England: Magistrates call for retirement age to be raised to 75

Magistrates are calling for their retirement age to be raised from 70 to 75 to stem the judicial recruitment crisis, The Times reports.

Over the past 10 years, the number of magistrates has halved from roughly 15,000.

As such, they are routinely sitting on benches of two instead of three. There were benches of two in nearly 40,000 court sessions in 2017-18 – 15 per cent of the total.

There is also a shortage of presiding justices, magistrates with more experiences who lead and manage hearings.

John Bache, national chairman of the Magistrates’ Association, told The Times: “We have a severe shortage of magistrates, with benches of two becoming increasingly common, even in trials, and magistrates coming under pressure to take on additional sittings, often at short notice,” he said. “This affects morale, as magistrates are left feeling guilty when they are unable to assist.”

He added: “Allowing magistrates to sit beyond the age of 70, in areas and jurisdictions where this is needed, is the best way to achieve this. People now work longer, retire later and live longer. The magistracy needs to adapt to reflect this.”

Mr Bache said that the change in policy to press for a higher retirement age had been agreed by a majority of magistrates at a recent annual general meeting of the association.

They propose that magistrates be allowed to sit until 75 but that this be extended year by year in areas where there is a need. Competence would be assessed by appraisals from 70 to 75.

Last month there were renewed calls for the judicial retirement age to be raised as Lord Sumption stepped down.

Seventy-three-year-old Lord Grabiner QC delivered a farewell to the judge at his valedictory ceremony, saying: “The pity is that just as you are about to reach the age of intellectual maturity — and I speak from personal experience — you are required to retire.

“Fortunately the rules permit you to be invited to sit from time to time for another five years but I think it is time the age provisions were amended.”

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