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Do you know what TikTok is? Then you might make a good magistrate, says Ministry of Justice

82% of volunteers in England and Wales are aged 50 and above

The Ministry of Justice in England and Wales has launched what it sees as the biggest recruitment drive in the magistrate system's 650-year history, to address the backlog in cases partly caused by the pandemic.

A £1m marketing campaign aims to boost numbers by 4,000 or a third of the current workforce. Teachers, bricklayers, stay-at-home mums, and any individuals who can display reason and sound judgment could be considered, according to an MoJ media missive.

One might assume that excludes the majority of the current Cabinet, given the ongoing scandal concerning numerous alleged lockdown-breaking parties at No 10.

The MoJ also seeks to make the magistracy more representative of the communities it serves. According to government data published last year, 82 per cent of magistrates in England and Wales were aged 50 and above.

Magistrates need to volunteer a minimum of 13 days service each year, which the Ministry believes means the role can fit "easily alongside full-time employment and caring responsibilities."

Successful applicants will also be required to undergo training. It reassured employers that some of the "training days... can be done at weekends."

It added that candidates would receive expenses for the days they attend training, although the magistrate position is voluntary.

Justice Secretary Dominic Raab said: "Magistrates are the unsung heroes of the justice system and we want people from every part of society represented in their ranks."

The government is also putting new rules in place to double magistrates' sentencing powers from six months to a year. "There are few other opportunities that can make such a difference in people's lives," Raab said.

The top qualities the MoJ and the Judiciary look for in potential candidates are good communication skills, a sense of fairness, and the ability to see an argument from different sides. Candidates are being sought to fill positions across all jurisdictions including criminal work and youth cases, as well as certain civil and family proceedings.

The magistrates' court derives from the Courts of petty session, established in the 1730s. They dealt with matters such as minor theft and larceny, assault, drunkenness, bastardy examinations, and arbitration.

The Magistrates Association is a charity and membership body with around 12,700 members in England and Wales. In 2020, it released research showing 56 per cent of magistrates were female, 13 per cent were from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, and 49 per cent were aged 60 or over. Just over 1 per cent were aged under 30.

At the time, John Bache, national chair of the Magistrates Association, said: "Magistrates must be recruited from all backgrounds and the magistracy should reflect the communities that it serves. There has been some progress made on improving diversity in the magistracy, with the proportion of magistrates who are from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds having increased from 8 per cent to 13 per cent since 2014. There is, however, still more to do, particularly to encourage many more young people and people from all social backgrounds to become magistrates.

"We are facing a crisis in magistrate numbers. Even before the current coronavirus pandemic halted recruitment, the number of magistrates had halved in the last decade and there are now simply not enough magistrates to do the work that needs to be done." ®

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