg­is­la­tion is ur­gently needed to change forced re­tire­ment at 70. The Mag­is­trates’ As­so­ci­a­tion’s re­cent an­nual meet­ing has de­cided to step up pres­sure on the Gov­ern­ment to in­tro­duce leg­is­la­tion that will al­low mag­is­trates to stay on past age 70 if they wish to.

The most se­nior jus­tices, who chair court hear­ings, are in par­tic­u­larly short sup­ply, and al­though judges are also sup­posed to re­tire at age 70, they can work up to age 75 if needed.

Mag­is­trates are not al­lowed to do so. Surely such ar­bi­trary age dis­crim­i­na­tion has no place in the mod­ern work­force.

Re­duced im­mi­gra­tion in an age­ing pop­u­la­tion de­mands new think­ing. We are re­duc­ing im­mi­gra­tion lev­els and have an age­ing pop­u­la­tion so we ur­gently need to up­date prac­tices re­gard­ing em­ploy­ing older peo­ple.

If some­one is per­fectly ca­pa­ble of work­ing and wishes to do so, the law should not force them to stop. Those prac­tices may have been ac­cept­able in the 20th cen­tury, but 21st cen­tury re­al­i­ties de­mand change.

Many peo­ple want to work into their 70s, if they are fit and healthy and en­joy what they are do­ing. Mag­is­trates are un­paid and per­form a hugely im­por­tant so­cial func­tion.

Our jus­tice sys­tem is hugely re­spected and val­ued through­out the world, and re­lies on un­paid mag­is­trates to of­fer their time to de­liver jus­tice in our coun­try.

It is an in­sult to the work ethic, pub­lic spirit and life­long ex­pe­ri­ence of our le­gal ex­perts to force them to re­tire when they do not wish to.

Of course, they do need a proper ap­praisal sys­tem to as­sess ca­pa­bil­i­ties; if they are not fit to serve then there has to be an im­par­tial way to as­sess their abil­ity, but that ap­plies in other ar­eas of work­ing life and the ju­di­ciary should not be ex­cluded.

Those who make and over­see our laws should not be dis­crim­i­nated against on the grounds of age. Such think­ing fails to recog­nise all the im­prove­ments achieved in health and life ex­pectancy, it should no longer be ac­cept­able to dis­crim­i­nate against the over-70s, any more than it would be to re­quire peo­ple to re­tire just be­cause they are of a par­tic­u­lar race, re­li­gion or gen­der.

It is time for new think­ing about age in the work­place. The Gov­ern­ment has recog­nised that peo­ple are liv­ing longer and health­ier lives. Ar­bi­trary lim­its, which fail to utilise all the skills and tal­ents of our pop­u­la­tion, are dam­ag­ing – both so­cially and eco­nom­i­cally. And in the case of mag­is­trates, they are dam­ag­ing the very fab­ric of our jus­tice sys­tem, too.

If peo­ple want to work longer and can do so, don’t stop them. I hope the Gov­ern­ment will ur­gently con­sider this mat­ter and, es­pe­cially in light of Brexit and re­duc­ing im­mi­gra­tion, recog­nise the need to re­tain the ser­vices of our ded­i­cated ju­di­ciary for far longer, if they want to keep per­form­ing their du­ties.

We have an age­ing pop­u­la­tion so we ur­gently need to up­date prac­tices re­gard­ing em­ploy­ing older peo­ple.

LIFT THE BAN: Ar­bi­trary age lim­its are dam­ag­ing the fab­ric of our jus­tice sys­tem, Ros Alt­mann ar­gues.

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