Right of Reply: Peter Lewis

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The Independent Culture
A Cardiff magistrate responds to

Robert Verkaik's article on the

Access to Justice Bill

MR VERKAIK'S article "Should magistrates pay for their mistakes" (29 June) although highly emotive was hardly balanced. That could have been achieved by addressing more closely the matters of who comprise the magistracy, and what training they receive.

Had he done so, he would have been bound to point out that magistrates are representative of a wide cross section of the society they live in; are volunteers who do their best to represent the interests of that society; that they give much time and thought to their duties and responsibilities; that they are obliged to attend a specific number of training hours; and that none of them receives any financial or other reward for their dedication to a public duty.

He could then have gone on to say that, in matters of law, magistrates are wholly in the hands of their [court] clerks, and so "innocent error" could be as attributable to them as to the justices, perhaps in amplification of Bruce Houlder QC's admirable observations.

To have read in The Independent that, as a magistrate, I am "on a hook" - or just to be given the impression that Mr Verkaik thinks I am - is depressing and de-motivating. And, in my opinion, wrong.

In my experience, magistrates do not seek to avoid the consequences of mistakes they may make. In fact, it would be very surprising if there were never any mistakes made.

It should be remembered that 99 per cent of all criminal proceedings come before the magistrates in the first instance, and that more than 90 per cent of all criminal charges are resolved before magistrates courts. On performing these duties, all magistrates ask is that they be indemnified against claims on their finances imposed by those who are indemnified.

Having taken up some 23 column inches to snipe at the system in general, and at magistrates in particular, I wonder if Mr Verkaik could now be given 23 inches more to publish his solution to our problem of how to actually enforce penalties on fine defaulters?