By Adam Green
Old and young alike were able to get behind-the-scenes access to Manchester Magistrates Court on Saturday to mark 650 years of magistrates in the UK.
Officials opened the court’s doors to the general public and gave them rare tours, accompanied by real life working Magistrates and other court officials.
Alex Walker, 33, a manager for a railway company, has been ‘on the bench’ for four years and was pleased to see so that many people were interested to view what goes on ‘behind closed doors’.
He said: “Most people will never need to visit a Magistrates court over the course of their lives but hopefully they can leave here today with more understanding of how things work and the effort that volunteer Magistrates put in.”
He added: “I really enjoy putting something back into society and I hope my enthusiasm comes across. If we are lucky then we may even get some new recruits to the bench today.”
The opportunity to visit the cells and prisoner transportation vehicles deep below the courts were especially popular. Working officers were available to guide people through their own daily routine and that of their ‘day guests’.
Sam Green, 11, a pupil at Manchester Grammar school, was fascinated by the small size of the cells and the lack of home comforts. He expressed surprise that some defendants may have to wait all day in such basic conditions with nothing to relieve the boredom.
He said: “Being left all day with no books to read or TV would be very boring.”
He added: “Why can’t we give them some work to do?”
Actors from Manchester college played characters from Manchester’s history and entertained visitors with role plays and monologues describing their experiences.
The event was organised and run by event management students at Manchester Metropolitan University.
Kayleigh Mulgrew, a student at MMU, explained: “We were given the task of setting up a company, designing a marketing strategy and then preparing an operational plan for the day.”
She added: “It has been hard work but very enjoyable and excellent experience. Hopefully everyone has enjoyed it what we have achieved”.
Magistrates or Justices of the Peace (JPs) are volunteers from all walks of life who deal with around 95 per cent of criminal cases in England and Wales, including many of the crimes that most affect the public, such as anti-social behavior.
You don’t need legal or academic qualifications to be a magistrate and full training is provided. To be considered you need to commit at least 26 half-days per year to sit in court. Magistrates can be appointed from the age of 18 and they must retire at 70.
The duties of magistrates include;
– determining whether a defendant is guilty or not and passing the appropriate sentence
– deciding on requests for remand in custody
– deciding on applications for bail
– committing more serious cases to the Crown Court
For more details and how apply go to: