The Judiciary of England and Wales and the Ministry of Justice are calling on people from all walks of life in Birmingham to be part of a new wave of volunteers, giving back to their local community and helping the magistracy better reflect the diversity of British society.
Data on the diversity of the current magistracy in Birmingham and Solihull, Black Country, Coventry and Warwickshire’s over the last five years shows an increase in magistrates from underrepresented groups, including people under 50 (currently 18% of the local judiciary), people from an ethnic minority background (25%).
There’s still further to go, which is why people from a wide range of are being urged to consider becoming magistrates as applications open in Birmingham for another year. The appeal is part of a national drive to increase the number of those volunteering across England and Wales, including people from underrepresented groups in the magistracy.
No legal qualifications, degree or experience is required to be a magistrate. Volunteers will be given thorough training as well as ongoing support to help make decisions on cases in criminal or family court. Magistrates work closely in groups of three with a legal advisor, who offers guidance on the law.
From teachers to electricians, to stay-at-home parents, anyone aged between 18 and 70 who can commit to at least 13 days a year for at least five years is encouraged to come forward. Become a magistrate and you’ll learn new skills, enjoy new challenges, and help create positive change for your community. The role also gives people a chance to give back to their community, build relationships with new people and develop new skills.
With support from magistrates in Birmingham, the campaign seeks to boost numbers by recruiting 2,000 new magistrates across England and Wales this year. Being a magistrate is a part-time voluntary role that can fit around other working commitments. From making an impact on families’ futures and children’s lives as a family court magistrate, to handling criminal cases as a criminal court magistrate, candidates are being sought to fill positions across all jurisdictions. Whichever role volunteers take up, they will regularly make decisions that will shape the lives of individuals for years to come.
Birmingham magistrates are stepping forward to talk about the benefits the role brings to their lives, from make a difference to wider society to gaining a wide range of highly valued and transferable skills.
Hersha from Solihull has been a magistrate for over 20 years. Hersha was looking for volunteer work and spotted an advert for the magistracy at her workplace.
On her role as a magistrate, Hersha said: “My role as a magistrate is to help maintain the rule of law and create a positive change in my community. It’s important to treat people with respect and try and understand what led them to crime. I love being able to help victims of crime by delivering justice, I feel as though I’m helping make a positive impact in society. The magistracy is currently looking to recruit people from all different walks of life. If you’re interested in joining the bench, I would encourage you to apply.”
Dr Randhir from Coventry, is the Head of School at the University of Westminster’s Business School. She has been a magistrate for over 13 years after starting her career as a social worker and developing an interest in the magistracy having attended court through the role.
On her role as a magistrate, Randhir said: “I feel incredibly privileged to be a part of the magistracy. If you’re interested in the criminal justice system and in joining the criminal court, I’d recommend you go and observe some court sessions. It will give you a really valuable insight into what the role involves. We need more people from all walks of life on the bench so if you’re interested in helping to create positive change for your local community, while learning new skills and enjoying different challenges, apply for the role.”
Justice Minister Mike Freer said: “Ordinary people up and down the country play a vital role as magistrates helping ensure that crimes in their community are punished and we want more people to join them.
I am always impressed by the people I meet who volunteer their time and experience from other walks of life and I would encourage anyone with a desire to help victims get justice to apply.”
As part of the application to sit in the criminal court, applicants are required to observe at least two magistrates’ sittings in court. This is an opportunity to learn more about the role and see magistrates in action. Hearings deal with a range of offences, from less serious crimes, such as speeding and criminal damage to much more serious offences, including murder, manslaughter and robbery.
Family court hearings are heard in private so public observations are not possible. To apply to sit in the family court, applicants must complete research exploring what it’s like being a family court magistrate. This may include watching videos and reading information on the Courts and Tribunals Judiciary website. Family court magistrates can have a significant impact on a child’s life and a family’s future. They make decisions that affect vulnerable children, such as enforcing child maintenance orders and protecting children subject to significant harm so they move to a safe environment.
Magistrates typically develop highly transferrable skills such as critical analysis, complex problem-solving, mediation, influencing and decision-making, all of which stand to benefit them in their wider lives. Research from the Ministry of Justice among HR and business leaders showed they felt people who volunteer as magistrates were likely to have sound judgement (89%) and effective decision-making (81%).**
Mark Beattie JP, National Chair of the Magistrates’ Association, said: “Magistrates are the cornerstone of the justice system of England and Wales, so we welcome this continued drive to recruit much-needed volunteers to help deliver speedier justice for all. Diversity is one of the strengths of the magistracy, so we would encourage those from underrepresented groups and areas to apply to perform this most rewarding of voluntary roles. We look forward to sitting alongside you and to welcoming you as members soon.”
Applications are now open in Birmingham, anyone looking to volunteer should visit icanbeamagistrate.co.uk for more information.