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Suffolk is facing shortage of magistrates - and is looking for new recruits

PUBLISHED: 07:00 26 August 2018 | UPDATED: 07:50 26 August 2018

After they receive their training, magistrates are sworn in at Ipswich Crown Court Picture: GREGG BROWN

After they receive their training, magistrates are sworn in at Ipswich Crown Court Picture: GREGG BROWN

Suffolk is currently facing a shortage of magistrates - and is looking to recruit new members serve on the bench.

Susan McLachlan, who has been a magistrate in Suffolk for ten years Picture: SUE MCLACHLANSusan McLachlan, who has been a magistrate in Suffolk for ten years Picture: SUE MCLACHLAN

The county is currently looking to recruit 15 more justices of the peace and is keen to broaden the demographic of those in the role.

Karen Dennis, Suffolk’s legal admin team manager, said: “We’d love to hear from younger people from all backgrounds, and have tried to target certain groups of people by entering colleges and communities.

“This year, we wanted 26 new magistrates in Suffolk. We’ve got 13 so far, so we’d like to achieve that number again, ideally.”

Susan McLachlan has been a magistrate in Suffolk for the last ten years.

She said: “It is about serving the community, acting as a representative of the people who have suffered from crime and violence and to bring about justice. But it is not just about justice and punishment because that will not work on its own, it is also about rehabilitation - to be firm but fair.

“It is a real privilege to serve as a magistrate.

“You don’t have to have a degree level of education or knowledge of the legal system.

“You just need common sense and a sense of fairness and wanting to do right by the victim of crime. It is a very fulfilling and rewarding role.”

Miss Dennis said she thinks the shortage of magistrates in Suffolk is partly down to people not being aware of what the role entails.

She said: “I think one of the main reasons is that younger people are usually busy working, and that fewer employers tend to give time off, although some still do. I also think it’s partly down to people not being aware of the role.

“A lot of those who show interest have become aware after sitting on a jury or appearing in court as a witness.”

Miss Dennis said prior knowledge of the law is not necessary to become a magistrate.

She said: “The main restrictions concern people’s jobs.

“For example, police officers or parents of people in the police force, although not necessarily excluded, will often be ineligible to sit in their home county. It can depend on the type of job they do.

“Experience of the law is not a necessary requirement – but we like people to have an interest in local justice. There are a lot of strict guidelines in place to inform judgements and sentences.”

What do magistrates do?

•Magistrates deal with crimes such as minor assaults, motoring offences, thefts, handling stolen goods and TV licence evasion.

•They can hand out punishments such as fines, unpaid community work and prison sentences up to six months (or up to a year for more than one crime)

•They also hear cases at a family court.

Who can become a magistrate?

•You do not need any formal qualifications or legal training to be a magistrate but do have to be between 18 and 65 years of age.

•You need to show you are aware of social issues, understand people, have a sense of fairness and be reliable and committed to serve the community.

•You need to be able to understand documents, follow evidence, communicate effectively, think logically and be able to weigh up arguments to reach a good decision.

•It’s unlikely you will be taken on if you have been found guilty of a serious crime, have been found guilty of a number of minor offences, have been banned from driving within the last five to 10 years or have been declared bankrupt.

What is the pay and how many days do you work?

•You will need to be in court for at least 13 days, or 28 half days, a year.

•Magistrates are not paid but many employers will allow time off with pay.

•If you lose out on pay, magistrates can claim an allowance at a set rate, as well as an allowance for travel, food and drink.

Visit your local court

•If you are thinking of becoming a magistrate it is advised you visit your local court at least once, preferably a few times, to see if the role is right for you.

•Suffolk Magistrates’ Court is in Elm St, Ipswich

•If you are invited to interview as a magistrate, you may be asked about your visits.

Email magistrateshrteam@judiciary.gsi.gov.uk for more information

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