We are forever being assured by those in control that the institution of the magistracy will continue to be valued. What we are not told is the manner in which that value will be demonstrated. Whether criminal activity is actually reducing or the various statistical analyses make it appear so, judicial activity in the magistrates` courts is reducing as is the number of magistrates. In the last ten years there has been a 10% increase in the combined number of District and Deputy District Judges from 278 to 308. These are salaried civil servants whose full time equivalent basic gross pay is Â£102,000. There were 24,267 J.P.s at the last count but in 2008 there were 29,419; a reduction of 17% in just five years. Thus government in the last decade has considered it a viable proposition to increase its wage bill even although all the latest outcomes show that unpaid magistrates working at admittedly slightly slower rates cost less. So! less crime, more District Judges (inc. DDJs) and fewer J.P.s can indicate only one conclusion; namely that government is directing us to be less involved in the criminal courts system and shuffling a rump of J.P.s to such diversions as neighbourhood councils and lower tiers of so called community justice. Confirmation of such long distance intentions has been reinforced for me at least by information from a colleague who sits in another county.
When her court was amalgamated the previous allocation of 0.5 DJ for the single court was increased to 1.00 although there was little prospect of an increased workload. The newly combined bench had now a complement of two DJs. Therefore 25% more work must be provided to keep him busy , after all he is being paid Â£2,000+ a week which means courts formally assigned to the lay bench are assigned to him. Analysis apparently seems to show that with the prevailing guidance in fact only 1.4 DJs are needed. I understand that representations are being made to senior judicial figures to have DJ attendance reduced. I would suggest that such manoeuvrings must be going on in many judicial areas where these recently employed DJs and Deputies are ensconced.
If a government wants the country`s citizens to be convicted and sentenced by a single state employee for all summary and some either way matters as is currently the case with trial by a District Judge sitting alone, so be it. But the continuing obfuscation about intentions is not befitting those who profess in public to be proud of our system of summary criminal justice by the citizen peers of those in the dock before them. If the ultimate destination of the magistracy in its current form is the end of the road let it be admitted.