Members having sampled the delicious non-alcoholic punch being served, the December Todmorden U3A general meeting opened with a treat as a delighted audience heard four string players from Todmorden Orchestra, led by Andrew Rostron, perform music by Haydn.
Before getting down to a quiz set by quiz group convenor Myrna Beet, retired local magistrate Trevor Driver gave an amusing talk drawing on his 23 years as a magistrate.
Trevor explained the magistracy began in the 13th century with landed gentry being nominated from among their local number. Nomination was the norm throughout the evolution of this post until relatively recently when personal application to become a magistrate was introduced.
No formal qualifications are required but magistrates need intelligence, common sense, integrity, listening skills and a balanced view of human nature.
Membership comes from all parts of the area the court covers and drawn from all walks of life. When Trevor started, his training consisted of a list of do’s and don’ts. Now, all magistrates receive three days’ training before sitting, carried out in conjunction with a mentoring programme. This covers basic law and procedure, and they continue to receive on-the-job training.
The only questions magistrates may ask are those for clarification. They are assisted by the Clerk to the Court, who is on hand to give advice and is legally qualified. Trevor said magistrates can sometimes find it difficult to decide on a sentence to impose and ask the clerk’s advice. The clerk will then go through the list of options, enabling the bench to take a decision.
Sometimes decisions are of a different nature. Trevor and his bench were faced with one such on Christmas Eve. Should we remand, and deprive the defendant and their family the Christmas they had planned? On the other hand, remand would give certain kinds of defendants a bed for the night in the warm and dry.
Some of Trevor’s stories were funny. One such tale came from some youths captured on CCTV on the roof of a supermarket and caught later with a bag of lead. They were taking a short cut across the roof, they said, then found the bag and were on their way to hand it in!