Individuals With Criminal Records Should Become Magistrates For ‘Diversity’

A fine new stone carving above the entrance to the court, opened September 2011.
David Hawgood/Creative Commons

Magistrates Association chairman John Bache has called for more criminals to be appointed to the job, stressing that the organisation is determined to boost so-called diversity in Britain’s legal system “in any way we can”.

Lamenting that 88 per cent of people in the role are white, the law chief also suggested awareness-raising school visits, and soap operas featuring storylines around the job, as ways to drive up the percentage of ethnic minorities serving as magistrates.

In the United Kingdom, magistrates hear the cases of minor offences and impose punishments on those found guilty, and deal with 95% of all court cases. Magistrates are volunteers drawn from the general public rather than the legal profession to judge less serious cases which do not necessarily require a jury to be called.

In an interview with the Daily Telegraph this week Mr Bache bemoaned the shrinking size of the magistracy, which he said needs almost 10,000 new magistrates over the next ten years “just to stay still”, asserting that rules that allow criminals to take on the rule should be better publicised.

“We all make mistakes, we all do things we shouldn’t have done. But we want to increase diversity, and if we did say anyone who’s done anything wrong ever isn’t going to be appointed, that’s no way at all to increase diversity,” he said.

Claiming a judiciary containing fewer white people would boost criminals’ trust in the system, the Cheshire-based chairman said his association believes it is important to “increase diversity in any way we can”.

“I’d want to encourage everyone, I wouldn’t want to particularly encourage people who have got a criminal record but I certainly wouldn’t want to discourage them from applying.

“I wouldn’t want them to think that because they’ve got a relatively minor criminal record some years ago that they’re not going to be accepted as a magistrate, because that would be completely erroneous,” said Mr Bache, who told the Financial Times Tuesday that receiving an insufficient number of applications to become magistrates from ethnic minorities is a “perennial problem”.

In that interview, which noted 55 per cent of magistrates are now female, the law chief explained his organisation was “very keen” for there to be greater share of black, asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people in the magistracy given criticisms that the bench is too “pale and stale” — a claim made by black identity activist and Labour MP David Lammy.

The Tottenham MP, who has described the late former torture advocate Winnie Mandela as “a hero”, produced a report last year revealing rampant criminality amongst some ethnic minority communities, which he blamed on a “chronic trust deficit” between authorities and BAME suspects.

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