WE ARE A MAGAZINE ABOUT LAW AND JUSTICE | AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO
April 20 2024
WE ARE A MAGAZINE ABOUT LAW AND JUSTICE | AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO
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New review finds justice inaccessible in magistrate courts

New review finds justice inaccessible in magistrate courts

Old Bailey: the Central Criminal Court of England and Wales

Research by the Magistrates’ Association reveals three-quarters of magistrates’ courts fail to provide accessibility resources for disabled people, especially for the magistrates.

The magistrates’ association reviewed accessibility standards in 57 buildings. Most of the courts reviewed failed to provide ramps, accessible toilets, hearing loops and accessible magistrate entrances. Due to these problems, the justice system in England and Wales has been undermined in its attempt to improve diversity and inclusion for the magistracy.

They found in three of 10 courts, disabled magistrates were restricted from courtrooms and entire buildings due to failures to provide proper resources. Even with the association’s review of more than a third of the magistrates courts in England and Wales, only one building was considered “good” in the assessed areas.

The study notes that accessibility is poorer in areas for magistrates than in public areas. Meaning almost a fifth of the surveyed courts required disabled magistrates to use public entrances because they lacked an accessible entrance for judges. This inequity not only disadvantages disabled magistrates, but also leads to safety concerns by forcing them to interact with those who may be frustrated with trial outcomes.

David Rose, chair of the magistrates with disabilities network, explains the exclusion he faced as an above-knee amputee. Rose says that while the staff would meet in the assembly room on the top floor to start the day, he “had to sit [alone] in the retiring room”. Rose claims that he became “Billy No-Mates” even as a magistrate judge.

Even though the accessibility standards are considerably worse for magistrates, there are still plenty of problems for public areas as revealed by the report. For instance, neurodivergent people or those with learning disabilities may suffer from the fact that signage is missing from a quarter of public areas. Additionally, fewer than half of the courts had hearing loops that functioned properly.

Mark Beattie claims this inaccessible justice is concerning because ‘equal access for all is surely a fundamental tenet of our justice system and yet insufficient funds have been spent to deliver this.’

Beattie goes on to point out that this raises problems for those who are disabled and dream of becoming magistrates. Beattie notes that with the current building standards, it is a real possibility that aspiring magistrates will be unable to observe sessions, access rooms, and access entire buildings.

Since the magistrates’ association released this report, a spokesperson for His Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals has released statements that claim improving accessibility of magistrates courts will be achieved. They cite that for two years up to April 2023, £184 million was invested to maintain buildings and improve accessibility.

‘Ensuring that everyone is able to fully access our courts is vital for open justice.’ There are still improvements needed, and there will be ‘significant investment in upgrades [to] ensure that nobody is excluded from seeing justice done,’ they continued.