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Lay Magistrates

Volume 535: debated on Tuesday 8 November 2011

15. When he next expects to meet the Magistrates Association to discuss the recruitment and retention of lay magistrates. (78968)

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that lay magistrates are feeling a bit unloved at the moment? They feel somewhat squeezed between the police increasingly allocating non-court disposals at one end and deputy circuit judges doing rather more work at the other end, and there are court closures and bench mergers. There has been no recruitment to the Oxfordshire bench for several years now. What can he do to ensure that lay magistrates feel appreciated?

I will heed my hon. Friend’s warning, but I think we probably all agree that the lay magistracy is one of the distinctive strengths of our justice system. It certainly makes a very valuable contribution, and I am glad to say that it is a popular form of volunteering. We obviously have to appoint strictly on merit, but we recruit more than 1,000 new magistrates every year and magistrates dispose of about 95% of the criminal justice work that goes through our system. I will take on board his points, and I hope that we can encourage people in Oxfordshire to carry on the essential work that they are doing for the good of the community.