Becoming a judge

What makes a good judge?

Lord Judge, the Lord Chief Justice, speaking at Equality in Justice Day, October 2008:

“[When taking the judicial oath, judges and magistrates swear] ‘To do right to all manner of people after the laws and usages of this realm without fear or favour, affection or ill-will’.

“Ponder the words. I hear them frequently, and they still send a shiver up my spine. It binds my conscience, as it binds the conscience of every judge who takes it.

“Many qualities are required of a judge… He or she must of course know the law, and know how to apply it, but the judge must also be wise to the ways of the world. The judge must have the ability to make a decision.

“Decisions can be profoundly unpleasant: for example, to say to a mother that her children can be taken away from her, or to say to an individual that he is going to go to prison for the rest of his life.

“Judges must have moral courage – it is a very important judicial attribute – to make decisions that will be unpopular with the politicians or the media and the public, and indeed perhaps most importantly of all, to defend the right to equal treatment before the law of those who are unpopular at any given time.

“…But however you draw up the list, and in whatever order, gender, colour of your skin, religious belief, and social origins are all utterly irrelevant. It is you who is the judge.”

Who appoints judges?

The Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) is an independent commission that recommends candidates for judicial office in the courts and tribunals of England and Wales and for some tribunals whose jurisdiction extends to Scotland or Northern Ireland.

Salaried positions have traditionally been full-time, but are increasingly open to part-time and flexible working as well. A legal professional who has taken a salaried role will not be able to return to legal practice.

Fee-paid (part-time) positions are usually similar to the equivalent salaried appointment, but may deal with the less complex or serious cases.

Fee-paid positions – including tribunal appointments, Recorders, and Deputy District Judges – are paid according to the number of sittings or days worked. The number of sitting days varies depending on the type of appointment, and will generally be at least 15 days a year.

Basic requirements

Judicial appointments are open only to citizens (including those holding dual nationality) of the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland or a Commonwealth country.

There is no upper or lower age limit for candidates, apart from the statutory retirement age of 70 for all judges. However, applicants should be able to offer a ‘reasonable length of service’ – usually at least five years.

Applications from disabled people are welcomed, and reasonable adjustments will be made at every stage to ensure applicants are treated fairly.

Qualifications – legal positions

Most judicial posts will require a relevant legal qualification that has been held for either five or seven years.

Government lawyers are eligible to apply for all judicial posts, but when sitting as a fee-paid judge they must not hear cases involving their own department.

For salaried judicial appointments, applicants must normally have served as a fee-paid judicial office-holder for at least two years or have completed 30 sitting days since appointment in a fee-paid capacity.

Work-shadowing

For anyone wanting to find out more about the role they are considering before applying, the Judicial Office runs a Work Shadowing Scheme.

For most shadowing opportunities the scheme is open to any eligible qualified legal practitioner with a minimum of seven years’ post-qualification legal experience who may be interested in seeking judicial appointment, within the next two years. The scheme covers the following positions:

  • High Court Judge
  • Circuit Judge
  • District Judge (sitting in civil or family jurisdictions)
  • District Judge (Magistrates’ Courts)
  • Tribunal Judge

A shadower will spend up to three days observing a judge’s main duties including, as appropriate, preparing for trial, case management, presiding over court proceedings, hearing actions, sentencing, determining applications and giving judgments.

Did you find what you were looking for?