The question of expenses for magistrates has been and is a hot potato burning the hands of those involved from the inept and supine manner of previous senior office holders in the Magistrates` Association to the bland self serving and contradictory statements of many of those holding the purse strings. The reply published today from Her Majesty`s Courts and Tribunal Service countersigned by inter alia the Chairman of the M.A. and the Senior Presiding Judge is a perfect example.
In the face of escalating travel costs a “stand still” in travel expenses is being held as a beneficent concession. But more to the point just as some racists say that Jewish people themselves are the cause of anti Semitism the signatories assert that we Justices of the Peace are the problem in that some of us sit too often; this at a time when the number of J.P.s is at its lowest for many years and many individual Justices are being rostered for lower numbers sittings than many can remember.
I suppose I can be described as a “high sitter”. When my business and professional commitments allowed me more time than I initially envisaged having I offered to sit extra days and my bench Chairman endorsed my availability with thanks. At least once more since that initial encouragement I have checked that my additional sittings would not lead to problems with the Advisory Committee and been assured that the bench had a requirement from those with the time to make themselves available for extra sittings especially at short notice. The writers of the current letter seems to take an opposing view; a view which is illogical. Low sitters are low sitters precisely because they do not have the time to fulfil their minimum requirements. Either they make the time or they should resign. High sitters have that precious commodity and offer it to HMCTS. To attempt to reverse the situation is to attempt to make water run uphill. In addition to allude that magistrates are milking the system by this over sitting is a disgraceful slur.
"The review identified that there are some excessive mileage claims by magistrates, in the main, caused by: sitting a large number of days; or travelling excessive distances to courts that are not closest to where they live or work."
J.P.s do not choose where to sit. Advisory Committees send successful applicants to an allocated court. I myself and many colleagues were not allocated to our court of choice nearest our home or business bur to the nearest court where we were required. The closure of about one third of magistrates` courts by the Ministry of Justice has forced many J.P.s to travel much further than they originally intended or desired. Indeed that is a prime reason why some have resigned. To cap their enforced mileage claims is nothing short of a disgrace.
I had had high hopes that with a change of leadership the Magistrates` Association would stop kowtowing to government dictat and stand up for the legitimate rights of this country`s premier volunteer grouping. I was hopelessly optimistic!