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Magistrates at Highbury Corner call for greater diversity

Defendants should see people representative of their community, say magistrates

19 April, 2019 — By Samantha Booth

Luke Rigg and Linda Logan

MAGISTRATES at Highbury Corner court say more needs to be done to increase the number of young people and those from black and ethnic minority background delivering justice.

Luke Rigg, a 25-year-old magistrate, said: “I think it’s really important for people who come to court, defendants, that the people they see in front of them look like the community that they live in.”

Magistrates are lay-members of the public who are trained to deal with lower level cases in the justice system, such as shoplifting, assaults and driving offences.

All criminal cases start at magistrates’ courts across the country, with the more serious cases being sent to the crown court.

Currently, just one per cent of the about 16,000 magistrates are aged under 30 while 85 per cent are 50 or older. This is likely due to the time you have to volunteer each year to sit at the bench – a minimum of 14 days.

When he started in 2014, Mr Rigg had to use a combination of holiday days and time off his employer had given him. It is at the employers’ discretion whether to allow extra time off to volunteer.

He said: “The elephant in the room is the employer. We’ve been trying to talk to employers about the benefits it gives to you as an individual but also to your employer. All the transferrable skills, team building, confidence, public speaking, decision making which are all meant to help you in the workplace.”

Barrister Kevin Metzger and The Chase star Shaun Wallace, who both work for Great James Street Chambers

He added: “There are loads of mature young people capable of being magistrates, they just don’t realise it is an opportunity for them.”

Last year in London, 28 per cent of magistrates identified as BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic). The national figure was 12 per cent.

A report chaired by MP David Lammy in 2017 said a “fundamental source of mistrust” in the Criminal Justice System as a whole among BAME communities is “the lack of diversity among those who wield power within it”.]

Mr Rigg said: “Even in London there are specific ethnicities that are not as represented as they should be. Somalian, Turkish as well. There are certain communities that are not represented.”

Linda Logan, a 61-year-old magistrate at Highbury Corner and chair of the England and Wales Youth Courts Committee for the Magistrates’ Association, said: “The Lammy review was hard reading for the judiciary but it’s a conversation that has to be had really.

“We’ve done a lot of work with the east London mosque, for example.”

The former senior NHS worker added: “When we were working at the mosque we did various sessions in between prayers and one of the women said to me, ‘no one is going to look at me because I’m not a white woman’. That’s how she felt.

“Even now BAME kids would say if it was you or my mum, you’d get it. Personally, all we can do its keep being out there and having the conversation, and if that conversation is at times uncomfortable because it’s about BAME, you’ve still got to have that conversation.”

The magistrates were talking at an open day at Wood Green Crown Court yesterday (Thursday) where hundreds of families and children got a taste of the judicial system in mock trials and tours.

They were joined by barrister and television personality Shaun Wallace, known for his role in ITV’s The Chase, who said the legal profession must “reflect the diversity” in society.

To apply to be a magistrate, visit www.gov.uk/become-magistrate/apply-to-be-a-magistrate

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