JUSTICE in Bolton has reached the end of an era with the retirement of not only the town’s but also the country’s longest-serving magistrate, Cllr Frank White.

After 41 years sitting on the bench, Cllr White sat in judgement on his final cases yesterday and bid farewell to his colleagues.

Magistrates must retire when they reach 70 years old and Cllr White will reach that milestone on November 11.

To mark the occasion fellow JPs, solicitors and court staff gathered in court with Edmund Birch, Bolton’s magistrates bench chairman, presenting him with a certificate and piece of crystal.

Mr Birch said: “I became a magistrate in 1996 so I am a young whipper snapper compared to Frank.

“His going will be a be a terrific loss to the bench.”

In 1968, when Cllr White became a magistrate the process was shrouded in secrecy and candidates were invited to serve rather than putting themselves forward.

Cllr White had been elected as a councillor six years earlier and had caught someone’s attention — although to this day he does not know who recommended he should be a magistrate.

He holds the record for being the town’s youngest magistrate, starting when he was aged 28.

Cllr White said: “Young men from a limited working-class background, not much money but plenty of pride, were not supposed to become Justices of the Peace.”

It was a culture shock for Cllr White, who admits he was more interested in rock and roll in his youth than the establishment.

In the 1960s, little had changed since Edwardian times, with the ladies still wearing hats in court, few female solicitors or magistrates and male magistrates and court clerks formally attired in morning coats and waistcoats.

It is estimated that Cllr White has served at more than 1,050 court sittings, dealing with everything from the first court appearances of murderers to petty crime.

But there have also been plenty of amusing moments He remembers one of his first cases sitting as a chairman when elderly woman, who was worse for drink, was brought before him and she proceeded to try to light a cigarette.

He admonished her, telling her she would have to leave court to smoke, only to have her to reply: “Don’t you talk to me like that Frankie White. I knew you when you had holes in your breeches’ backside.”

Cllr White believes some aspects of the judicial system have improved since he began, with magistrates better trained these days.

But he is concerned there could be too much interference nationally in the sentences handed out at local level. He believes magistrates should be allowed to sentence taking into account all the local circumstances.

Cllr White said: “What I do worry about is this pursuit of what I call consistency. You can’t have a consistency of sentence because there are so many variables.”

Looking back on his time as a magistrate, Cllr White said it has been a “hugely rewarding” experience and he will now turn his attentions to trying to encourage younger people to take on the task.

You can read more of Cllr White’s views on being a magistrate below.

The letter popped through the letterbox and fell on the doormat with its golden embossed coat of arms uppermost, which ensured it was the first to be opened.

No, not a Summons or a Court Order, and I couldn't think of any reason why I should be receiving either, but from the Duchy of Lancaster. Why would the Duke of Lancaster be writing to me? Who was the Duke of Lancaster, but of course, the after dinner toast, "The Queen - Duke of Lancaster", so the letter was from the Queen! Well, not quite herself, but from her representatives and what did the letter say?

The words immediately caught my eye "are mindful to offer you the commission of Justice of the Peace", so that was it, entirely out of the "blue", and an offer that both surprised and filled me with quiet a few misgivings.

The year was 1968, I was 28 years of age, just married for 12 months and expecting our first child, attempting to build a career and still going to night school to get the qualifications I should have achieved as a teenager, instead of spending my time on "rock and roll". In those days the appointment of a Magistrate was surrounded in mystery and secrecy, no one was supposed to know who the people were who made the representation to the Duchy of Lancaster and young men from a limited working class background, "not much money but plenty of pride", were not supposed to become Justices of the Peace.

We didn't have the internet, so I couldn't Google to find out about Magistrates and Justices of the Peace, so I did what hundreds of Bolton people did when seeking knowledge, I went to the Bolton Reference Library. In 1361, Kind Edward III ordered that the Kings Peace be guarded and that "good and lawful men" be appointed in every county in the land to guard the peace.

It was a long time later that in 1919 we saw the first woman J P appointed. So, for over 600 years we have had a system of "Summary Justice" administered by lay men and women sitting in judgement of their peers, and effectively enforcing the sovereigns peace at local level. As a history enthusiast the only subject I was any good at, thanks to Mr Pearson at Folds Road Secondary School, I was immediately excited by the possibility of joining such a unique system of local justice that the rest of the world has since sought to emulate.

Any thoughts I might have had regarding whether or not a young politically committed person, such as I was, should join the "establishment" as some of my colleagues described it, were immediately disposed when I read the oath of office taken by all Magistrates at their swearing in ceremony.

"I will do right to all manner of people after the laws and usages of the Realm, without fear or favour, affection or ill will".

In the 41 years that I have been a Magistrate I can honestly say that all my Bench colleagues have striven to make that pledge a reality when making their judgements as Justice of the Peace. The years have seen the progress of de-mystifying the process of selection for Magistrates, and now men and women can directly apply to be considered to become a Magistrate.

The Advisory Committee which carries out the interview and selection process ensures that the Bolton Bench is reflective of all the communities, faiths, and political beliefs that make up this great town of Bolton, and indeed women now constitute more than 50 per cent of the Benches throughout the country.

I was fortunate and honoured to be elected as Chairman of the Bolton Magistrates for a term in the 1990s, and my great disappointment was the cancellation of the new court building project, just as I had the silver spade in my hand to cut the first turf. I hope the current project has more success. As I have now reached the statutory retirement age for Magistrates, I have to step down from my duties and retire to the Supplemental List to be only activated in emergencies. I regard my service on the bench as hugely rewarding and a constant reminder of our joint responsibility, as a "caring community", to those of our fellow citizens who life opportunities have not been the same as others. Justice "without fear or favour, affection or ill will" must be balanced to punish the offender, protect the innocent, and seek to rehabilitate and prevent re-offending. I believe that the Bolton Bench seeks to do that in a most effective and professional manner, and I would recommend anyone who is moved to become a Magistrate not to hesitate and make an application to be considered. At a time when abuse and corruption are a way of life in many countries of the world, where justice is dependent on the depth of your pocket - here in England the Magistracy stands as a firm rock of fairness and justice, and I have been privileged to play a small part in maintaining that ideal.