The current Lord Chief Justice, The Right Honourable Sir Ian Burnett is the Head of the Judiciary of England and Wales and the President of the Courts of England and Wales. The latter role began on 3 April 2006 when the Lord Chancellor’s judicial functions were transferred to the Lord Chief Justice under the Constitutional Reform Act 2005. The Lord Chief Justice is also the Head of Criminal Justice.
Under the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, the Lord Chief Justice has some 400 statutory (required by law) duties. His key responsibilities include:
- Representing the views of the judiciary of England and Wales to Parliament and Government.
- The welfare, training and guidance of the judiciary of England and Wales. The Lord Chief Justice discusses with Government the provision of resources for the judiciary, which are allotted by the Lord Chancellor.
- The deployment of judges and allocation of work in courts in England and Wales.
- Sits on important criminal, civil and family cases. He gives judgments and lays down practice directions in many of the most important appeal cases.
- Shares responsibility with the Lord Chancellor for the Office for Judicial Complaints, the body which investigates complaints made against judicial office-holders.
- Is President of the Sentencing Council, the independent body set up to support greater consistency in sentencing.
- Chairs the Judicial Executive Board and the Judges’ Council, two bodies which assist him in managing his responsibilities. Is also President of the Magistrates’ Association.
- Is President of the Courts of England and Wales and may hear cases in any English or Welsh court, including Magistrates’ Courts.
He and the senior judiciary are supported by a team of civil servants who form the Judicial Office for England and Wales.
Lord Chief Justices are appointed by a special panel convened by the Judicial Appointments Commission. In practice, the Lord Chief Justice and Heads of Division are generally appointed from among Appeal Court judges – the Lords and Lady Justices – however the appointments can also be made from the Supreme Court.
For criminal hearings Heads of Division (which includes the Lord Chief Justice) and Court of Appeal judges wear a Court coat and waistcoat (or a sleeved waistcoat) with skirt or trousers and bands (two strips of fabric hanging from the front of a collar), a black silk gown and a short wig.
When presiding over civil cases this group of judges wear the civil robe introduced on 1 October 2008, with gold tabs at the neck of the gown and no wig.