Why, then, is John Bache, Chairman of the Magistrates Association, worried that only 12% of JPs are black and ethnic minority? This seems reasonable to me, bearing in mind that those appointed in the last century would have been proportionately more white.
Until I retired as a magistrate last year, most criminals were male, yet half of the bench were women. It is fair in general terms to argue that magistrates should reflect the society which they serve, but that does not mean that an individual defendant should expect a bench reflecting his or her characteristics, particularly if they are of a criminal tendency.
Michael Staples JP
Seaford, East Sussex
SIR – Mr Bache is trying too hard to be politically correct by seeking to recruit more former offenders as magistrates to “make those accused of crimes feel less alienated by the justice system”. It is far more important that the justice system retains the confidence of the victims of crime and the law-abiding majority, as well as criminals, by having magistrates of obvious integrity.
As to the need for diversity, the principal requirement is awareness of the circumstances of those who appear in court. You need not have financial problems to judge poor people, or be black to judge black people.
Experience like that gained in Citizens’ Advice, seeing people of every kind of background, can provide the necessary qualification.
Petworth, West Sussex
SIR – Sitting as a deputy stipendiary magistrate, I did not have to be a former thief to know the difference between a mother stealing food for her hungry child and a man stealing watches for profit.
SIR – Mr Bache suggests that recruiting magistrates with criminal records would make those accused of crimes feel less alienated by the justice system. I thought that one aspect of the justice system was just that – to make criminals feel alienated from the norms of civilised society.
SIR – It is suggested that former criminals should be magistrates, and only gay actors should play gay characters. What next – MPs that have lived and worked in the real world before representing us mere mortals?