Increasing the judicial retirement age is still on the cards, the government has confirmed. Responding to the House of Commons justice select committee's report on the role of the magistracy, the government said it was 'positively considering' the implications for changing the retirement age for judicial office holders and will consult on proposals 'in due course'.
Former lord chancellor David Gauke indicated in May that he wanted to explore raising the retirement age from 70 to 72 to hold on to existing judges and attract new recruits.
The government said in its response to the committee, published yesterday: 'The implications of any change to the retirement age for the magistracy will need to be considered alongside that. As part of this work, we will need to take account of the current and future need for magistrates, as well as the implications for the diversity of the magistracy.'
Just over half of magistrates will reach the statutory retirement age in the next 10 years.
The government said it is developing a 'workforce planning tool' which 'brings together data and analysis about magistrates in post, expected resignations and retirement rates, with modelling about likely demand in the courts, allowing to build a longer-term view of the shape of the magistracy'.
A magistrates recruitment and attraction steering group, jointly headed by the Ministry of Justice and leadership magistrates, will also be set up.
A review of magistrates' expenses, including the financial loss allowance, has begun and will finish by spring.
However, the government refused to increase sentencing powers. 'We have always been clear that increasing magistrates' custodial sentencing powers could have a range of knock-on effects on the criminal justice system. As we told the committee's predecessor in 2016, modelling these relies on a range of assumptions that are complex and difficult to quantify accurately,' it said.
'We would reiterate too that simply commencing the relevant provisions in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 to increase magistrates' custodial sentencing powers for either-way offences would not be a straightforward matter, as these were designed in the context of the "custody-plus" sentence which was never commenced. Given the wide-ranging issues involved, we are unable to commit to any extension of magistrates' custodial sentencing powers at this stage.
John Bache, chair of the Magistrates Association, said he was disappointed that the government has rejected proposals to extend sentencing jurisdiction to hear cases carrying a 12-month custodial sentence for a single offence. He said the change 'would help to free up the Crown court by enabling more cases to be handled by magistrates and is now long overdue'.
Bache welcomed the steering group but said it must be properly resourced.