Over the last two years I have been highly critical of the chairman of the Magistrates` Association and his apparent ineffectiveness in representing the best interests of his members. The recently elected new incumbent to the post whilst expressing opinions earlier this year in a Times interview which were beyond his remit has nevertheless been forthright in his approach to the major concern of magistrates per se notwithstanding individual questions on the matter of expenses. That concern is the increasing percentage of sittings allocated to District Judges[MC]. With that in mind I have copied below a letter sent this week from him to Lord Justice Goldring, Senior Presiding Judge.
Magistrates and District Judges (Magistrates’ Court)
I am grateful to you for establishing a working party on the judicial deployment in the magistrates’ courts under the chairmanship of Lord Justice Gross. Indeed we are meeting this week to start this process. I am sure this will go a long way to ensuring better working relationships between district judges and magistrates in the future. However, I recognise that results from this working party will not be available for some six months.
There are, in my view, a number of difficulties in the short term that need some immediate action.
Firstly, there is considerable concern amongst the magistracy about the perceived increase of the deployment of DJs(MC). Whilst the number of DJs(MC) remained static between 2007 and 2011 there has been a reduction in the number of magistrates from 29,400 in 2007 to currently 26,000, some 12%. This is against a background of decreasing workload in the magistrates’ courts, down some 7% last year and predicted by HMCTS to fall a further 6% this year. In a number of areas magistrates are reporting a low number of sittings, possibly falling below the minimum number required to maintain competency in all areas. To avoid this situation deteriorating further I request that a moratorium is placed on the recruitment and replacement of DJs(MC) and Deputy DJs(MC) in the short term until the results of the working party are developed.
Secondly, I understand that funding of DJs(MC) and Deputy DJs(MC) is from a budget that is outside of the HMCTS budget. It is a perception amongst many magistrates that because of this situation HMCTS is making use of this device to the detriment of magistrates who are funded from within HMCTS’s budget. It would help if a statement were made by you to the effect that the source of the funds makes no difference to the number and deployment of DJ(MC)s and DDJ(MC)s.
I feel the proposals above would provide tangible evidence of a desire to establish a better working relationship between DJ’s(MC) and magistrates - something as Chairman of the Magistrates’ Association I consider essential to providing effective and efficient justice in the magistrates’ courts.
John Fassenfelt JP
Chairman Magistrates’ Association