A Chat With: Magistrates Association LGBT+ Group

Working as a Magistrate is often considered a ‘traditional’ vocation and leads many people to think that working in the magistracy isn’t for them. However, the LGBT+ Group at the Magistrates Association (MA) is working hard to change those opinions and encourage more LGBT+ people to consider becoming a Magistrate. We spoke to the group’s deputy chair, Dan Longman to find out more.

Hi Dan, lovely to meet you. Can you tell us a bit about the Magistrates Association (MA)?

The MA influences policy at the highest levels of government, conducts research and represents views of magistrates through media engagement. As a magistrate, I am one of 13,000 volunteers from all walks of life, aged between 18 and 70 who – with the assistance of legal advisors and sentencing guidelines – determine the outcome of cases in both the Criminal Court and Family Courts.

What led to the formation of the LGBT+ group at the MA?

One of the drivers behind the formation of the group was a lack of information and data about LGBT+ representation within the magistracy. The Government’s latest survey, Judicial Diversity Statistics 2020 fails to significantly explore sexual orientation within the Judiciary and leaves many questions unanswered.

A report from 2013, Stonewall’s Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual People’s experiences and Expectations of Discrimination report highlighted how 16 per cent of those surveyed expected worse treatment than a heterosexual person if appearing before a magistrate for a criminal offence, with many lesbian, gay and bisexual people also expecting to be discriminated against if they were to consider becoming a magistrate. 

This is clearly a problem and a strong indication that the magistracy must do better to communicate our inclusive message to all sectors of society and champion up-to-date research into LGBT+ issues affecting the magistracy and other court users.

What do you believe are the barriers to LGBT+ people entering careers in the justice system?

In many towns and cities, the magistracy is still seen as very ‘traditional’ with 49 per cent of all magistrates now aged over 60 and just 13 per cent coming from a Black, Asian or Ethnic Minority background. Of course, a percentage of these people are likely to identify as LGBT+, but we currently have no definitive way of knowing. This lack of evidence results in a perceived lack of representation, and this may well be fostering a wider public perception that the magistracy is not for them. In fact, anyone can be a magistrate. 

Do you find that the magistracy is an LGBT+ friendly environment to work in?

When we are sworn in as magistrates, we make a judicial oath that we, “will do right to all manner of people after the laws and usages of this realm, without fear or favour, affection or ill will.” This is a solemn promise that we shall be inclusive, act fairly and treat everybody with equal dignity and respect. In my five years on the Merseyside bench I have found all my colleagues to be very fair and reasonable individuals. It is after all a crucial part of the job!

What routes are there into working in the justice system?

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need any legal qualifications to become a magistrate. However, you do need to have a good awareness of social issues, understand people and have a sense of fairness. You also need to be reliable and committed to serving your local community. You should also be able to offer 13 days a year for sittings and also attend training sessions. There are a few other qualities expected of magistrates and there are certain occupations that are not compatible with the role (such as police officer). 

In return you will receive specialist training, learn skills to add to your CV and help make your area a better place. If successful in the interview process, all newly-appointed magistrates are given a mentor for their first six months who helps them to settle in at their local court house and is able to answer any questions they may have in those early days. Within the magistracy itself there is a clear management structure and channels to raise concerns if ever needed.

How do you think the justice system would benefit from greater representation of the LGBT+ community in its workforce?

It’s vitally important that magistrates represent the communities they serve. Representation is crucial. Those on the other side of the courtroom and the wider public in general need to be confident that those passing sentence have a genuine understanding of 21st century society and are able to empathise with facts of a case and the people who stand to be affected by the decisions on the day. 

The Stonewall report shone a light on LGBT+ perceptions of the justice system and the perceived injustice some respondents feared if ever facing a sentence. Greater representation of LGBT+ magistrates would undoubtedly assist in reducing this belief and ensure LGBT+ voices are heard in the decision-making process.

Is there anything you think needs to change in the sector to make it a more attractive option to LGBT+ people?

We need to talk more about who we are and what we do. If we are going to make the magistracy an attractive option for volunteers to dedicate their time, we need to present ourselves better as an inclusive and relatable organisation of people who believe in the rule of law and a desire to help our communities. 

We need to show that we are more than what the stereotypical idea of a magistrate may be, but in fact we are real people, with real experience of life in the real world. This includes LGBT+ members of society who can bring their own perspectives to the decision-making process and positively contribute to the administration of justice in their local area.

This year our theme is ‘Young At Heart’, which promotes the right for LGBT+ people to live happy, healthy and carefree lives, regardless of how they identify. What does this statement mean to you?

At the Magistrates Association we are of course supporters of equality and recognise the need to stand up against injustice across all sectors of society. Everybody deserves to be treated fairly and be free to live their lives unburdened by prejudice or discrimination. We stand by these values both in the courtroom and out. This is backed up not only by the formation of the MA’s LGBT+ Group, but our sister groups including the Young Magistrates Group, the BAME Magistrates Group and the Magistrates with Disabilities Group.

Where can people go to find out more about becoming a magistrate?

If you are interested in becoming a magistrate you can check out the government website to find out if recruitment is currently going on in your local area. It’s an interesting and worthwhile role which can improve your own skillset and benefit your local community. Further information can also be found at www.magistrates-association.org.uk

For information about how to apply to become a magistrate can be accessed via https://magistrates.judiciary.uk


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