30 JULY 1948, Page 2

Justices of the Peace

" The Law," for most people who are unlucky enough to have a brush with it, means a policeman and a bench of voluntary magistrates. Over ninety per cent, of all charges in this country are heard by courts of summary jurisdiction which, with a very few exceptions, are manned by Justices of the Peace. If it is possible to strengthen the magistracy, without tampering with its voluntary basis, we should obviously do so, and on the whole the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Justices of the Peace would, if put into effect, strengthen it. The Commission deals sensibly with the main criticisms which are made against magistrates ; that they are too often appointed for political reasons, that many of them are very old, and that their scrappy knowledge of law puts too much power into the hands of their clerks. Although a minority of the commissioners urge that politics should and could be left entirely out of appointments, the majority believe that this is not yet possible, and that the best that can be aimed at is that political appointments should be discouraged and that nobody, when appointed, should regard himself as the " representative " on the bench of apolitical party. A retiring age of 75 (65 for juvenile courts) is recommended, which would not be universally enforced in the first five years, and these ages are probably no less and no more satisfactory than other attempts to fix retiring ages for other jobs. Most people can think of good magistrates of 8o and bad magistrates of 5o, just as they can think of good and bad political appointments to the bench. On the question of a knowledge of law the Commission sensibly rejects the idea of an examination and suggests instead schemes of instruction which would have to be undertaken by new recruits. The same moderation characterises its suggestions for payment of expenses. There is a real danger that if examinations and compensation for loss of working time were to be introduced a professional magistracy would be in the offing. The voluntary system is too valuable to be jeopardised.