Journal: Jannett Morgan

Reflective Journal 1

The Civic Leadership programme has brought into sharp focus just how little I know about the public services that affect my daily life; I am grateful to the programme for the opportunity to address this. Three questions were uppermost in my mind when I attended my first shadow opportunity:

  • What is going on?
  • Can I see myself in the role?
  • What value would I add?

My first observation took place at Bromley Magistrates Court. It's a place I have driven past on numerous occasions while on my way to The Glades shopping centre but I've never been inside. The location almost lulls one into a sense of security, yet I was informed that there is 25% deprivation in the borough. I was also told that neighbouring Lewisham is the most violent borough in the country (something that my mentor disputed when I met with him subsequently - more on that later).

The first session I attended was for sentence hearings and was presided over by a single judge. The defendants were mostly young people and the cases covered included theft and assault. I was struck by the busyness in the room i.e. lots of people moving and talking in an orchestrated way. This was a lot to take in at first but I was soon able to figure out the roles of the key players and the sequence of events: the case as laid out by the crown; probation report; representation for the defence; sentencing.

Bromley Magistrates Court is an "early digital adopter" meaning it is one of the first to conduct remote hearings by live video link. The second session I attended was in the digital courtroom where the bench was made up of three magistrates: a white male, a white female and a black male. While it was clear that one magistrate was in charge, there was a lot of interaction between them and the final decisions were made after much consultation.

It was refreshing to see a diverse bench and particularly encouraging to see a young black male as a magistrate. There was also a black female lawyer present for one of the cases and she later told me that we desperately need more magistrates of colour. I am very concerned about the increasing number of young black people (especially young males) who find themselves on the wrong side of the criminal justice system; it is imperative that, at the very least, the courts are representative of the communities they serve.

To this end, I do feel that I have the skills to make a good magistrate: communication (speaking and listening), the ability to way up facts and synthesise information; decision-making; fairness, a methodical approach, etc. The jury is still out for me but it is a role I am now seriously considering.