THE LORD Chancellor's Department (LCD) has ruled that magistrates' court clerks must be legally qualified.
The decision, which affects a third of the country's 1,800 clerks and has infuriated the Association of Magisterial Officers (AMO), was announced by Geoff Hoon, the minister of state at the LCD, last week.
He said his decision had followed a consultation exercise on the issue, in which the majority of respondents had said that "those advising justices should be qualified as a barrister or solicitor". He said he intended to use secondary legislation to change the rules.
Existing clerks who are not lawyers will be given ten years to qualify.
Hoon said the LCD would make some funding available to help magistrates' courts committees provide training and support. He said he did "not anticipate there being redundancies as a result of the qualification change".
But Rosie Eagleson, general secretary of the AMO, described the move as "a surprising example of old-fashioned professional snobbery put forward by new Labour which contradicts their modernising rhetoric".