Younger, more ethnically diverse magistrates should be recruited, one of the youngest justices of the peace in England claims.
Alex Yip was appointed at just 27 years old. Now 34, he has said that although he “work[s] with a lot of very talented people … they are old and white”. The statistics back him up, as official figures have shown that 89 per cent of magistrates are over 50 years old and 89 per cent are white.
Back in 2006, there were around 30,000 magistrates in England and Wales but the number has dramatically fallen since then and there are now only 17,552. There are a number of factors behind this decline. One is that magistrates have to retire when they turn 70, so many are simply becoming too old for the job. However, a recent report from the Commons Justice Committee suggested there is also disillusionment in the system which leads some to walk away from the benches.
Mr Yip is now working with the Magistrates’ Association to recruit more young people, although he admits there are challenges. A lot of young people are more focused on “work, building their careers, starting families and trying to pay off their mortgages” he said.
Appealing to employers is one tactic Mr Yip thinks could help. He explained that while being a magistrate takes up 13 weeks a year plus training, “a lot of people don’t realise that employers are obligated to give you that time”. It may also be worthwhile to point out that “having an employee that is a magistrate is good for their company”.
In 2014, two QCs published a report which highlighted the lack of gender and racial diversity among the judiciary. They claimed the lack of women and ethnic minorities on the benches “weakens the quality of justice” and although things were beginning to change this was happening at an “intolerably slow” pace.
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