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What it means to be a magistrate
By a Brookmans Park magistrate who wanted to remain anonymous

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A man came into court, charged with impersonating a policeman.

He had a blue baseball cap - with the word 'police' on it - a fluorescent yellow jacket - with 'police' on it, a truncheon, CS spray, blue flashing lights in his car ... I think you get the picture.

How was he arrested? He flagged down a car with two men in it - pulled them over and said "Police. You're nicked".

They answered "No mate. You're not police - we are". He had stopped two off-duty detectives in an unmarked police car - and so ended up in court. Funny guy.

Not typical I must admit - but one of a huge range of cases I've seen as a magistrate. And it may seem a funny thing to say, but I'd recommend being a JP. Maybe I'm a bit odd that way - but I'll try to explain why.

You should know that it's quite a long and demanding process to become a JP. You apply, you wait quite a long time and then - hopefully - you're interviewed two or three times.

And then there's a fair bit of training. I went through it all a few years ago and the strange thing is that the further down the road I went, the more I really hoped I'd be successful.

I started off because (yawn) I wanted to contribute something to the community and I'd always been pretty interested in law and in people.... and now I've been doing it for a few years, I feel that it has answered all those ambitions. One or two days a month, I head off to St Albans Magistrates Court and sit with two other colleagues. We deal with drink-drivers, burglars, drunks, he violent, and others. We send serious offenders onto the Crown Court.

And what motivates a JP? You're trying to protect honest decent people from crime. You put some of those who threaten to reoffend - or who have already committed a crime - off the street and in custody. You do your utmost to try to make sure that criminals won't offend again, with a range of community sentences and careful monitoring by probation.

It is a big responsibility and it can be frustrating. You are dealing with people's lives and their future. Many of those who appear in court are serial offenders and they'll be back in court soon - and it's hard or impossible to break the pattern. A high proportion come from broken homes, unsettled backgrounds and many are drug addicts. They have a criminal record stretching back to childhood.

But I look forward to my days in court. I feel I am doing something valuable and interesting. I work with interesting and committed people who give of their best every time they sit in court. So, if you're thinking of applying - and have got the time, commitment, interest and a degree of common sense - have a go.

By a Brookmans Park magistrate who wanted to remain anonymous

January 14, 2003

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