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Balancing bench and pharmacy: My life as a magistrate


Balancing bench and pharmacy: My life as a magistrate

Cheadle-based pharmacist Naeem Bobat also serves as a magistrate in the Greater Manchester court system. He tells P3pharmacy how he juggles these roles – and how much they have in common

I’ve been in pharmacy since 2010, initially starting off as a student placement in community pharmacy at LloydsPharmacy, where I also did my third-year placement and pre-reg year. After qualifying as a pharmacist in 2012, I was a local pharmacist for a couple of years, mainly in various community pharmacies in the North West. In 2014, I moved into industry at a specials manufacturer, where I progressed to lead pharmacist managing a team of 14. I also carried on locum work until 2019.

Last July, I joined Baxter Healthcare. I am principal pharmacist, looking after three sites across England. I manage a team of pharmacists’ day-to-day clinical operations, ensuring we process the work in the prescription management side of home care and also ensuring that products are dispensed appropriately and sent out to patients across the country. I’m also heavily involved in strategy planning. 

Home care is known as the best kept secret in the NHS. A lot of the good work home care companies do is not necessarily seen, but we help patients carry on living at home and out of hospital, which benefits the NHS too.

There’s a lot of common ground between community pharmacy and home care; all but one of my team have come from a community background. The principles of pharmacy are very similar: it’s about ensuring safety and accuracy, offering the best service to patients and having them at the forefront of your mind. All very transferrable skills.

I first became curious about what magistrates do when I was studying in Liverpool. When we used to walk from the library into town, we’d see a building on the corner with security outside and police vans going back and forth. I was thinking to myself, what is this building, why is it so busy and why do you have to get searched to go in?

One day, a couple of friends and I decided to have a look – someone had told us what went on there and said we could go into a court to observe, which we did. Wow, I thought – this was completely new to me. And they said that in theory we could apply to be magistrates.

It flew over my head at the time, but then in 2017, I saw an advert about becoming a magistrate and I thought it was really interesting, so decided to apply. I’ve been sitting since 2019. I live in Cheadle, and am assigned to the main court in Manchester but sit in courts across the district. You have to sit a minimum of 13 days a year, or 26 half day sittings. I tend to sit about a day a month. It’s a voluntary position so you don’t get paid, but your expenses are reimbursed.

The principles are very similar to what a pharmacist does. In effect, you’re looking at evidence and applying guidelines to information. You reach a conclusion based on the evidence that’s provided to you.

There’s always going to be two sides – the defence and the victim’s representation. You and two colleagues on the bench listen to both sides, absorb information and listen to the points of law and then apply what we’ve heard to the relevant magistrate sentence guidelines.

Then when we go to the retiring room to make a decision; we all share our opinions and our thoughts and then we make a decision based upon the majority verdict. It might be two against one, but more often than not, there is consensus between the bench of three.

Every single case in the criminal justice system goes through a magistrate court, from the mildest ones like shoplifting and traffic offences to the most serious ones, such as assault and murder. Our sentencing powers are only up to a maximum of six months; anything beyond that is automatically escalated to a crown court. There are also private prosecutions where the local council will come in.

I enjoy working as a team on the bench and applying the legal guidelines to different types of case. When I go to the bench, the first thing I do is look at the information in front of me and see what we are dealing with, then I look at the relevant guidelines. For me, it’s all about absorbing information, writing it down and applying it, similar to what I used to do at university.

Huge responsibility

The most challenging thing is the fact that you may be involved in taking away someone’s liberty – it’s a huge sense of responsibility. That never goes away. It is extremely serious whenever we decide to send someone to prison. It doesn’t just have an impact on the individual, but also their family – but all you can do is consider the case on its merit.

With any criminal court, you come across people from all walks of life – from white collar people to those from deprived backgrounds. You have to make sure you don’t apply bias – we treat everyone the same.

I’m from a working-class background – my parents didn’t go to university. In theory, if I had fallen into the wrong crowd, I could have potentially ended up on a different path. It makes me feel extremely fortunate, but it also makes me think about what I can do to help people go down the right path in the future. That’s one of the reasons I applied to be a magistrate, wanting to contribute something back to society. 

Balancing this with my day job has become second nature because of what I see as the clear overlap between them. The key qualities you must have as a magistrate include good character, understanding, communication, maturity and sound judgement – not too far off the professional standards you have to meet as a pharmacist. 

It’s hard work, but I really enjoy it and plan to continue for as long as possible.

As told to Arthur Walsh

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