Anyone wondering how Police and Crime Commissioners are going to be welcomed by the judiciary may be best advised to think in terms of pork pies and bar mitzvahs.
That at least is the message one picks up from JO Circular AC (5) 2012 issued at the end of last week by the Senior Presiding Judge for England and Wales, the Rt. Hon Lord Justice Goldring.
The circular is for magistrates who are considering standing for election as a PCC, or planning to take part in a PCC election campaign, or who intend to apply to become a member of a Police and Crime Panel. Wiltshire Conservatives’ Angus Macpherson JP, Cambridgeshire UKIP candidate Paul Bullen JP and who knows how many others need to take note.
The message is a fairly simple one.
Judges are disqualified from being elected as PCCs, but the law does not prevent Magistrates from standing, so Lord Justice Goldring has decided that he will stop them from standing. “Magistrates who wish to stand for election, upon announcement of their intention to do so, should resign immediately.”
If they just want to participate actively, whatever that means (leafleting?), they should take a leave of absence. They should not hold meetings with PCC candidates.
If you do resign to run for election, you are still not free – “former magistrates should be highly circumspect when describing their bench careers.”
The justification for this is twofold –
1) It’s going to be highly political. (You know, like Solicitor General, Attorney General and Lord Chancellor – clearly offices we could never give to a politician. Oh, wait.)
2) “it would be inappropriate for a judicial office holder to hold an office which has an oversight and leadership role in respect of Police Forces, or to participate in an election campaign for such a role.” (Which neatly misses the fact that until recently magistrates by law were a significant proportion of Police Authorities membership, and that members of the bench are Councillors, MPs, etc).
If you are a magistrate who doesn’t want to be a PCC, but would like to sit on a Police and Crime Panel, then tough. Lord Goldring is directing you to resign. With about 600+ panel members across the country made up of fairly active citizens, this is not going to go down well.
Ironically, the form of judicial independence defended in this direction seems so extreme as to in itself constitute a political statement. This is not merely rules. This is message. And it’s a message which needs to be reconsidered.
I can hardly wait till the day when we can elect our judges.