An arbitrary age-cap is worsening the problems in our justice systemby Ros Altmann / January 27, 2019 / Leave a comment
The UK justice system is facing a crisis. The problems in our prisons are well documented, while funding for legal aid has been dramatically reduced. Less attention has been paid to the falling number of magistrates, but the trend is alarming and has left many courts operating with just two on the bench rather than three.
This problem is worsened by the current policy that forces magistrates to retire at 70—even if they are ready, willing and able to continue.
Let’s not forget that most magistrates work unpaid, volunteering their services for the public good, often in retirement from paid work. They want to use their training in the interests of justice. However, over the past ten years the number of magistrates has halved to 15,000 and the majority are already over 60. This is causing a severe shortage in the justice system, which will worsen over time.
There have been widespread calls for the government to abandon this compulsory cut-off, which dates back to 1993 legislation. At its recent annual meeting the Magistrates’ Association decided to increase pressure on the government to introduce new legislation, allowing them to stay on past 70. I hope that it succeeds.
The most senior justices, who chair court hearings, are already allowed some leeway to work up to 75 if they are called upon to do so. Although judges are also normally supposed to retire at 70, many have been asked to work longer. However, ordinary magistrates are not permitted to do so.
This kind of arbitrary age discrimination has no place in the modern world. Mandatory retirement ages are a blunt tool to use in determining who can perform particular tasks, and should be replaced with an impartial assessment of capability. Compulsory retirement policies are particularly harmful for demographic reasons. The number of older people in the population is rising sharply, as the first babyboomers reach their 70s. Denying them the chance to continue working, especially in sedentary roles, makes little sense.
When you consider the potential drop in immigration of younger workers post-Brexit, there is an urgent need to update practices regarding employment of older people. In the wider business context, all employers should make more use of home-grown skills and talent wherever possible—which must include encouraging longer working lives. If someone is perfectly capable of working, the law should not force them…