Hiring more magistrates with criminal records would increase diversity and boost falling numbers, according to the chairman of the Magistrates Association.
John Bache said rules which do allow people with criminal records to become magistrates needed to be better publicised.
In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, Mr Bache said: “We all make mistakes, we all do things we shouldn’t have done.
“But we want to increase diversity, and if we did say anyone who’s ever done anything wrong ever isn’t going to be appointed that’s no way at all to increase diversity.”
He added: “I wouldn’t want [candidates] to think that because they’ve got a relatively minor criminal record some years ago that they’re not going to be accepted as a magistrate, because that would be completely erroneous.”
Applicants must be over 18 and under the age of 65, and must retire by the age of 70 and are expected to serve for at least five years.
They do not have to have any formal qualifications, but are expected to have an awareness of social issues, be reliable and committed to serving the local community.
Candidates are also expected to be “mature, understand people and have a sense of fairness”, according to guidance on the government’s website.
It also states those who had been found guilty of a serious crime or guilty of a number of minor offences would be unlikely to be considered for a post.
Mr Bache previously said there were now just 16,000 magistrates in England and Wales – less than half the number 20 years ago.
He added the association was also trying to recruit younger magistrates and people from more diverse backgrounds.
He suggested having a character from a popular soap become a magistrate could raise awareness of the issue.
Just 12% of magistrates are from black or minority backgrounds, while only 4% were under 40 whereas 55% were over 60.
Mr Bache added: “People aren’t applying from ethnic minorities because they have the idea that people from their backgrounds don’t become magistrates and that is obviously erroneous.”