Newham Recorder Big Debate: Are magistrates 'too old and white'?

The House of Commons justice committee said last week that there were "serious" problems with the diversity of magistrates and that they needed to be "far more representative".

Around 89 per cent of magistrates are white, compared to 87pc of the country's population, while 86pc are over 50.

We therefore asked: Are magistrates too old and too white?

Matthew Gass - Deputy Chairman of West Ham Conservative Association

Magistrates are one of the great volunteer forces that keeps this country running. They have a challenging role where the input of ordinary people is vital. As a solicitor I understand the importance of access to justice and as a school governor I believe in volunteering to support the community.

Magistrates hear over 90 per cent of criminal cases. As such it is right we continue to look at whether they are representative of the country. This is a debate which at times has covered everyone from elected politicians to Hollywood actors.

Currently 86pc of magistrates are aged over 50 and 89pc are white. There is a desperate need to recruit new magistrates. Ten years ago there were around 30,000 in England and Wales but this has fallen to 17,552 today and 57pc are within 10 years of retiring.

To help fill this gap young people need support from their employers. Companies should not see this as an inconvenience. Any employer would benefit from the transferable skills and training required to be a magistrate.

Much has been made of the eagerness for volunteering among today’s young people. They need to be made aware of long term opportunities like this which offer a rewarding experience, involve taking real responsibility and making a genuine impact on their communities.