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What is it like to be a magistrate?

PICTURED: Yvonne Dixon and Orin Miller

YVONNE DIXON

Q: Many people don’t know much about becoming a magistrate or what it involves. How did you learn about becoming one?

Yvonne Dixon: I am lucky in that I am from a professional family and I have a legal background. My older cousin has been a magistrate for 30 plus years and he pushed and encouraged me to apply.

Q: What motivated you to become a magistrate?

YD: I was motivated to become a magistrate because I believe that being a magistrate supports and serves my community and provides an education for my fellow magistrates with importance of diversity on the bench.

QL What was the reaction of your family and friends when they learned you’d became a magistrate?

YD: My family were all involved and supportive. Sometimes friends and acquaintances do not understand the importance of being a magistrate. At every opportunity I will always take the time to explain and encourage them to apply and support the legal Justice process.

Q: What does the role involve?

YD: The role involves a minimum of 12 full day sittings each year. You have to sit and listen intently to cases and follow guidelines to reach a decision with your fellow magistrate. The bench will usually consist of 3 people and you can deal with a range of cases from fraud to murder.

Q: Why do you feel it is important that more black people become magistrates?

YD: It is important that magistrates are as diverse as the clients we serve. We have a moral duty to actively get involved in the community we live in so that we help to provide a fair and balanced society.

ORIN MILLER

Q: Why did you become a magistrate?

Orin Miller: As a young adult I was cognizant of the fact some communities had no confidence in the criminal justice system. I was also aware of the disquiet and concern in the same communities surrounding the number of black males who died while in police custody and the sense that the law was punishing black males more severely than white males for similar crimes.

Q: Is this what motivated you to become a magistrate?

OM: I have always believed that we should be involved in active citizenship by participating in our local communities and in 2009 a close friend suggested that I consider applying to become a magistrate.

I initially dismissed the idea as not being for me and then reflected on my past experiences and observations and recognised that non participation was in effect distancing myself from my local community. I submitted an application in 2009 and was appointed in April 2011.

Q: What was the reaction of your family and friends?

OM: Family and friends were supportive, but then they are people who recognise that simply complaining about the system has not provided concrete results over many years, and that we have to participate to bring our experiences and perspectives in order to educate, inform and effect change.

Q: What does the role involve?

OM: Magistrates either sit in Adult, Youth or Family court. Each is different both in terms of formality actions and outcomes. All magistrates, when initially appointed sit in the Adult Court and then after a specified period can choose either Youth or Family. I sit in Adult and the Youth Court.

Q: Why do you feel it is important that more black people become magistrates?

OM: Visibility is important and the more diverse the magistracy becomes, the transparency and quality of justice will improve. For me this recruitment drive is not just about recruiting more BAME magistrates, but actually recruiting BAME individuals who are committed to the principle of impartial justice for all.

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