With only 12% of Magistrates identifying themselves as black or of other ethnic minority backgrounds and with 55% magistrates currently over the age of 60, it is clear that magistrates’ benches across the UK are in dire need of diversity. Speaking to the press this week, Chair of the Magistrates’ Association John Bache addressed a rather different aspect of the need for diversity by dispelling the myth that it’s impossible for someone with a criminal record to become a magistrate.
Candidates who have committed serious offences are unlikely to be appointed as magistrates. Bache argues that those who have committed minor offences, however, should not be dissuaded from applying, particularly where the conviction is old. Bache suggests that recruiting more magistrates with criminal convictions would increase diversity on the bench. According to Bache “We all make mistakes, we all do things we shouldn’t have done”. He went on to say “we want to increase diversity, and if we did say anyone who’s ever done anything wrong ever isn’t going to be appointed that’s no way at all to increase diversity”
For those facing trial, knowing that a magistrate may have been in their position may make them feel better represented. This might increase their trust in the criminal justice system. For complainants, the opposite may be true.
With the latest Crown Prosecution Service figures putting Magistrates’ Court conviction rates at more than 84%, it is arguable that magistrates are biased towards conviction. A more diverse bench may be more likely to attribute doubt where it is due, and this would be a welcome change