Bury St Edmunds: Former magistrate raises concerns about justice system on her last day in court

Retired magistrate Meg Clibbon outside Bury St Edmunds Magistrates' Court.

Retired magistrate Meg Clibbon outside Bury St Edmunds Magistrates' Court. - Credit: Mariam Ghaemi

A former magistrate has spoken of the “slow erosion of local justice” in her closing words at court.

Meg Clibbon, who retired this week following 25 years as a magistrate, raised a number of concerns in a speech which she delivered at Bury St Edmunds Magistrates’ Court before the opening of court business.

Mrs Clibbon said: “The dead hand of bureaucracy and the constant pursuit of cost effectiveness have taken their toll.”

She said the “excellent” probation service was about to be dealt “a body blow” with the payment-by-results plan for offender supervision, describing it as “the privatisation of a state function”.

And she believes out of court disposals, which in theory set courts free to deal with more serious matters, had “bitten deep into the credibility of the system” as nearly 6,000 violent offenders, fraudsters, thieves, drug dealers, sex offenders and burglars were given police cautions during two years in Suffolk instead of appearing in court.

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Other concerns she raised included the closure of satellite courts.

She said she was proud to be a magistrate, adding: “I have only spoken in the way I have because I am so proud of the magistracy as an institution and feel that someone should speak up for it in the face of what I feel is the slow erosion of local justice which, until now, has been independent of political and bureaucratic pressure.”

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Speaking to the East Anglian Daily Times, she said the loss resources was actually “chipping away at the foundations of our society”.

“I do think it’s an excellent system and we are supported by The Magistrates’ Association and by senior judges, but there’s such a lot of cost-cutting in Government at the moment I think it’s just another area where we are going to get cut-price justice and that’s going to erode local justice itself.”

In her address, Mrs Clibbon, who also paid tribute to those who work in the courts, said change was “inevitable” and if initiated for the right reasons by the right people it could be productive.

The mother-of-two, who used to be a teacher, added that she would “definitely miss” being a magistrate, which is a voluntary role, adding she would encourage others to consider getting involved.

“It’s been very worthwhile and I do think it’s important for ordinary people to be magistrates as they are representing ordinary people in the community.”

Mrs Clibbon, who is a former chairman of the Bury Society, hopes to use her extra free time to write more children’s books.

The Ministry of Justice was contacted for a comment.

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