Tue, Sep 12, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Teenage student becomes the UK's youngest magistrate

NEW LEGAL BLOOD The British government is making efforts to attract younger people and minorities to the bench

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

A law student whose hobbies include shopping for shoes, watching TV and reading has become the UK's youngest magistrate.

She is 19.

Lucy Tate's appointment to the bench in Pontefract, West Yorkshire, has been controversial among those who believe her age makes her ill-equipped to meet the requirements of her position.

However, Tate was praised in other quarters for coming through what is a very rigorous recruitment process.

PINK SHOES

On the Friends Reunited Web site, Tate's profile contains a photograph of her favorite pink sequined shoes and matching handbag.

Visitors to the site can also access a list of her favorite films, which include Notting Hill, The Da Vinci Code, Pretty Woman and Dirty Dancing.

Tate was recruited after a ?4 million (US$7.5 million) government advertising campaign that aimed to attract more young people, including those from ethnic minority backgrounds, to the bench and to further involve them in the working of the political process.

MINOR CASES

Magistrates without legal qualifications usually deal with minor criminal offenses and some family cases.

The minimum age to occupy the position was reduced from 27 to 18 in 2004.

Previously, the youngest magistrate had been a 20-year-old man from Sussex.

Sue Vogan, the chair of the committee responsible for recruiting magistrates in Pontefract, said the appointment was appropriate.

"The committee was very impressed with her personal maturity and judgment," Vogan said.

"The magistracy should reflect the community it serves and we can only emphasize Lucy's appointment was based solely on merit," she said.

NOT IMPRESSED

One of her fellow justices of the peace (JP) in Pontefract was less than impressed.

The JP described the appointment as "an absolute folly" to have someone so young that was responsible for making such important decisions.

"Some of the magistrates in Pontefract feel very disillusioned about what has happened ... It was all hushed up when she was sworn in because it was felt there might be bad publicity," the JP said.

"There probably will be -- what life experience does she have at 19?" the JP said.

In a statement, Tate said: "I have had my first sitting, which was fascinating, and am grateful for the training and support I have received, as all new magistrates do. I don't see myself as a role model, but rather someone who wants to serve the local community in a useful and positive way."

Tate will sit on a panel with two other magistrates.

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