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Forcing JPs to retire at age 70 shows the law really is an ass

By Jane Merrick

Published 14/05/2015

Presidency bid: Hillary Clinton
Presidency bid: Hillary Clinton

Two magistrates have launched a protest at their being forced to retire at the age of 70. The only reason the wider public has heard a thing about this is because, in protest, the two of them wrote poems.

Janet Boccaccio, who was made to step down from Blackpool Magistrates Court, wrote this: "Seventy, forced to retire but not quite ready/I cannot appeal and cannot sue."

Surely there's a rhyme to be had somewhere in this situation: what about "court" and "fought"? Or "judge" and "budge"? At least her fellow JP, Margaret Holyoake, also forced to retire from the same bench, had a stab at making her poem rhyme: "There was once an old magistrate/Who at 70 had to accept her fate/I may not be decrepit/But open the door and I will exit."

I wouldn't go so far as to call this a crime against rhyme (see how easy it is?) worthy of its authors being called from the bench, but if the pair hadn't been forced to give up their day jobs, I'd be advising them not to.

Where these magistrates absolutely have a point, however, is in criticising the justice system for ageism.

Retirement is mandatory at 70 for magistrates. Is the Ministry of Justice, which sets the limit, claiming that JPs can't make proper judgments when they get to this age?

And, if so, why are Crown Court judges and members of juries, who have to handle more serious cases such as murder, allowed to go on until 75, when magistrates aren't deemed fit to pass sentence on shoplifters?

Surely, as long as an individual is in full possession of his or her, faculties, they should be allowed to go on much longer?

Justice is a field that needs wisdom - the kind acquired through experience. This is how the-then Justice Secretary Chris Grayling made the case for extending judges' retirement age to 75, so it makes sense to bring magistrates into line.

Yet, ageism is rife across our society: vicars, another job that requires wisdom and experience of life, have to retire at 65, the same as firefighters and airline pilots, whose jobs are far more physically demanding.

Even though compulsory retirement ages have been scrapped in the private sector, finding a job when you're older than 60 is hard when an employer thinks you'll be out the door in a few years.

A report by Age UK a few years ago found that society sees "old age" as starting at 59 in this country - far lower than the age at which many people retire.

In politics - as ever - things are done differently. MPs can keep working as long as they want, with only the electorate to judge whether they're up to it.

The Labour MP Gerald Kaufman is now the oldest member of the Commons, becoming the new Father of the House aged 84. The oldest new member of the Cabinet, John Whittingdale, is 55. The Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb hopes to lead his party at the age of 57.

Next year Hillary Clinton will bid to become US president at the age of 68. If she wins she will still be in the White House well into her seventies.

In honour of the two Blackpool JPs, I think that I should end this with a rhyme: If you can be Leader of the free world at 73/why can't you remand someone into custody?

Belfast Telegraph

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