Updated: Tuesday, 31st March 2020 @ 1:33pm

Do magistrates really represent us? MM investigates...

Do magistrates really represent us? MM investigates...

| By Sameedah Khatoon

Judicial diversity statistics published by the HM Courts and Tribunals shows a steady decline in the number of magistrates.

The statistics show a 43% decline from 25,170 at 1 April 2012 to 14,348 at 1 April 2019.

Though the number of women magistrates has increased with over half (56%) of all magistrates women.

However, the total number of Black and Minority Ethnic Groups (BAME) who are magistrates is 12% (of the 94% of magistrates who disclosed their ethnicity), though this is an increase of 4% since 2012.

The number of BAME magistrates is highest in London with 29%, followed by the Midlands with 15%. The regions with the lowest number of BAME magistrates was Wales and the South West (5%).

The North West had close to 8%.

The statistics further show that the majority, 84% of magistrates were aged 50 or over and a further 52% were 60 or over, with only 1% of magistrates younger than 30.

A magistrate must demonstrate six qualities; good character; commitment and reliability; social awareness; sound judgement; understanding and communication; maturity and sound temperament.

The question then arises how can magistrates truly reflect the people if the majority of them are white and over the age of 50. This then raises the question as to whether they have the social awareness of the issues impacting the diverse society present within England.

The Lammy Review published in 2017 highlighted how a quarter of the prison population was made of people who classed themselves as BAME, while the total population of BAME in England was 14% (at the time of the review). Though there are several factors which affect the high number of BAME prisoners, the report seemed to highlight how it was the lack of trust held by BAME defendants in the UK criminal justice system.

The review stated: “Trust is low not just among defendants and offenders, but among the BAME population as a whole.

In bespoke analysis for this review which drew on the 2015 Crime Survey for England and Wales, 51% of people from BAME backgrounds born in England and Wales who were surveyed believe that ‘the criminal justice system discriminates against particular groups and individuals’.”

“The answer to this is to remove one of the biggest symbols of an ‘us and them’ culture – the lack of diversity among those making important decisions in the CJS; from prison officers and governors, to the magistrates and the judiciary.”

Though no definitive study or research has been conducted to see whether this is in fact the case.

The real question then remains, what is the government doing to tackle this imbalance within the UK judicial system.

The answer is nothing at all. The Lammy review came out two years ago with the recommendation that: “The government should set a clear, national target to achieve a representative judiciary and magistracy by 2025. It should then report to Parliament with progress against this target biennially.”

However, this was rejected by the government as the government argued that the judiciary needed people who were experienced in the law.

However, experience is not a necessity when applying to become a magistrate.

The statistics show that the number of magistrates is in fact declining thus, creating further disparity and the fact that the majority of the magistrates are over a particular age then raises the question, do these individuals understand the ground realities.

It could be said that the government could do more in getting more BAME participation and a younger demographic, however, the government of the day has done little in this way and it is unlikely to change any time soon.