ONE Friday in April, I had the pleasure of visiting Solihull Magistrates’ Court for lunch on the invitation of Christine Bassett JP, and had the opportunity to thank the magistrates for their hard work during last summer’s riots.
Following a decision by COBRA, the Government’s crisis response committee, court sittings were extended and, for the first time in Solihull’s history, magistrates sat all night.
To avoid too many cases going before the magistrates, the Chief Constable in the West Midlands has adopted an approach of resolving more cases out of court such as Community Resolutions for minor offences. Sometimes, simple letters of apology can be effective in getting offenders to see the error of their ways and can save time and public money.
With that policy in place, there has been a 30 per cent reduction in workload over the last 18 months.
Magistrates are our unpaid and often unsung heroes and heroines who help to keep the legal system running at a local level. You might be surprised to learn that there are 150 magistrates in Solihull.
They come from all walks of life and backgrounds, and can be any age from 18 to 70. They don’t need to be experts in the law as they get training and a legal adviser helps them in the courtroom.
Magistrates don’t just deal with crimes. They also hear some civil cases, over issues such as unpaid council tax and appeals against licensing decisions. With experience and extra training, magistrates can go on to deal with cases in family courts which deal with cases like child custody and taking children into care.You can find out more about magistrates in the booklet ‘Serving as a magistrate’ on the website at www.direct.gov.uk/en/HomeAndCommunity/Gettinginvolvedinyourcommunity/Volunteering/DG_195453.