‘Courts at risk’ magistrate says

Meg Clibbon  retiring as a magistrate from Bury St Edmunds Magistrates' Court
Meg Clibbon retiring as a magistrate from Bury St Edmunds Magistrates' Court
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Meg Clibben has marked her retirement as a magistrate by hitting out at how cost-cutting and bureaucracy are eroding the court system.

Mrs Clibben has to step down after 25 years as a magistrate and used her farewell speech before court on Wednesday to warn of the threats she sees.

After praising the professionalism of staff, advocates and probation officers at Bury St Edmunds Magistrates’ Court, she said she was not against change.

“Change is inevitable and if it is initiated for the right reasons and by the right people is productive,” she said, listing some that have improved the courts.

But she added: “The dead hand of bureaucracy and the constant pursuit of cost-effectiveness have taken their toll.”

She said out-of-court disposals where crimes are dealt with without a court appearance had ‘bitten deep into the credibility of the system’.

“Nearly 6,000 violent offenders, fraudsters, thieves, drug and sex offenders and burglars were given police cautions during two years in Suffolk instead of appearing in court,” she said.

She felt community resolutions and restorative justice often left victims feeling they were denied real justice. She hit at plans to ‘privatise’ the ‘excellent probation service’.

She said: “All these initiatives, and many others, have great merit but they are in danger of eating into the heart of the magistracy and by-passing the system which has stood this country well for 600 years.

“I have only spoken in the way I have because I am so proud of the magistracy as an institution and feel that someone should speak up for it in what I feel is the slow erosion of local justice, which has, until now, been independent of political and bureaucratic pressure.

“I hope the guardians of our judicial system will remember that true justice cannot be measured in monetary terms, or squeezed to fit a common mould or beaten to death by over administration.

“It is far too precious.”

Mrs Clibben, a retired teacher, is looking forward to working with her artist daughter Lucy Loveheart on a new ‘Meg and Lucy ‘children’s book. “We’ve published about 17 but I haven’t been able to do one for a couple of years,” she said.