It is sad when a colleague tells me s/he is shortly to be retired having almost achieved three score years and ten on earth. Generally s/he is as mentally sharp on his/her way out as s/he was on his/her induction. Such J.P.s are for the most part just that bit wiser. Often being retired from their own careers they devote much more time to the magistracy than their younger colleagues who have their own business, financial and family circumstances to consider and thus sit far fewer times. I have no doubt that chairmen especially in this latter group sitting perhaps just above the minimum number of times are at a disadvantage cf their older compatriots. After all whatever the job, be it barber, builder or brain surgeon, repetitiveness and competence are complementary.
J.P.s are not alone in this situation; judges are compulsorily retired at 70 although of course their experience is often required in other capacities out of the courtroom.
During a brief Parliamentary Answer last week the minister responsible, Helen Grant M.P., stated that, â€œthere are already many more applicants than vacancies within the magistracy and over 80% of magistrates are over 50. As well as taking magistrates out of step with other judicial offices, increasing the retirement age would reduce the number of available vacancies and thus reduce opportunities for younger people to become magistrates.â€
She was correct regarding the age profile above but what she did not state was that in 2012 only 16.8% of magistrates were under age 50 and in 2010 that figure was 18.2%. In real numbers that equates to 4,219 in 2012 cf 5,218 two years earlier. It is no surprise that the age profile is weighted as it is. It seems obvious to this observer that those at their peak earning age with the greatest family responsibilities are devoting their time to these primary requirements and rightly so; in a time of recession few chances can be taken with career aspirations. So her position on available opportunities seem to fall in its outcomes.
When a particular argument suits our parliamentary overlords Justices of the Peace are considered as equal members of the judiciary and must be so treated. And when it does not, as is often the case, our status is used for an opposite argument; that we are unpaid lay volunteers and our opinions and requirements are therefore of a lower order of priority. It would be simple to design an extended appraisal system to check on the performance of J.P.s at age 70. To dispense with so many years` experience when presiding over remand, breach, bail and sentencing courts is more intense and convoluted than ever before is a policy in need of change.