HC Deb 27 April 1999 vol 330 c142
31. Helen Jones (Warrington, North)

What progress has been made in making the magistracy more representative of the communities which it serves; and if he will make a statement. [81021]

The Minister of State, Lord Chancellor's Department (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon)

Following research into how best to improve recruitment of magistrates from a broad spectrum of the community, the Lord Chancellor launched a national publicity campaign to raise awareness that it is open to most people to apply. The campaign finished recently; it resulted in more than 13,000 inquiries. The Lord Chancellor's advisory committees have continued to undertake recruitment initiatives at a local level.

Helen Jones

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that reply and for the progress that has been made. Does he agree that, if magistrates are to be truly representative of the communities that they serve, we need more people serving on the Bench who are in employment, as well as those who are self-employed or retired? Will he tell the House what steps his Department will take to encourage employers to support their employees who are willing to undertake that service, and to end the situation, which prevails in large parts of my constituency—and in other constituencies—in which people feel that they will be penalised at work if they put themselves forward to be magistrates?

Mr. Hoon

My hon. Friend is right. The research demonstrated that far too many people rule themselves out of applying. Undoubtedly, one of the reasons is that, if they are in employment, they do not believe that they will be given appropriate time off. We need to put across the idea that almost anyone may apply to become a magistrate. It is only when we receive applications from—I hope—some of the 13,000 people who have made inquiries during our campaign that we shall have a more representative magistracy.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)

Will the hon. Gentleman return to his office, examine the letters that are sent to those who have just retired from the magistracy and ask himself whether that sort of letter will encourage others to join? He will see that people are told all the things that they are not allowed to do when they retire from the Bench—including keeping in touch with all the friends with whom they previously worked in the magistracy. I hope that he will consider that matter very seriously.

Mr. Hoon

I have not read a copy of such a letter, but I undertake to do so. I shall write to the hon. Gentleman if I am concerned about the contents.

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