Campaign to recruit thousands of magistrates from 'every part of society' to boost numbers in Kent

Teachers, bricklayers and stay-at-home mums are being urged to become magistrates in an effort to tackle a backlog of criminal cases caused by the pandemic.

The Ministry of Justice has launched a £1 million recruitment drive to increase the number and diversity of those serving on the bench.

More magistrates are needed
More magistrates are needed

It hopes to boost numbers by 4,000 across the country, and is now opening up positions in Kent.

The campaign aims to attract people from a wide range of backgrounds and ages.

Currently in the South East, just over half of magistrates are women (58%) and the Ministry of Justice is keen to continue to attract, and increase, the numbers of diverse candidates to ensure the magistracy reflects the diversity of the region.

The MoJ is also looking to attract a younger wave of volunteers, with less than one in 10 magistrates (4.8%) in the South East aged 39 or under.

Adults who can display reason and sound judgment are being encouraged to apply as part of the largest recruitment effort in the 650-year history of the service.

The Ministry of Justice is on a recruitment drive to bring in more magistrates to clear the court backlog caused by the pandemic.
The Ministry of Justice is on a recruitment drive to bring in more magistrates to clear the court backlog caused by the pandemic.

Research shows 23% of people in the South East are interested in becoming a magistrate but this jumps to 41% when they learn more about what is involved.

Each day magistrates across England and Wales make life-changing decisions in cases as varied as fraud and sexual assault.

The work is voluntary with individuals expected to dedicate a minimum of 13 days a year service, meaning many magistrates often fulfil this role easily alongside other responsibilities.

To aid people in their understanding the MoJ has got serving Kent magistrates involved in the campaign.

Gill Fryzer, from Smarden, near Ashford, has been a magistrate for more than 20 years, serving as chairman of her local bench between 2017-2020.

At home with three small children at the time she first joined, she wanted a volunteer role that was both stimulating for her, and was for the public good.

Maidstone Magistrates Court
Maidstone Magistrates Court

Gill went on to have her fourth child while working as a magistrate in adult and youth Crime.

She said: “It really is a fantastically rewarding role on a number of levels and a huge privilege to be able to contribute to a safe and just society in this way.

"A core principle of the magistracy is that we are ordinary people who act in good faith and with the benefit of a wide variety of life experiences."

Another common misconception is that you require a legal background to serve as a magistrate.

But those on the bench sit with a legal adviser in court and are giving training before they start.

Magistrates with disabilities are also able to serve on the bench.

Kim Silver, 64, from Minster on the Isle of Sheppey has been a magistrate for 22 years.

Her friend suggested joining a pilot scheme for visually impaired magistrates because she’d always been interested in the justice system and law.

She said: “I’d encourage anyone to consider this as it’s very different from other voluntary positions.

"Each sitting is very different, never dull and there’s always something of interest that you discover when dealing with cases.

"You meet people from all walks of life and it’s very rewarding to help and make a difference to their lives. You just need to be a good listener and work well within a team to make decisions.”

Justice secretary Dominic Raab has urged people from 'every part of society' to apply. Picture: Chris McAndrew/UK Parliament
Justice secretary Dominic Raab has urged people from 'every part of society' to apply. Picture: Chris McAndrew/UK Parliament

Justice Secretary Dominic Raab, said: “Magistrates are a vital pillar of our world-class justice system and we want people from every part of society represented in their ranks.

“If you care about your community and want to give back then I would encourage you to apply to become a magistrate. There are few other opportunities that can make such a difference in people’s lives.

“Alongside our plans to double their sentencing powers from six months to a year, this recruitment drive will ensure magistrates can play an even greater role in restoring the swift justice the public deserve”

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