With an interest in law and an eagerness to represent the LGBT+ community, Dan tells us why he became a magistrate.
Dan is a member of the Merseyside Bench and sits in Wirral, Liverpool and Sefton’s Criminal Courts, and occasionally on Appeals at the Crown Court.
What does Pride month mean to you?
Pride Month 2021 reminds us of the struggles faced by LGBT+ communities both past and present, and how the LGBT+ population continue to fight for equal rights and fair representation across the globe. For centuries LGBT+ people have been marginalised and even criminalised, causing pain and anguish not only to those individuals, but also to their friends and their families. There have been many great improvements in respect of LGBT+ representation and awareness in recent times, but there is still work to be done. This Pride Month, I want to encourage all LGBT+ people who have an interest in fairness and equality to join me and find out more about life as a magistrate: discover how you can help in the administration of justice on behalf of your local community.
Magistrates are volunteers who hear cases in their local towns or cities. We hear cases in the criminal court, the family court, or both. As a magistrate, I am one of approximately 13,000 volunteers from all walks of life aged between 18 and 70. Magistrates don’t need any formal legal qualifications, but we are advised by experienced legal advisors in court and we follow national sentencing guidelines.
All magistrates are assessed against six key qualities: good character, understanding and communication, social awareness, maturity and sound temperament, sound judgement and commitment and reliability. We come from all sorts of backgrounds and experiences, and it’s especially important that we adequately reflect the communities we serve. Today’s judiciary strives to encompass mixed and diverse benches allowing for balanced and impartial decision-making, the vital cornerstone of the judicial process.
Why did you become a magistrate?
I applied to join the magistracy aged 27 because of my interest in the law and an eagerness to contribute to my local community. Now aged 32, I am still one of the younger members of the bench, but things are changing in terms of age, background, sexuality, gender, and personal experiences as new and diverse magistrates take their seats. In my day job I work as a conservation officer, but I have sat with a range of different people from students to grocers, to healthcare workers and even a professional deep-sea diver. Each magistrate brings to the table their own unique life-experience and viewpoint to every case. Nowadays there is certainly no such thing as your stereotypical magistrate.
I also serve as a Deputy of the Magistrates Association’s LGBT+ Special Interest Group (external link, opens in a new tab). One of the drivers behind the formation of the group was a lack of information and data about LGBT+ representation within the magistracy. It’s vitally important that we magistrates represent the communities we serve. The public must be confident that those passing sentence have a genuine understanding and insight into 21st century society, and that we are able to truly empathise with the facts and circumstances of those who stand to be affected by our decisions.
It is of course a very responsible but also a very privileged position. As a magistrate no two days are the same and you never know what cases might come before you. However, whatever the outcome, be it relating to a driving misdemeanour or a significant assault, I always personally feel I have made a positive difference to my community on behalf of my fellow citizens. Decisions are never easy and are never taken lightly, but we do what we believe to be right in all the circumstances.
If you can offer at least 13 days a year and feel you have what it takes to become a magistrate, I strongly encourage you to check out the guidance on the Government website and when possible, visit your local courthouse to observe some cases from the public gallery. Applications are welcome from anyone who meets the eligibility criteria for appointment and who believes they have the necessary qualities. It is a unique and essential role which I thoroughly recommend.
If you are interested in becoming a magistrate and would like more information, then please visit the magistrate’s recruitment site (external link, opens in a new tab).
You can also find out more information about the role by visiting the Magistrates Association’s website (external link, opens in a new tab)..