Special milestone for Yarmouth magistrates

THEY have been the cornerstone of the justice system for 650 years and this evening a special service is being held in Great Yarmouth to recognise the important role of lay magistrates.

The town’s magistrates court in North Quay was built in 1992 - before this. court hearings were in the Town Hall. Currently there are about 75 magistrates assigned to Yarmouth and in a single morning it is common for them to deal with 30 cases.

Magistrates are trained, unpaid members of their local community, who work part-time and deal with less serious criminal cases, such as minor theft, criminal damage, public disorder and motoring offences.

The office dates back to the Justices of the Peace Act of 1361 and today 95pc of criminal cases are dealt with in a magistrates court.

Richard Howard, 65, from Ormesby, became a magistrate in 1985 and is currently chairman of the Yarmouth bench. He described the role as “interesting” and said special training was needed, particularly to deal with sensitive family matters.

“At times cases can be quite traumatic when children are involved – that is obviously a difficult situation,” he said. “There is a long period of training to become a magistrate. Everything is done on a structured basis and we have guidelines.”

The youth court is an area where Mr Howard said magistrates try and help young people go in the right direction.

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Unique to Great Yarmouth Magistrates Court are the swords of justice.

There are two swords; the first was purchased in 1684 and is kept at the Town Hall.

The second, which is carried into courtroom three, was given to the town’s magistrates in 1961 and marked the 750th anniversary of the grant by King John of a charter allowing local self-government.

To mark 650 years of lay magistracy a service is being held at St Nicholas Church at 7.30pm today and is open to all.

The service will be a civic occasion and the address will be given by Norwich Crown Court judge Alasdair Darroch.