Sunday, November 22, 2009

Becoming a Magistrate - The Case for the Prosecution

When I ask a salesperson to tell me about their product, they usually give a long list of the advantages. When I ask them about the downsides, in my experience they either tell a joke and change the subject or fib their heads clean off and say that there are none.

My favourite way around this is to ask the question :
"What do you think [[insert name of competitor]] will say about your product when we talk to them?"
This usually prompts a little bit more openness - they start defending the perceived weak points of their product. This is great - because five minutes ago there were no potential weak points that needed defence.

Let's look at the sales job being done to recruit Magistrates. If you read the Government website and the Magistrates' Association public pages, it's all a warm fuzzy glow of public service and personal growth. Sounds as though everyone ought to apply, right ?

But :
"What would a bitter ex-Magistrate say if you asked them if you should apply to be a Magistrate?"
I don't have access to one of those at the moment, but please allow me to speculate:-
Imagine wanting to help your community and improve yourself. Now imagine you can't do it, because you're stuck in a crummy building applying narrowly defined government policy.

You want to help your community ? Great - there are dozens of charities that need people with your brains and energy. Thanks to the legal bureaucracy, you will spend a vanishingly small amount of your time doing anything helpful as a Magistrate. And even then - many of your decisions will help no-one. Your guidelines say you need to fine someone with no money, you fine them. You can't help an addict - you just need to keep fining or jailing them for the crimes they inevitably commit. Yes, once in a while you "win", but it's such an inefficient process - you'd be better off helping to run one or more of the charities in your area.

Want to improve yourself ? Get a better job - the one you're in obviously isn't stretching you. All you'll do by becoming a Magistrate is to make your job more stressful by taking away your free time and holidays. Retired ? See my section above on charities - they need you and you'll learn so much. Want to keep your mind active ? Crossword puzzles are excellent.

Think it'll look good on your CV ? I don't even mention it on mine - it just confuses people - makes me look like a part-time IT guy whereas the clients are looking for commitment. If you think it'll improve your chances of a political career, I suspect stuffing envelopes, making calls and generally being smarmy for a political party would be a better use of your time.

Being a Magistrate gets you little respect. Most people either don't know what you do or suspect your motives. You're tied up in Guidelines and squeezed between the police who dish out fixed penalties and cautions and the higher courts. Your powers are limited, but this doesn't stop the press getting personal when something goes wrong.

In short, what the salespeople tell you might be true - what they don't tell you is that there are more efficient ways of helping people and of improving yourself.

And with that, the Prosecution rests.

If you are considering becoming a Magistrate, please consider carefully both sides of the story. It's not all good and it's not all bad. Consider the alternatives you have, and when you've arrived at a decision, act on it.

In other words, do exactly what a good Magistrate does.

No comments: