Call for clerks to decide law

MAGISTRATES have reacted cautiously to the suggestion that justices' clerks should decide on legal matters.

Speaking at last week's Justices' Clerks Society Annual Conference, the group's president Tony Heath, said the time had come for the practice direction on the role of the clerk to be reconsidered.

He described the current system of advising magistrates on point of law as a “charade” and asked: “Has not the time come to allow the clerk to decide matters of law, evidence and procedure…and enable our magistrates to concentrate on the central issues of fact?”

Heath also recommended clerks be allowed to retire with the justices for deliberations. He said: “The current arrangements under which the justices commonly retire without the clerk, discuss the case and then call the clerk out to advise him of their decision…is antiquated and inefficient.”

A spokeswoman for the Magistrates Association said it would be interested in having further discussion on whether clerks should decide points of law but was more hesitant on the question of clerks retiring for deliberations.