Feature

I became a magistrate when I was 19, and I think the courts are right to push for more youngsters on the bench

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Serving while still a student

We’ve all heard the stereotype: magistrates are white, middle class and middle aged.

It’s hard to rebut, particularly on the middle aged point. Recent judicial statistics show the average magistrate is in their late 50s, with those under 30 making up less than 1% of the magistracy.

The judiciary wants to change this. Recently, London’s courts announced they’re looking to recruit up to 350 magistrates, and are particular interested in snapping up “younger people”.

Law students perhaps? The frontline legal experience would look great on a CV, and — with magistrates expected to work just 13 days a year — the time commitment is comparable to a vac scheme. Two of the country’s youngest magistrates, Nisha Kundra (sworn in aged 20) and Lucy Tate (sworn in aged 19), were studying their LLBs at Coventry University and the University of Leeds respectively when they took up their posts.

Though it sounds perfect for aspiring lawyers, there’s a raft of youngsters on the bench who harbour no training contract or pupillage ambitions.

We spoke to two of them: Nicky Stubbs and Adair Richards. Stubbs was just 19 and in his first year of an English degree at the University of Lincoln when he was sworn in, making him then the youngest magistrate in the country. Over six-and-a-half-years on, despite now working towards an academically demanding PhD in global politics from the University of Bath, he’s still serving on the bench and has recently completed his chairmanship training.

Speaking to Legal Cheek in light of the judiciary’s recent magistrate recruitment drive, Stubbs tells us it’s the magistracy’s ‘white, middle class and middle aged’ stereotype that encouraged him to apply. He feels strongly that “magistrates, who are there to serve the community, should represent the community that they serve.” Young people bring a “fresh perspective” to the role, which may well prove crucial as the courts increasingly work towards digitalisation.

Consultant Richards, who was sworn in aged 25, agrees. A University of Warwick science student at the time, Richards recalls applying to become a magistrate because he wanted to use his skills to serve his community. He tells Legal Cheek:

“I think the magistracy is at its best when it broadly reflects the community it serves. In both the family and the criminal courts, parties are generally of a younger age, whereas the majority of magistrates are relatively old.”

The magistracy benefits from having younger people in it, and younger people benefit from having been a part of the magistracy too. Despite having close to 17 years of judicial experience between them, neither Stubbs nor Richards plan on pursuing careers in law, but the transferrable skills they’ve gained will help them in other fields. Stubbs says:

“It opens your eyes to how difficult life is for some people, and gives you valuable experience in making tough decisions.”

Though both speak highly of the experience and what they’ve gained from it, being a young magistrate seems like it’d be tough. You’re one of very few, and we imagine some defendants wouldn’t want their cases heard by judges potentially years younger than them.

Stubbs and Richards don’t recognise this in their own experiences. Richards recalls just a “small number” of instances of being treated any differently from his older benchers. “Generally speaking, I have found my judicial and court staff colleagues to be very supportive.” He encourages younger people to get involved: “it is a position that allows you to positively serve your community and help deliver justice to all.”

Stubbs echoes this. Even younger than Richards, he’s always been treated the same as other magistrates. “I do have a beard though,” he laughs, “which makes me look older!”

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50 Comments

Anonymous

This kid is gonna get bullied by any half decent counsel.

(22)(13)

Anonymous

Is bullying required in order to be half -decent counsel?

(21)(8)

Trumpenkrieg

If you think magistrates don’t require bullying by counsel you’ve probably never set foot in a magistrates’ court

(16)(9)

Anonymous

What percentage of the criminal bar do you think actually spends any significant time in a Magistrates Court?

(4)(1)

CrimBob

Yes. I’ve always wondered why there is such a “counsel don’t want to be seen at the Mags Court” snobbery about that.

As in-house criminal counsel I cover trials at the Mags when I’m not in the Crown Court.

The fact that I am sometimes in the Crown Court, Mags Court and Court of Appeal all in the same week is all part and parcel of what I love about the job- variety!

(8)(1)

Anonymous

LLB students on the bench? A little knowledge is a dangerous thing

(29)(7)

Will McKenzie

Goodbye first rate education, hello University of Lincoln

(28)(18)

Anonymous

Being employed full time and sitting as a Magistrate is extremely difficult. Very few eployers will do more than what they have to, and any employer with their eyes on the finances will not pay an employer to not be in work and will make things difficult for an employee who can’t work on Wednesday Because he or she is in court.
A magistrate relying on the Financial Loss that can be claimed will be left disappointed after jumping through all the loops to get it in the first place as it does not reflect the amount lost in wages.
Magistrates are mainly retired or successfully self employed and most would admit they could never do the job if they weren’t.
Either pay them or do away with them.

(8)(4)

Anonymous

Your use of capital letters suggests that you are a magistrate

(5)(4)

Anonymous

I served as a magistrate for 7 years from when I running a small business to while I did the GDL and LPC. Before I started my training contract, I was told I could continue to sit as a magistrate using my annual leave. My willingness to serve the community didn’t extend to taking holiday time to do so.

(5)(0)

Anonymous

At 28 I’ve been a JP 2 years now. Luckily my LPA employer has a policy to give paid leave for such public duties, so it is possible to juggle work and court time under 65.

(10)(0)

Not Amused

Sitting as a Magistrate is serving your country. It’s inspiring to see a spirit of service in the young.

I think one of our constitutional strengths is the involvement of normal citizens in our justice system. If you remove them and replace then with professionals then there are two dangers, the first is group think (we know people appoint people like them and people favour people who agree with their opinions), the second is, I’m afraid, corruption. That second danger arises in humans wherever one person is given power over others and left unaccountable. Given the nature of small matters – trifling minor crimes, disputes between parents or small money claims, there is no opportunity for broader systemic scrutiny (no one is going to appeal). That doesn’t mean that every unaccountable human with discretion is corrupt – but every unaccountable human with discretion is in danger of being corrupt (and that danger is to my mind magnified wherever deference is involved – which is why I generally distrust deference)- so better to simply remove the temptation. To my mind the magistracy does that and has served us well for a long time.

(15)(1)

Scouser of Counsel

I agree. Trial by a District Judge in the Magistrates’ Court is a complete anomaly in our system.

In most first-instance criminal trials, one is tried by one’s fellow citizens (JPs or jurors) who are non-lawyers and not employees of the state. They deliberate and discuss before reaching a verdict.

District Judges, however, are employees of the state who can try citizens and deliver verdicts with reference to no-one else.

When sitting on trials DJs ought to have two JP wingers sitting with them as finders of fact, or alternatively DJs’ trial jurisdiction should be restricted trials on points of law.

Just my two pennu’oth after nearly a decade at the coalface…

(7)(1)

Anonymous

By this logic, the best courts in our system would be tribunals and magistrates’ courts. Does that sound right to you? Is that where the best quality justice is dispensed?

(1)(2)

Scouser of Counsel

Yes, actually, when that which is at issue is most often not a point of law, but a point of fact.

Different courts are best for different purposes. Where a matter of law needs to be argued, then obviously a judge is best placed to deal with it.

Where a citizen’s liberty is at stake, and the issue that will determine the matter is factual, then a panel of citizens (JPs or jury) is best placed to deal, in my experience.

(2)(0)

Mark

WHAT A COMPLETE LOAD OF BOLLOCKS!

The system claims to love young people applying and wants to appoint them then why not do it! It seems to me that the younger you are, the more that is required and they want life experience at the same time? Does not add up some where! You either raise the age or lower the expectations for young people.

This subject has been bandied about in the house of lords and has always come to the same conclusion! We need young people, but they often lack the experience needed to be on the bench? Put a cap on older people applying and set the bench mark for a number of young people to apply, at least make the system a bit fairer!

(3)(10)

Anonymous

Imagine a young snowflakes like you on the bench?

(2)(10)

Just Anonymous

I hate this casual and lazy racism. So what if magistrates are generally white? Most of the population is white. A generally white magistracy is what we’d expect to see!

(25)(13)

Nkomo

If the population of the UK as a whole is generally overwhelmingly white, then that is racist and we ought to rebalance it by making it more representative of the world as a whole.

It is no reason to justify the magistracy being overwhelmingly white.

(3)(17)

Trumpenkrieg

^^^ this is what these people actually believe.

(7)(0)

Nkomo

Magistrates in this country should be at least 50% black. End of.

(0)(12)

Anonymous

Why ? When only circa 3% of the UK population is Black?

(4)(0)

Lullabelle Uhombe.

Why I do declare Katie King. This be the best article you have wrotten.
I appeared before a nice English magistrate as a litigant in person. She was only 18 and I thought I had no chance, but she granted my application.
Turned out she was granting everyone’s applications and she was subbing for her mom, but I got no complaints.

(5)(7)

Lullabelle Uhombe.

*sobbing

(0)(3)

Anonymous

I’m a young Magistrate sitting on a bench packed with old fogies who refuse to embrace any kind of change.
Most of them wouldn’t know how to use a computer and are all being told to log on to email, Court iPads, rotas etc and make use of online sentencing.
Most of them sit there with their rarely updated sentencing folder and dither on about the ‘good old days’, insisting they should have more sentencing powers and convincing themselves and each other that they are proper judges. It’s embarrassing.

(18)(7)

Michael Anthony Ralph

Not meaning to offend, you shouldn’t be there, I’m 26 and there’s huge, huge gap in real life knowledge.

(9)(1)

Anonymous

Preach !!!! I am sorry a magistrate needs life experience .

(3)(0)

Anonymous

Best thing for the English justice system would be the immediate abolition of all lay Magistrates.

That, and the summary execution of Liz Truss.

(3)(8)

Anonymous

If you think that it’s best to replace citizen justices with paid District Judges at summary court level, look no further than the Republic of Ireland and most US states, where misdemeanours are tried by judge alone. Battle-hardened with high conviction rates and no discussion with a peer before verdict.

Not a path to follow.

(12)(1)

Anonymous

Pretty similar to what we’re got.

(1)(6)

Anonymous

Not really. See above.

(4)(0)

Anonymous

English justice system?

(0)(0)

Anonymous

The collective noun for Magistrates?

A Miscarriage of Justices.

(5)(6)

Michael Jackson (dec'd)

🎼 Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone…🎶

(4)(0)

Anonymous

Michael Jackson and Joni Mitchell – chalk and cheese, you Big Yellow Taxi.

(2)(0)

Anonymous

Must’ve been some banter in the posters head, anyway

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Lay Magistrates.
Also known as Woodentops to some of a certain age.

(0)(0)

Inspector Clouseau

Zey didn’t deletè Lullabelle’s commént?
Wat eez goeen on ere?

(0)(1)

Sambo Ohombe

I agree with every thing Katie said. She is my hero , the toppest lawyer and journalist ever. I am her mangina, her supplicant extraordinaire, her acolyte, before her beauty even the sun, the moon and the stars bow before her. I throw myself roughly on the floor before her mercy

(1)(1)

Anonymous

Wow!

(0)(0)

Anonymous

The problem with magistrates is they simply do not understand the standard of proof. I say that as someone who prosecutes and defends. Their reasons are also predictable in the extreme: ‘We found the complainant credible and consistent…’

(3)(3)

Anonymous

Ah yes, the famous “we found the complainant credible therefore we find the defendant guilty” verdict.

I had an inexperienced prosecutor make the submission (in a complainant v defendant with no other witnesses type trial) that “to acquit the defendant you would be finding that the complainant was lying”. I had to correct the submission to “if you can’t choose between them it’s your duty to acquit” and remind them of the burden and standard…

(5)(0)

Concerned lawyer

Making legal submissions to lay persons? What’s the point in that?
You can address the clerk on legal submissions. Wtf would a lay bench know about the law?
Like wtf would LC know about the law?
Jeez!

(0)(1)

Anonymous

Err… because the Magistrates still have to apply the law to the facts according to the burden and standard of proof (and are advised by the Legal Advisor) just as jurors are instructed by the Judge to apply the law.

Simples!

(6)(0)

Anonymous

Isn’t one of the central requirements for a Judge/Magistrate, Wisdom? How much wisdom, garnered from the rough and tumble of life, will a 19 year-old have?!

(2)(1)

Wee Johnny

There are no juries in the mags. I see there’s a bunch of kids here. Let’s have toddlers benches. 3 year olds who can throw their food and spoons at the criminals

(2)(2)

Anonymous

It never said there were, fool!

The post is clearly drawing a comparison with the role of judge and juror in the Crown Court with the role of Magistrate and Legal Advisor in the Mags Court.

Try reading it properly before embarrassing yourself, in future.

(1)(2)

Wee Johnny

I throw my baby apple paste in your direction teeny 1103
And burble my regurgitation into your mashed banana
Gurgle gurgle gurgle

(0)(0)

Tinky Winky

Me an ma brightly coloured homies is gonna come and get you in da night, Wee Johnny!

(0)(0)

Anonymous

How do you become a magistrate?

(0)(0)

Comments are closed.

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