According to a report from Transform Justice, the recruitment of lay magistrates in the UK is “facing a crisis.” The report, which was entitled Magistrates: Representative of the People?, found that the UK’s magistracy was “shrinking and ageing.” It also concluded that magistrates in the UK were disproportionately middle class and white compared to the country’s population.
Transform Justice also described magistrate numbers as being in “freefall,” after identifying that they had suffered a decline of 28% compared to 2007. In 2013, nearly 2000 people left the magistracy while only 300 joined. This discrepancy, according to the report, is due to most areas suffering from a “recruitment freeze.” The report claimed that the issue is not being sufficiently addressed at present.
Furthermore, the report discovered that far from simply failing to represent ethnic communities within Britain proportionately, the magistracy is actually becoming less representative. Proportionally speaking, the number of magistrates from ethnic minority backgrounds is 6% lower than the UK population, compared to just 2% in 1999.
Magistrates are also becoming older. In 1999, only 32% of magistrates were over 60. For 2013, the report found this figure had inflated to nearly 56%. In 14 different specific areas, this figure was above 60%.
Social class was found to be another area in which magistrates poorly represented the population of the UK as a whole. More than 50% of lay magistrates were in occupations that would be widely identified as middle class, including managerial, professional, and senior official roles. In the UK as a whole, on the other hand, these people account for only 28% of the population. Furthermore, people who work in customer services or sales roles account for 8% of the UK population but only 1.5% of magistrates.
Measures proposed in the report to deal with these issues include the introduction of positive discrimination and entrusting recruitment to the Judicial Appointments Commission. The positive discrimination in question would enable recruiters to favour a candidate from an underrepresented group for reasons of better representation when two candidates are otherwise of equal suitability. This measure already exists for the recruitment of salaried judges.
It is also suggested that it should be made easier for working people to serve as magistrates. This, it is suggested, could be done by introducing an absolute right to take time off in order to sit. Further suggestions include a fixed tenure of ten years and greater sentencing powers for magistrates.
The report claims that a key source of these problems is the lack of clear, specific policy regarding magistrate recruitment. While there have been active efforts to improve diversity among the salaried, professional arm of the judiciary, no such agenda has existed for lay magistrates.