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Celebrating female magistrates: Empowering voices in the judiciary

Female magistrates pictured: From top left Baljit, Joanna, Julia and Sonal. Quote ""Diverse perspectives can create a safer and more inclusive space for all individuals seeking justice." Text: Help make the decisions that shape your community, while you gain new skills.

To mark Women’s History Month, we spoke to female magistrates about gender diversity in the judiciary, pivotal career moments and advice to those seeking to become a magistrate.

In 1919, Ada Summers made history as the first female magistrate in England. 105 years on, women now represent 57% of all magistrates. Hear from several female magistrates who have seen the magistracy change to become increasingly more inclusive. They share their thoughts on the important role that women can play in supporting the justice system in England and Wales.  

Joanne: Championing empathy in the court

Meet Joanne, a dedicated magistrate whose journey has embodied empathy in the judicial process. Joanne’s pivotal moment came during a challenging abuse case in the family court. As she faced a distressed mother, Joanne realised the vital role magistrates play in providing comfort and understanding in such sensitive proceedings.

Joanne says: “A balanced representation of men and women in a family court room is vital to successful sittings.” Joanne echoes the views of the judiciary, emphasising that combined diverse voices are essential for fostering a supportive legal system. 

Sonal: Advocating for inclusivity and trust

Sonal is a trailblazing magistrate who makes sure to champion inclusivity and trust within the judiciary. Her journey began 20 years ago with a powerful realisation in the retiring room (a separate room where magistrates can discuss and deliberate) Sonal says: “I was the only person of colour in the retiring room and I felt proud to be there.” 20 years on, the magistracy is more diverse and Sonal now meets magistrates from all walks of life.

Sonal emphasises that gender diversity encourages fairer decision-making and highlights how important it is for a bench to reflect the rich diversity of society and cherishes the opportunity to learn something new at every sitting. Sonal says: “Every sitting is an opportunity to learn something new.”

Julia: Building bonds through diversity

Julia sheds light on the benefits of having a diverse set of magistrates within the judiciary. Julia says “it feels like a safe space, often a positive experience, and it helps us build a good working relationship as a Bench.” Julia’s observations in the retiring room reveal it to be a space where a diverse range of magistrates come together in solidarity, sharing their experiences and forging bonds beyond cultural and ethnic differences. Her insights into the friendly culture among female colleagues proves the importance of creating inclusive environments where diverse perspectives are not just welcomed but celebrated.

Julia’s message to aspiring magistrates goes beyond gender, highlighting the inclusive nature of the judiciary and the positive impact individuals from all backgrounds can make in shaping a fair and equitable justice system.

Baljit: Advocating for empathy in justice

Similar to Joanne, Baljit’s experience shows the power of empathy within courts. Baljit worked on a domestic violence case which highlighted to her the profound impact of compassion in administering justice. As she witnessed a defendant’s transformation from fear to empowerment, Baljit realised the critical role she plays in creating a safe and inclusive space for all individuals seeking justice.

Baljit feels it is important to “embrace your unique perspective; your experiences and background bring valuable insights to the judiciary.”

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