Today’s guest blog is from Councillor Carole Johnson, Labour Councillor for Ashley ward and Deputy Bench Chairman for the Avon and Somerset Magistrates Bench.
Magistrates play a crucial role in our criminal justice system, hearing cases in criminal or family court. As Justices of the Peace, we are sworn in to do right to all manner of people without fear or favour, affection or ill will.
In 2016, out of 621 Magistrates across the region, just 20 identified as Black and only 11 identified as Asian: a huge under-representation. In 2018, I was delighted to be appointed as the first Black, Asian, or Minority Ethnic (BAME) Deputy Chairman for Avon and Somerset Magistrates, one of seven deputies.
In 2018, we succeeded in recruiting 33 new Magistrates of whom 11 were from BAME backgrounds. And, as a sitting magistrate of Jamaican descent, I am delighted to announce that two new Deputy Bench Chairmen for Avon and Somerset have been appointed – both of whom from a BAME background. They will officially take up their posts from 1 April 2021 and, for the first time ever, three of the seven Deputy Bench Chairmen will be BAME.
Sometimes sitting for 30 years, dispensing justice, deciding how people are sentenced and whether children are taken into care, Magistrates are beginning to look like the communities we serve. Our criminal justice system is all the better for the intervention. After all, to achieve equality in the dispensing of justice, there is a need to ensure there is equality within the ranks of those involved in law and order.
These achievements have been possible thanks to the BAME Recruitment Programme with judiciary and Bristol City Council, including Mayor Marvin Rees and Councillor Asher Craig, working in partnership to address the shortage of BAME Magistrates in the region. I want to thank Marvin and Asher for their support, and everyone who has taken the opportunity to step up to serve.
Before our interventions it had taken decades to appoint 31 BAME Magistrates, and in just a few years we have already added another 11 – including in positions of leadership. It is well established that more diverse teams can perform better, so I am full of renewed hope that our Magistracy can continue to improve in 2021. As we continue to diversify, it is time for other strands of the criminal justice system to follow suit and take action to address other equality gaps, and work together proactively to deliver.
Courts across Avon and Somerset are currently recruiting people to become Family Court Magistrates. So, are you between 18-65 and looking for a volunteering role that really makes a difference? Could you be a Family Court Magistrate?
Family Courts are looking for volunteers to play their part in helping to make the lives of children better. Typical work of the Family Court includes child protection cases and where separated parents cannot agree on arrangements for their children. You don’t need a detailed knowledge of the law, but an ability to apply common sense, empathy and compassion is paramount in the Family Court, where the focus is on the welfare and safety of children. Find out more and apply now at gov.uk/become-magistrate. Applications opened 1 February 2021 and close 28 March 2021.