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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Wednesday, 16 December 2015


I have blogged extensively of my belief that in effect within Whitehall in a securely locked safe there is an outline document describing the phasing out of Justices of the Peace within the magistrates` courts system as now constituted.  In conjunction with HMCTS, pre determined analyses, so called consultations and the nod from the senior judiciary the way seems to being cleared for District Judges to take over and eventually usurp the functions of the lay magistracy for all but the most minor offences these being confined to a spurious system of local or neighbourhood panels. The continuing recruitment of Deputy District Judges(MC) to sit for a minimum number of sittings annually on a daily fixed fee is just the beginning of this process. 

There are 139 full time District Judges (M.C.) and 154 D.D.J.s. Ostensibly this is being trumpeted to speed up trial delays. The authorities have denied that court closures have been responsible for such delays. This is akin to saying that a shortage of bread for sale does not push up the price of what bread is available.  There is no shortage of J.P.s in England. They are available to sit when requested and no court will be underused by their inactivity. They are now, as when I was sitting,  under active because the whole courts system is being steered to increasing numbers of courts being taken by District Judges(MC) sitting alone. We can be 100% certain that more reports will be issued concerning courts all over the country. Unless some senior judges who are seemingly so proud of our jury system make known their objections to a single judge sitting on criminal trials that is precisely where we are heading. On the other hand perhaps those self same judges have been paying only lip service to their admiration of the lay magistracy and when it comes to the crunch will wash their hands of it not daring to lift a finger in its defence preferring to keep out of what they define as the  political arena.The example of their public silence over the criminal courts charge until pressure from others was overwhelming serves as an example.


  1. You may well be right but when? 10 years? 50?

    There are about 1900 judges in England and Wales, covering both civil and criminal. 19,000 magistrates are doing an average 40+ half days per year on benches of 2-3. I've never seen a projected figure for the number of district judges required to cover that work but I can see it would be a substantial increase in the size of the paid judiciary. Recruiting and training them would take time and would be a pretty obvious change of policy.

    Whether the general public worries one way or the other I rather doubt. Justice does not make for strong political campaigns by and large. Magistrates are anecdotally supposed to be more lenient than paid judges in the magistrates' courts so I suppose criminals might be a bit upset. And much of Europe uses a single judge in similar courts.

    I think only once the minor, more regulatory offences are moved out of the court system to be dealt with administratively will any move away from magistrates be likely. The government will need to minimise the additional cost of paid judges first.

    I do not expect any real support from the senior judiciary - not for political but practical reasons: the lower courts are their recruitment source.

    1. You might like to peruse and consider that without having £50K/per annum legal advisors, getting through more work and removing J.P.s` expenses the D.J./J.P. financial models run close.

  2. Regrettably, this has, as you note, been the trend in recent years. Many, many years ago, the then "Chief", the Chief Magistrate of England and Wales, told us at a meeting in central London that there would always be a need for lay justices as there would always be motoring offences that have to be brought before a court !! For years, we have been pacified by warm but empty words from senior judiciary and politicians, while inexplicably, many of the latter (especially peers) proclaim the need for juries rather than justice determined by a single judge. I have long suggested to enquiring friends that if they want to do something constructive for the community while exercising their mental faculties, they should not choose to apply to become a magistrate.