A FAMILIAR face behind the Bench at Herefordshire Magistrates Court has been appointed the county's new chief Justice of the Peace, writes ANITA HOWELLS.

JP of 14 years, well-known city man Dr Ian Hine will be a county figurehead representing the magistrates for at least a year.

The 59-year-old doctor from Broomy Hill was a successful deputy Bench chairman, has chaired the court's family panel, worked with the Area Child Protection Committee and the Youth Counselling Trust.

His position is likely to extend to three years during which time the court and justice system will see some major changes.

"It will be busy over the next couple of years because there are all sorts of radical changes coming in. We are on the verge of some major reorganisations. There is a new Criminal Evidence Bill coming up and on the back of the white paper, Justice for All, the courts' services will be combined," said Dr Hine.

He revealed that by 2005 the Magistrates Court Committee will have ceased to exist. The government will appoint a new agency to look after the management.

He looks forward to the changes with interest and says he will not be a crusading chairman.

"At the moment we have a good set up, with a very good court team and a happy relationship with other users," he said.

Whilst Dr Hine acknowledges the court could improve in some areas he said it deals well with consistent young offenders, who pass through the doors quickly, and there have been more sittings per magistrate than ever before.

The current team boasts 105 magistrates and at the end of summer it is hoped eight more will join. Dr Hine will be the magistrate others go to for advice.

He is also known to many in the city outside the court. He came to Hereford in 1975 with his wife, Anne, and was the first consultant to run the intensive care unit at Hereford County Hospital. He has been president of the Wye Valley Rotary Club and is a founder of Hereford Fine Wine Society.

He now works part time in pain management in Powys and in 2001 was appointed a member of the General Medical Council's Fitness to Practice Committee.

In his mission statement Dr Hine said: "My objective as chairman would be to maintain the good relationships and the mutual respect that exist now between the various groups involved locally in providing the high-class service we offer in Herefordshire at present.

"I would see it as a duty to promote your interests and views as clearly and strongly as possible and to operate a clear policy of consultation and communication throughout the Bench."