Now that I am retired having been many years a magistrate with a long awareness of the declining freedoms enjoyed by the ordinary citizen and a corresponding fear of the big brother state`s ever increasing encroachment on civil liberties I hope that my personal observations within these general parameters will be of interest to those with an open mind. Having been blogging with this title for many years against the rules of the Ministry of Justice my new found freedom should allow me to be less inhibited in these observations.
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Thursday, 14 November 2013
TOO LITTLE TOO LATE FOR MAGISTRATES
It would be fair to say that although I have been a member of the Magistrates` Association since my appointment it did not take me long to become disillusioned with that organisation insofar as its effect on me personally or the magistracy in general. To be sure it had a bit of an ear to government by there being no other body with similar pretensions. Its hierarchy seemed to be populated by those of a similar outlook to the great and the good of Whitehall with whom there seemed to be the cordiality of a gentleman’s club. Perhaps St James was a more fitting address than Fitzroy Place where the incumbents would patiently await, every new year, recognition in the form of a gong. However it is just possible that changing events have prompted changed thinking.
J.P.s` ranks have fallen about 20% in less than a decade and with it the income of the M.A. whose membership is about 80% of those eligible. The penny seems to have dropped that the current top down structural system of membership has little attraction for potential members. I blogged critically on 25th October of the debate at the M.A. AGM on the taking of the oath in court. Notwithstanding that example there seems to be the possibility under its new chairman that the organisation has finally woken from its torpor and is confident enough to broach topics previously inconceivable.
Chairman Richard Monkhouse has opined that having a criminal record is not necessarily an obstacle to being appointed J.P. Considering that it is estimated that 30% of men have such a record (including cautions) by the age of 30 his position is one of considering our society as it is and not as a place at the end of a yellow brick road. Indeed a close and highly respected colleague now approaching retirement was disqualified from driving after a conviction for dangerous driving in his late teens. This he duly declared on his application for the magistracy over thirty years later and good service was done by all in that he was selected.
Perhaps Mr Monkhouse is finally beginning to realise that the magistracy is very close to being relegated within a decade to a para legal sideshow. Perhaps this is a way to make contact with a wider audience than would usually be listening to such a spokesman. Perhaps he is attempting to invigorate an organisation which has been in stasis for decades. Whatever his motive for this initiative it is probably too little too late to change the course of government intentions but it is a gallant attempt for all that.