You do not have to be “white, middle class, middle-age and professional” to be a magistrate, claimed Government ministers last week, as they launched a new £4m recruitment drive to double the number of justices of the peace appointed every year.
The Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and the Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer announced the project, which will work with the 90 local magistrates’ advisory committees in England and Wales to raise the profile of the magistracy with a high-profile media campaign.
“Magistrates are the cornerstone of our justice system,” said Falconer. “The overwhelming majority of cases begin and end in the magistrates’ courts. They’ll play a major part in meeting the Government’s commitment to narrowing the justice gap. That’s why we need to redouble our efforts and recruit more magistrates, recruit younger magistrates and increase the number of black and Asian justices, particularly in those cities and towns where they’re under-represented.”
According to Lord Falconer, one of the main difficulties in recruiting from minority ethnic communities lies in “the generally held, but erroneous view” that to become a magistrate you have to be “white, middle class, middle-age and professional”.
“This is a preconception which we have to challenge”, he said.
There was research on hand to illustrate the scale of that challenge. It was revealed that less than 4 per cent of magistrates were under 40 and around 80 per cent are over 50. Just 5.1 per cent of magistrates are black, while 93.7 per cent are white.