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‘Frustrating and forseeable’ – Justice Committee warns of a shortage of magistrates | UK News

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The House of Commons Justice Committee has blamed government failure for the dramatic fall in magistrate numbers in England and Wales.

The committee says the recent shortfall is “as frustrating as it was foreseeable” and that it has taken a “near crisis” to prompt the government into acting.

In 2016, the committee warned the government that magistrates faced unresolved issues that related to their role, workload and morale, with serious recruitment and training problems being the main factor.

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Courts have seen a dramatic fall in the numbers of magistrates

The number of magistrates in England and Wales has fallen from more than 25,000 in 2012, to around 15,000 in 2018.

Many others are rapidly approaching the compulsory retirement age of 70 which the committee says could leave significant gaps in the role, unless recruitment improves.

The report published today highlights continuing issues around morale of magistrates, their role, recruitment, training and appraisals, as well asking the government to make it easier for working people to get time off from their jobs to perform the role.

There is also a suggestion that allowing magistrates to award longer prison sentences of up to 12 months, rather than the current six, could lead to magistrates relying less on the congested crown court system.

Chair of the justice committee Bob Neill said: “Magistrates and the criminal justice system as a whole have been badly let down by the failure of the Government to take action and provide appropriate funding to tackle the major issues we flagged in our 2016 report. Many of those issues remain.

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The committee say that there are serious issues around recruitment

“Morale is not improving, despite the minister’s efforts to reassure us. The court closure programme has made things worse and the shortage of magistrates could have been avoided had the government adopted our initial recommendation on recruitment.”

He added: “The action promised three years ago has failed to materialise, and we again call for an appropriate national strategy.

“Merely identifying the magistracy as a component within the Government’s wider strategy for the judiciary is inadequate to recognise the distinctive and pivotal role of 15,000 magistrates working as unpaid volunteers within the criminal justice system.”

John Bache, the chairman of the Magistrates Association told Sky News that he welcomes the report from the justice committee, adding: “95% of all criminal cases are dealt with start to finish in the magistrates courts and if there aren’t sufficient magistrates then that 95% won’t get dealt with properly which means people are not going to brought to court that should be, and the whole system is going to be severely undermined.”

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