Inaccurate and ill-informed

MR Alan Martin’s letter on April 22 ‘Magistrates so out of touch’ is inaccurate and ill informed,.

Magistrates are ordinary men and women selected by a series of interviews to ensure they have common sense and personal integrity.

They have to be able to listen to all sides of an argument and contribute to fair and reasonable decisions.

Sussex is fortunate to have a wide range of magistrates ranging from hairdressers to architects, unemployed to landowners, bus drivers to medical practitioners and retired members from all walks of life with an approximate equal number of men and women giving up their own time to represent the local community in the courts.

After selection a new magistrate will take a Judicial Oath when they are sworn in containing the following statement “I will do right to all manner of people after the laws and usages of the realm without fear or favour, affection or ill-will”.

They are not legally qualified but are carefully and continually trained and have the benefit of a professional legal adviser in court and they will be mentored for up to two years with ongoing appraisal to ensure they maintain their competencies to sit on the bench.

In addition the Ministry of Justice provide sentencing guidelines to ensure a common and fair approach is applied across the country.

In the interest of fairness, magistrates courts always sit with a bench made up of three magistrates and one having additional training and experience will act as the chairman. Some 98 per cent of all criminal prosecutions in England will pass through the magistrates courts.

I cannot comment on the ASBO nor the fine mentioned in the letter without having full details of the case.

In the same issue the Herald reported on a knife crime with a hefty sentence; a man who had avoided payment of a fine for 10 years who may go to prison if he does not pay up; a young man accused of drug and violent offences being remanded in custody; a shoplifter ordered to repay a shop £79 ;and a drink driver given a 16 month ban and a £500 fine.

I don’t think any of these sentences are soft and am confident the magistrates involved gave just sentences representing the local community’s expectation of justice

A local Community Justice Team exists made up from various agencies, judges, magistrates, police, probation, Youth Offending Team, Crown Prosecution Service and housing working with local residents and working in East Sussex.

For example, a judge or magistrate could meet regularly with community members to find out about the effect of crime on their neighborhoods.

This ensures they are aware of the impact of crime locally. The community members can suggest tasks to probation and the youth team that could be carried out by offenders who have been sentenced to unpaid work.

Finally, if any reader thinks sentencing is an easy task the Ministry of Justice has an interactive website called You be the Judge where the public can hear cases and make an informed decision on the penalty.

Phil Lloyd

Magistrates Bench, Eastbourne