“ALL of human nature is spread before you when you sit on the bench. It is an experience I have thoroughly enjoyed and I would definitely continue if I was not forced to retire.”
Those were the comments from Robin Wild, of St Boswells, who last week brought 27 years’ service as a justice of the peace (JP) to an end as he stepped down from the bench at Selkirk Sheriff Court for the very last time.
Mr Wild was pleasantly startled when he took his customary seat on the bench for the Thursday sitting of the JP court, by the presentation organised by local solicitors and court staff.
Speaking on behalf of all those present, including defence agents, local solicitor Iain Burke said that every practitioner present hoped to find a judge who was very fair with a sense of compassion and a reasonable approach.
“So we were very lucky to have had him,” said Mr Burke.
“You have embodied all these qualities in your time on the bench. Your fellow JPs can take you as their example,” he told Mr Wild, adding praise for his role in helping save lay justice in Scotland.
Within the Scottish legal system, justices of the peace are lay magistrates who sit in JP courts, which were introduced in 2009 as a replacement for the district courts established in 1975. The latter had, in turn, replaced the old burgh police courts.
JPs handle many cases of breaches of the peace, drunkenness, minor assaults, petty theft, and offences under the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982.
Generally they are not legally qualified. A legally qualified person can become a JP but cannot act in any proceedings in a JP court within their own sheriffdom.
JPs are appointed on the recommendation of Justice of the Peace Advisory Committees (JPACs) under procedures approved by the Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland
Five years ago, the Scottish Government announced its intention to unify the management of the sheriff and district courts in Scotland.
Mr Wild, a former chairman of the District Courts Association, played a leading role in the effort which is credited with saving lay justice such as that dispensed by JP courts.
In response, Mr Wild told the assembled solicitors he was very honoured and much humbled by Mr Burke’s kind words.
“I considered myself as much a social worker as anything else,” he said. “But all practitioners who have appeared before me have always greatly impressed me with the helpful way they all work together for the sensible disposal of each case.
“I always tell my colleagues that here in the Borders, there is a great team of defence agents who work on behalf of the court.”
Speaking to TheSouthern this week, Mr Wild admitted he would love to have continued as a local JP but for his age.
“You have to retire as a JP when you reach 70. If I had not been forced to do that, I would certainly have wanted to continue. It seems a bit of a paradox that justices build up a substantial amount of local knowledge which is then lost when they have to retire.
“I think if someone is capable of going on longer, then they should be able to.”
Mr Wild, a former chief dental officer for both Scotland and England in his professional working life, said that when he first was appointed to the bench, it was not a case of volunteering your services.
“In those days what usually happened was that the chief executive of what was then your local district council would sidle up to you and ask for your CV.
“Eventually it would be divulged that the sectertary of state wanted to appoint you as a JP – it was all very cloak-and-dagger.
“But I have to say I have enjoyed my time on the bench enormously. All of human nature is spread before you in a court and you do see some very difficult cases.
“And, yes, I did feel like a social worker on many occasions, trying to find a suitable disposal. I think deferred sentences with conditions attached to them have been very useful.”
In 2009, Scotland’s justices of the peace celebrated their 400th year of existence. Although their role has changed beyond all recognition since their inception in 1609, Mr Wild says he was delighted that the Government eventually recognised that there was a clear and continuing role for JPs in the Scottish justice system.
Scotland’s 800 JPs have the power to send offenders to prison for up to 60 days, issue fines up to £2,500 and make community service orders.
However, Mr Wild says he has never had to impose either the maximun custodial or financial penalty on anyone in his near three-decade-long career on the bench.
“Lay justice is very important because it is a level of justice that really is local. It deals with offences at the minor end of the scale where local knowledge is at the centre, as it helps you take account of what the feelings of local people will be.
“Disposals open to JPs are at the lower end of the scale.”
Mr Wild also continued his praise of local defence agents, describing them as “absolutely first class”.
“They have always been very straightforward when presenting cases to the bench and suggesting suitable disposals.”
Asked what he will now spend his extra free time on, Mr Wild said much of it would go on one of his favourite pastimes.
“I’ll spend more time rebuilding old classic cars, which I love doing. But it seems a shame that when you get to 70 nobody particularly wants you. I think that’s a real waste of experience.”