Thursday, October 09, 2008

Nearly Warming the Bench

I took a break from my dreams of Internet riches to put on a suit and attend the local Magistrates' AGM. It was nice of them to invite me, because even now my application hasn't been rubber-stamped by the required number of people in the Lord Chancellor's Department, and so I'm not yet a pukka Beak.

It was good to meet up with my future colleagues. I stood in a room eating buffet with forty of them, and at first I couldn't for the life of me spot one single common feature between them. I was expecting a few of the stereotype JPs; for example "Bored Wife of Local Worthy" or "Creepy Masonic Golf-Club Member" or "Retired Headmaster", but I was pleasantly surprised to find a decent cross-section. Well, a decent cross-section of middle-aged, middle class white people anyway.

Yes, not a single Negro, Asian, Chinese or Apache. Maybe I shouldn't have been so shocked, the Borough that we serve has a non-white population of 1.9% compared to an England & Wales average of 8.7%. So statistically, to be representative of our community, you would expect a maximum of one non-White person in the group, and it seems we're only one person below that target.

After sandwiches and small-talk we adjourned to the main Court for the meeting. Committee up at the front where the judge usually sits, with the rest of us spread out; some sitting in the Dock and some in the Jury section. There followed an amiable set of elections and some griping about the Sentencing Guidelines and then forty Magistrates tried to leave a small car-park at once, proving that Magistrates aren't any better drivers on average than the rest of the population.

My training is in November and I've been told that three days is simultaneously way too little and far too much. So much of the job relies on common sense and judgement and that can never be taught, but to be au fait with the applicable legislation and guidelines is a almost a full-time job.

A fortnight before Christmas, the rubber-stamping is complete and I get sworn-in. Further bulletins as events warrant.

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