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