SHADOW ON MAGISTRATES HORIZONOne of the funniest and most memorable catchphrases in that wonderful TV comedy from the 1970s; Dad`s Army, was Private Fraser`s, “We`re doomed, we`re all doomed”. He was the Jerimiah of the squad forever looking on the black side of any situation. Fortunately the scriptwriters and history provided happy endings. However there are always those who have rightly or wrongly forecast doom for their fellows. They can be found walking our high streets with handwritten signs urging us to follow their own true way to salvation. In political terms the brilliant mind of Enoch Powell will forever be subsumed in the notoriety he achieved in one single speech forever known as “The rivers of blood”. Be that as it might there are increasing signs that the Ministry of Justice would not be unhappy to see a reduced role for J.P.s sitting as magistrates and just as significant no longer chairing their own courts.

The last twenty years have seen magistrates` courts losing their semi independence in their constitution and functionality and becoming a part of Her Majesty`s Courts and Tribunal Service. With that organisational change which is an on going feature of the corporate state we inhabit there are increasing signs that those operating the justice system appear to regard us as employees of the state, albeit unpaid, and treat us with the contemptible disdain of those whose knowledge of a court`s daily function is confined to graphs and statistics. Unfortunately our representatives in the Magistrates Association which speaks for about 80% of all J.P.s appear oblivious to this and continue to speak to government on our behalf as if this shadow on our magisterial horizon is but a slight interference in the onset of the dawn. In September 2010 around the time of the announcement that 93 magistrates` courts were to be closed applications were invited by the Ministry of Justice for 30 appointments of Deputy District Judges [MC]. Muted observations were made by the M.A. to the ministry who assured it that these appointees were simply an exercise to have available for some indeterminate future time a bank of suitably qualified personnel should the need arise. It seems the need has arisen. In my court recently I had a very pleasant conversation with one of these newly appointed DDJs.

There is currently an advertising campaign for an additional 28 DJs[MC]. It seems to this writer beyond all doubt that in combination with other subtle signs this indicates that the intention of the Ministry of Justice is to change the magistrates` courts system from a court of three jurors highly trained and motivated and selected from the citizenry to that of a court presided over by a professional civil servant with perhaps two J.P.`s as wingers giving a nod and no more than a nod to a system of people`s judgement which has existed for 650 years and which removed state officials from participation. I would urge all those who purport to be our representatives on, to and within the M.A. to have this thought in mind when dealing with officials of the ministry and HMCTS.