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OBV celebrate 50 Black magistrates being appointed

Rev Al Sharpton congratulated 50 Black magistrates who had reached the bench after graduating through an Operation Black Vote shadowing scheme.

The Justices of the Peace gathered for a special reception in the House of Commons yesterday, as a government minister told them they had successfully changed the face of the magistracy.

250 people have applied to administer justice in Britain’s courts after taking part in OBV’s project, which began in 2001.

Baljit Singh Rihal JP

Speaking yesterday evening civil rights leader Rev Sharpton told the magistrates “some people must be inside to make the system work; otherwise those people who campaign on the outside work in vain.”

OBV set about trying to change the face of the magistracy after Simon Woolley approach the former Lord Chancellor Derry Irvine, and said that a more diverse bench was essential for justice to be fair.

Noorjahen Begum recently became the 50th magistrate to be appointed, and she now sits at Thames magistrates court in Bow, east London.

OBV director Simon Woolley said that the unique partnership had radically changed the magistracy. He commented: ‘Martin Luther King had a dream – and you are part of that dream. But he had more than a dream; he had a plan.

‘A plan to change America as never before, by being just and resolute. When I see you, I can see how this plan has taken shape.’

The award-winning magistrates shadowing scheme led by Marlene Carrington, herself a JP, hopes to see many more black and Asian people appointed to the bench.

Rev Sharpton in full flow

As well as a more diverse bench, OBV is also helping bring about a younger one. The average age of OBV graduates is 35, compared to 57, the average age of magistrates in Britain.

Justice minister Bridget Prentice noted that a survey of magistrates found that 97% of JPs would recommend it to a friend.

She added: ‘It’s no exaggeration to say that the 50 magistrates that we’re celebrating today is one of the most successful initiatives in the field of justice.

‘This is about creating a situation where justice is seen as part of, rather than apart from, the community it serves.’

Prentice was joined by fellow government minister Dawn Butler, and the Lib Dem grandee Sir Alan Beith.

In his speech, Rev Sharpton said that he had just visited the Stephen Lawrence Centre and recalled that it was only a few years ago he was campaigning for the murders of Lawrence and Rolan Adams, in Eltham, south-east London, to be taken seriously.

He reminded the audience of the long fight against racial injustice, but warned that as doors open, the Black community must take these opportunities with the same passion that was deployed in times of crisis.

‘We can’t fight for the right to be somebody and on the other hand lose the ambition to be somebody,’ he said. ‘We must live everyday the way we want our life to be. We can’t all be on the evening news, but all of us can all do something.’

Sharon Sewell, a magistrate from Derby, paid tribute to the work of Operation Black Vote, saying: ‘This scheme came along at the right time and gave me an opportunity to find out what it was about. It’s been fantastic and I really feel like I’m making a difference.’

Sharon Thompson, magistrate from Birmingham, added: ‘OBV believed there was a need for more JPs and they inspired us. And here we are standing in the houses of parliament.’

By Lester Holloway

Magistrates pose with justice minister Bridget Prentice and Dawn Butler MP (front centre), and OBV's Simon Woolley (standing, centre)

Magistrates listen to Rev Al Sharpton

3 Responses

  1. I congratulate the 50 new Magistrates and welcome them to the fold. There is a lot of hard work ahead breaking down barriers, smashing Glass Ceilings and being bold and defending the defenceless regardless of Race Colour or Creed.

    I speak from experience it is a tough road that lies ahead.

  2. It was a fantastic event and I came away feeling inspired. Thanks again to all at OBV

  3. Congratulations to OBV for organising such a magnificent event !

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