The High Court judges currently appointed in England and Wales deal with the more complex and difficult cases.
High Court judges usually sit in London, but they also travel to major court centres around the country as well as sitting in London. They try serious criminal cases, important civil cases and assist the Lord Justices to hear criminal appeals.
The High Court consists of: the Lord Chief Justice; the President of the Queen’s Bench Division; the President of the Family Division; the Chancellor of the High Court; the Senior Presiding Judge; the vice-president of the Queen’s Bench Division; and the High Court judges themselves, who are given the prefix ‘the honourable’, and referred to as ‘Mr/Mrs Justice surname ‘.
Where they sit
High Court judges are assigned to one of the three divisions of the High Court – the Queen’s Bench Division the Family Division and the Chancery Division.
The Queen’s Bench Division
The Queen’s Bench Division deals with contract and tort (civil wrongs), judicial reviews and libel, and includes specialist courts: the Commercial Court, the Admiralty Court and the Administration Court. It consists of about 73 judges, headed by the President of the Queen’s Bench Division.
The Family Division
The Family Division, which deals with family law and probate cases, consists of about 19 judges headed by the President of the Family Division.
The Chancery Division
The Chancery Division deals with company law, partnership claims, conveyancing, land law, probate, patent and taxation cases, and consists of 18 High Court judges, headed by the Chancellor of the High Court. The division includes three specialist courts: the Companies Court, the Patents Court and the Bankruptcy Court. Chancery Division judges normally sit in London, but also hear cases in Cardiff, Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and Newcastle.
High Court judges are appointed by the Queen on the recommendation of the Lord Chancellor, after a fair and open competition administered by the Judicial Appointments Commission.
High Court judges must have had a right of audience – the right of a lawyer to appear and speak as an advocate in a court case – for all proceedings in the High Court for at least seven years, or have been a circuit judge for at least two years.
High Court judges are sometimes known as “red judges” because of their colourful robes, but their dress codes are actually more complex than that.
Red robes are usually worn only by judges dealing with criminal cases.
High Court judges presiding over civil cases wear the civil robe introduced on 1 October 2008, with red tabs at the neck of the gown and no wig.
Judges hearing Family Division cases in Chambers (a private room) do not wear court dress.
High Court judges sitting in the criminal division of the Court of Appeal wear a black silk gown and a short wig.
On Red Letter days (which include the Sovereign’s birthday and certain saints’ days) all High Court judges wear a scarlet robe.
Roles of the clerk
Every High Court judge is assigned a clerk who provides first-line support based at the Royal Courts of Justice in London.
Deputy High Court Judges
Deputy High Court judges must meet the same qualification criteria as High Court judges – they must have had a right of audience ( the right of a lawyer to appear and speak as an advocate in court) in relation to all proceedings in the High Court for at least seven years or have been a circuit judge for at least two years. They are appointed by the Lord Chancellor, and are authorised to sit until the end of the financial year in which they become 65.
The Lord Chief Justice has the power, under section 9 of the Senior Courts Act 1981, to authorise practitioners, Recorders and Circuit Judges to sit as deputies in the High Court.