Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

You Do Tend to See the Same Faces Come Up; as a Magistrate Recruitment Drive Gets under Way in the North East, Reporter SARA NICHOL Talks to JP Michaela Nichol about Life Inside the Region's Courts

Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

You Do Tend to See the Same Faces Come Up; as a Magistrate Recruitment Drive Gets under Way in the North East, Reporter SARA NICHOL Talks to JP Michaela Nichol about Life Inside the Region's Courts

Article excerpt

Byline: SARA NICHOL

FROM petty criminals and serious offenders to family breakdown and wildlife protection - it's all in a day's work for the region's magistrates.

There are more than 1,000 JPs in the North East who deal with around 96% of all criminal cases.

And, as magistrate Michaela Nichol agrees, no day in the job is ever the same.

With 12 years experience, Mrs Nichol, 54, has dealt with people from all walks of life and has seen firsthand how the criminal justice system has changed over the past decade.

Although alcohol, drugs and unemployment remain the most common factors behind much of the region's crime, new sentencing guidelines have given magistrates the power to address theses issues more directly.

Mrs Nichol said: "I decided to apply to be a magistrate 12 years ago. Several friends had suggested I might be good at it and my children were growing up so I had some spare time on my hands.

"But, most of all, I wanted to give something back to the community and I thought becoming a magistrate would do that, as well as being interesting and challenging.

"I think the courts were actually busier when I first started to what they are now. I think the police tend to give out more cautions these days, so less cases make it to court.

"Aside from motoring offences, the most common offences that come up before us are criminal damage, theft and assault and usually alcohol, drugs and unemployment play a big part.

"We have far more men defendants in the court than women, although the number of women is increasing.

"You do get aggressive defendants but I can't say I've ever felt intimidated by any of them. Sometimes they stare at you and try and intimidate you but you have to make it clear to them that you are in charge of the court and not them.

"It's not just defendants that need to know that. sometimes the solicitors need reminding too. It is definitely an interesting job and even now I have offences come up that I've never dealt with before. You learn an awful lot and some of it is shocking."

As well as sitting as a chairman in adult courts, Mrs Nichol is also qualified to sit as a magistrate in youth courts. …

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