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Reduced investment in training puts magistrates’ role at risk

31st Dec 2014

A report into magistrates’ training has shown that a decreased investment and lack of support could be devaluing their role in the criminal justice system.

The report, which was on the future of the unpaid judiciary, has been carried out at a time when recruitment to the magistracy has ground to a halt in many areas. Contributing factors to this include the closing of some local courts due to funding cuts, a reduced crime rate, and more full-time district judges.

Transform Justice, the charity behind the report, says that spending on magistrates’ training by the judicial college has fallen from £110 per magistrate in the period 2008-9, to just £26 for 2013-4. The study also shows that in contrast to this, in some cases over £600 was spent per person in training district judges in 2013-4, with additional funding provided by local court officials and the Magistrates’ Association.

The report, by Penelope Gibbs, finishes by saying that since responsibility for the training of magistrates was passed to the judiciary a decade ago, no substantial independent review of quality has been carried out to determine whether or not needs are being met. A delay in the government publishing their green paper on the magistracy’s future seems only to enforce the impression that magistrates are a low priority.

Though magistrates are not paid, they have regular appraisals of their work and competency, while district judges, earning just over £100,000 a year, are appraised but checks are not compulsory.

A spokesperson for the judiciary stated that magistrates are ‘still being trained to a high standard’, and that the savings in costs have come from other measures, such as no longer using external venues, further use of technology, and offering more flexible and focused training.

They added that the need for recruiting magistrates and district judges was reviewed annually as a whole, with one of their key aims being to ensure that both roles are being used optimally, as each is ‘essential to the administration of justice’.