Employees volunteering as magistrates do not know who to turn to for help with problems with their employer, according to a report published this week.
Volunteers need to be in court for at least 13 full days a year and employers must, by law, allow them reasonable time off work to fulfil their judicial duties.
However, the Magistrates’ Association’s Young Magistrates Network says employed magistrates struggle to know how to approach and manage employer issues arising from their judicial duties and do not know who to speak to for advice. They are also unaware of their rights under employment law or entitlements as volunteer judicial office-holders.
The network says the problems were identified through focus groups and surveys over the last two years.
One magistrate said: ‘My current employer doesn’t have a policy covering the time off for magistrates so every time I get a new manager, I have to renegotiate my sittings and restart a tricky conversation.’
The network is concerned that problems encountered by volunteer magistrates, and a perceived lack of support, will have long-term implications for attracting, recruiting and retaining employed magistrates.
‘Supporting magistrates in their duties also supports the modernisation and the effectiveness and coordination of the criminal justice system. The successful reduction of the court backlog depends on magistrate availability and resource; ignoring the needs of magistrates in employment could have significant consequences for the future of the justice system,’ the report concludes.
The network says that whilst work is underway to attract employed magistrates principally through the employer engagement working group, support for existing employed magistrates is out of scope for the group.
The report recommends establishing a dedicated resource within HM Courts & Tribunals Service to support magistrates with employment issues relating to carrying their judicial duties. This would include a dedicated phone line and email address.
An online repository of information, advice, FAQs and tips, easily accessible on the judicial intranet, could include case studies of magistrates who have tackled difficult conversations with their employers.
Luke Rigg, chair of the MA’s Young Magistrates Network, said: ‘Employed magistrates make a uniquely important contribution to society, as volunteers who juggle their work responsibilities with their commitments in court. Many of our members, who are under the age of 40, are disproportionately impacted by employment-related issues, and our report identifies recommendations to improve the support for them.
‘It is vital to the future of the magistracy that we attract and retain employed magistrates, and we hope that the government takes forward our suggestions to achieve this ambition.’