Probation’s relationship with the court administrators affected relationships with magistrates but again if we were all to avoid retreating into stereotyping each other, some of the complexities needed to be understood. A number of factors were at work, mediated through the personality of the individuals involved:
- Justices’ clerks were involved in the selection, training of in some sense oversight of Magistrates. It was easy for them to feel as if the magistrates were their staff who needed to be protected from undue influence by external forces such as solicitors or ourselves. Some would therefore view us with suspicion and try to keep us at a distance from their magistrates.
- Justices’ clerks were responsible for the smooth running of the Courts and we could be a disturbing factor – requiring adjournments to assess cases, raising problems about timely submission of reports, competing for priority organisation of business with solicitors etc.
- Justices’ clerks were, like us, professionals, trying to manage magistrates who were essentially a group of in this context, non professional volunteers, so there was with some, a potential for a sympathetic understanding of problems in working with the magistrates. They also understood the problems of managing an organisation and so could recognise some of the problems probation managers faced in dealing with their staff.
- The administration of justice is heavily process based and at administration levels, always struggles to respond to individual needs, to show flexibility, whereas probation work was all about individual needs and personalised responses to problems. The clerk is responsible for process and legality – the magistrate for the individualised response to a case.
- The administration of justice is concerned also with upholding the authority and the dignity of the court. It is the very embodiment of that sense of authority about which many probation officers have serious doubts. People enter the probation service with the idea of finding the good in those who are at odds with authority, and therefore with a tendency to sympathise with their sense of grievance about their dealings with authority. Both probation and justices clerks may be concerned with delivering justice, but we tended to approach the task from very different places.