JP quits in protest over liability

A JP has resigned in protest amid rows about magistrates liability to pay damages and costs to defendants on appeal.

The resignation of Lincolnshire-based JP Joanne Atkinson rocked the Magistrates' Association annual general meeting.

The resignation follows an award by Mr Justice Sedley against Lincoln magistrates – not including Atkinson – several weeks ago and similar awards earlier this year.

Atkinson told the AGM that she had written to the Lord Chancellor “about the fact that these days people are so ready to sue”.

But she said: “The answers I received were somewhat ambiguous. They tried to put my mind at rest but soothing noises in this case simply are not good enough.”

She had “therefore decided to resign”, she said.

A unanimous vote by delegates supported a call for a new law of immunity from liability to pay damages and costs, bringing magistrates into line with the professional judiciary.

A new law preventing the Child Support Agency overriding existing magistrates' decisions on maintenance payments also becomes a formal association aim.

In Lincoln, JPs' failure to consider an adjournment in the case of a poll tax debtor was “grave impropriety and a most serious disregard of the elementary principles of justice,” Mr Justice Sedley said.