July 21 1992 was an important date for Ealing Magistrates’ Court – and eventually for magistrates across England and Wales.
Rosemary Thompson, the then-Chairman of The Magistrates’ Association came to visit a small group of Magistrates who were keen to become one of the many teams nationwide who were joining a voluntary initiative masterminded by Rosemary – the Schools Project. The idea was to give talks about the magistracy and the courts to schools and colleges in our own area in order to demystify the justice system.
As, over the years, the initiative grew and extended its work beyond the original ‘schools’ remit its name was changed to Magistrates in the Community [MIC].
What does MIC do?
Today there are many groups throughout the country delivering a huge variety of presentations to incredibly diverse groups. We still visit the schools and colleges, but also employers, community groups, religious and social groupings, in fact whoever will invite us. Often we meet people who want to know more and how to apply to be a magistrate.
The general public are encouraged to visit and find out about courthouses through open days where all those associated with the work of the court, including local lawyers, the police, Victim Support, the Crown Prosecution Service and the court’s legal and administrative teams join together with the magistrates to arrange mock trials, tours of the building and cells alongside many exhibitions. The first specific Family Court Open Days were held very successfully in London in 2009.
Every year the Magistrates’ Association, together with the Citizenship Foundation, coordinates a National Junior Mock Trial Competition for 12- to 14-year-olds. We have run local heats of these at our court over the last 16 years, where the children learn a great deal about how the legal system works. A couple of years ago a young woman came up to me and said she was applying to do Law at university thanks to her experience at our Mock Trial heat when she was 13.
There is a National MIC Team of the Year competition where a huge variety of inspiring initiatives are considered, nominated and then a winner chosen.
Most areas will have something that they are particularly proud of. In Ealing we have set up a multi-agency anti-crime initiative called ‘Your Life You Choose’.
A team of magistrates, police, Youth Offending Service, Victim Support and prison officers [and young ex-offenders] visit Year 7 pupils in local high schools for a whole day presentation aimed at putting them off a life of crime. During the last academic year we presented to nearly 2,000 pupils.
Why do we do it?
Magistrates do not get paid for the work they do in the courts and the MIC is a further voluntary activity they can get involved in.
MIC initiatives are fun, exciting, thought-provoking, challenging and satisfying as we endeavour to demystify the legal system and educate and interest the wider community in the work of their local court.
More information on ‘Volunteering as a magistrate’