Life in court with a magistrate

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THE day a youth brazenly answered his mobile phone while appearing in a sentencing court was recalled by Nottingham magistrate Paula Hammond in a talk to HUCKNALL MEN’S PROBUS CLUB.

She said the young man’s phone went off in his pocket and he told the caller: “No, mate. I think I’m going down.”

The speaker told the members: “Some days, courts can be quite frustrating. It is often a struggle to get young people to listen to you and they can be totally disrespectful.

“It is sometimes as if it is not even going in one ear and out of the other.”

Paula, who has been a magistrate for 37 years and chairman of a Bench for the last three years, said she had learned “a lot of new language” through her court work. Defendants had called her ‘Love’, ‘Duck’ and, on one occasion, ‘Your Royal Highness’.

The speaker said her impression of Mansfield Magistrates Court, which deals with Hucknall cases, was quite different from serving in Nottingham.

While on the Bench at a youth court in Mansfield, she was shocked by the sort of crimes committed by girls aged 13 to 15. She said: “They were vicious, violent crimes like you may get with lads in Nottingham city centre.”

The speaker said JPs sat voluntarily apart from an allowance for loss of earnings, travel expenses and subsistence.

No formal qualifications were required but magistrates needed intelligence, common sense, integrity and the capacity to act fairly.

Membership of the Bench was widely spread and drawn from all walks of life but police officers, traffic wardens and members of the armed forces as well as their close relatives were among the categories excluded.

All magistrates received training in basic law and procedure over a three-month period and this continued in the first two years of their service.

The training included visits to prisons, young offenders’ institutions and bail hostels. JPs received advice in court from a legally-qualified clerk and normally formed a panel of three, with two as the minimum.

The speaker said there were about 27,000 JPs in England and Wales, half of them women. About 30 new magistrates had been appointed for Nottingham, bringing the total to just over 400. The city also had three district judges, previously known as stipendiaries.

Magistrates dealt with 97% of all offences, said the speaker. She added that murderers, rapists and arsonists all initially appeared at a magistrates’ court.

Family courts, which could involve children at risk being taken away by social services, were potentially the most traumatic, said Paula.