'Community needs to trust us' - new Somerset and Avon chairman of magistrates

Clive Powell, the new chairman of Avon and Somerset Magistrates. Picture: Clive Powell
Clive Powell, the new chairman of Avon and Somerset Magistrates. Picture: Clive Powell

THE new chairman of Avon and Somerset Magistrates says it is important that the community has confidence in the court system.

Clive Powell comes to the role after 37 years of volunteering to help administer justice.

He began as a magistrate in Sedgemoor, covering Bridgwater and Burnham-on-Sea in 1986.

Mr Powell hit the headlines early on after telling a wayward young man: "There's nothing I can say to you that you haven't heard before" before jailing him for six months.

When Sedgemoor Magistrates' Court closed, he was based in Taunton, later progressing to cover Somerset and more recently Somerset and Avon.

"My job is to support people to do the best they can as magistrates and promoting the value of magistrates," said Mr Powell, a civil servant with years of experience as a regulatory tribunal chairman.

"I aim to keep magistrates on track with pastoral support, in part working with partner agencies with the court system to try to ensure we have sufficient qualified magistrates.

"I will be trying to promote people on the bench to take advantage of the opportunities of the bench of being an appraiser of people having difficulties with taking some of the responsibility, sitting down and finding what we can do about it."

Mr Powell added: "Magistrates are volunteers.

"We're increasingly highly trained and we operate under very clear rules.

"There are guidelines around sentencing. The process is just the same as for a high court judge.

"The levels of skills magistrates display are eminently transferable to all sorts of other roles."

There has been a recent recruitment drive to try to attract more people to sit in magistrates' courts.

"It's about being a team," said Mr Poweel.

"It's important that we try to attract people from all walks of life. It's important that the magistracy needs to continuously refresh.

"If we have policing by consent - i.e. we have to have confidence in our police - then we need to have justice by consent. The community needs to have confidence in that.

"We need to be representative of the community that we serve and not be too remote. We need to have an understanding of the people that we're dealing with."