Monday, November 07, 2005

Charlie Wants To Be My Darling

The Lord Chancellor has launched his White Paper on improving the performance of magistrates'courts. Among the amusing trivia is that fact that civil servants will no longer refer to 'lay' magistrates, no doubt out of 'respect'. A cursory read has revealed fewer obnoxious features that we have come to expect from Charlie Falconer and his boss's ventures down into the grubby end of the law. He would 'encourage courts to have flexible hours and consider reducing the minimum number of sessions a JP has to sit from 26 to 24 half days a year'.

I know what he wants of course, because it is now accepted wisdom that courts will only be 'relevant' and 'accepted by the community' if they are 'inclusive' which means appointing teenage JPs. I am an old fogey, and I am wedded to the idea that respect for the court is more likely to come from its members being experienced, honest and impartial than from packing it with well-meaning but naive young people.

Just think though - if the new JP sits 12 days a year, what chance does he or she have of gaining any worthwhile experience? After five years and sixty days' sittings, by which time the boy magistrates might well have started shaving, they will be eligible to take the chair in court. They will face grizzled old counsel and case-hardened solicitors, and stroppy defendants. With the best will in the world, and with all the training we can give, what hope does the poor sod have of not making a fool of himself?

LATER! (cut and pasted from my own comment to this thread)

Then the young magistrates. I used to be young myself, and I was quick-witted, certain of my opinions and usually wrong. No problem there, benches sit in threes. But is it so unreasonable to think that JPs might be at least 30? I haven't seen any arguments for 20 year old airline captains or brain surgeons - surely judges (which is what we are) need to be experienced too?

If the argument is about public confidence, ask yourself whether you would rather be tried, or have the custody of your children decided by a 40 year old or a 20 year old, assuming that both had received the same training?

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