In the Media

Judge backs down on magistrates standing as police commissioners

PUBLISHED August 10, 2012

Just a day after the surprise edict from Lord Justice Goldring was made public, he reconsidered and said that JPs need not resign from the bench if they want to run for the powerful new law and order post.

The Senior Presiding Judge acknowledged that several serving magistrates had been chosen by political parties to stand as Police and Crime Commissioners before he issued his ban.

But the judge added that candidates should not sit on cases between their selection and polling day in November, and he did not go back on a separate order that JPs should not sit on new oversight panels or go out campaigning.

In a statement published by the Judicial Office on Friday, Lord Justice Goldring said: "Given that several serving magistrates were selected as candidates before the guidance and appreciating that the elections will be in November, it seems to me appropriate in respect of the present elections not to press the following part of the guidance.

"Provided a magistrate undertakes not to sit from the time of his/her selection as a candidate, and to resign if elected, he/she may resume sitting if not elected. In other words, in respect of the present elections, it will not be necessary to resign upon announcing an intention to stand.

"No doubt those magistrates seeking election will conduct themselves in such a fashion as not to compromise their ability to return to their Bench as an independent and impartial member of the judiciary."

His climbdown should avert a potentially damaging blow to the Conservatives' flagship criminal justice policy of creating PCCs, who will be elected for the first time in 41 police areas across England and Wales. They will set force budgets and strategies, and have the power to hire and fire chief constables in an attempt to make police more accountable to the public.

Two Conservative candidates, two from Labour and two independents had earlier on Friday written a letter to the judge, along with an electoral law expert, warning him that he had erred.

They suggested he had effectively usurped Parliament by trying to ban magistrates from standing as PCCs, and had also ignored the fact that JPs already have a key role in police authorities.

Signatories to the letter, led by Mervyn Barrett, an independent standing in Lincolnshire, hope to meet the judge to discuss his separate ban on magistrates sitting on Police and Crime Panels.

Godfrey Bloom, a MEP for UKIP who plans to stand against the former Labour minister Lord Prescott in Humberside, said: "This is excellent news as the previous orders from the Lord Justice would have removed many good candidates from contention.

"That it got as far as this confusion is a testimony to the lack of thought put into the whole process by the Government, but it is good news."

He added that the authorities should next tackle the "spectacle" of potential candidates being barred because of decades-old criminal records.

Under the current rules anyone convicted of an imprisonable offence - no matter how long ago - cannot stand as a PCC, which has ruled out the Falklands veteran Simon Weston as well as at least one Labour candidate.

Critics say it should be for the voters to decide if a youthful indiscretion is relevant or not.