Judiciary Of England & Wales
Do judges still use gavels?
Although they're often seen in cartoons and TV programmes and mentioned in almost everything else involving judges, the one place you won't see a gavel is an English or Welsh courtroom - they are not used there
Do judges still wear the black cap to sentence?
No. The black cap - based on court headgear in Tudor times - was put on by judges passing sentence of death. Since the permanent abolition of capital punishment in 1969, there has been no need for the cap to be worn. High Court Judges still carry the black cap, but only on an occasion where they are wearing full ceremonial dress.
Why are red ribbons used to tie papers in court?
Red or 'pink' tape was once used to tie up official papers - indeed, that's where the term "red tape" to describe excessive bureaucracy comes from. The tape is still used by the legal profession for briefs (the documents outlining a case) from private citizens. White tape is used for briefs from the Crown.
Why do the lawyers and court officials bow to the judge when they enter the room?
They aren't bowing to the judge. They are bowing to The Queen's Coat of Arms above the judge, to show respect for The Queen's justice.
Can the judge hear you if you whisper at the back of the court?
That really depends on how sharp their hearing is! But it isn't a good idea - if you interrupt or disrupt the proceedings of the court you can be ruled in contempt of court, which can be punished with a fine or even a jail term.
Do judges get any special perks, like free parking?
As is common in many businesses, judges do have reserved parking spaces at some, but not all, courts - after all, a court is their place of work. However, judges are not allowed to use their title or profession to obtain special treatment or 'freebies'.
Why are judges referred to as Your Honour?
Not all of them are. Circuit judges are referred to as Your Honour in court, while district judges are sir or madam, and a High Court judge is My Lord or My Lady. The titles date back centuries, and help to identify different types of judges.
Judges and the Constitution
Who is the most senior judge in England and Wales and why?
On April 3, 2006, the Lord Chief Justice - currently Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers - became President of the Courts of England and Wales and the most senior member of the judiciary. He is responsible for the training, guidance and deployment of judges. He also represents the views of the judiciary of England and Wales to Parliament and ministers.
What is judicial independence?
Judicial independence is a key principle of our constitution. It means that judges decide cases according to their own judgment, free from outside influence and not subject to the views or control of the Government.
In each case a judge must administer justice in accordance with the law and according to the circumstances of the case, whether his or her decision is popular or not. Judicial independence also means independence from one judge from another. Judges can seek advice from fellow judges and will take account of views expressed by other judges in other cases, and they must take note of judgments given by higher courts which are binding. But no judge, however eminent, is entitled to tell another judge how to exercise his or her judgment in any individual cases.
Can a judge ever be found guilty of a crime?
Yes. Judges are subject to the law just as everyone else is
Can a judge hear a case involving their friend?
No. One of the cornerstones of our legal system is that judges are impartial - their oath even includes this pledge: "I will do right to all manner of people after the laws and usages of this Realm, without fear or favour, affection or ill-will."
Reasons which might lead a judge to excuse himself or herself from judging a case include:
Friendship with or animosity towards one of the non-legal parties in the case (although simply knowing them does not count as bias)
Family relationships to anyone involved in the case.
Can a judge have a job as something else at the same time?
Salaried, or full-time, judges are not allowed to receive money from any other form of employment, except for royalties earned as an author. Fee-paid judges - such as recorders, deputy district judges, tribunals members and deputy High Court judges - continue to work at their professions when not sitting as judges.
Magistrates are unpaid members of their local community, so naturally they continue with any day job they may have. Employers are encouraged to support magistrates by allowing time off work so that they may undertake sittings.
Can judges own businesses / shares?
Judges can hold shares although salaried judges should not hold commercial directorships for profit.
Some fee-paid (part-time) judicial office holders may own part or all of a business, for example, solicitors who own part of their practice. Magistrates are unpaid and are drawn from wide ranging backgrounds - including businessmen and women.
Can judges belong to a political party/stand for parliament?
A judge must forego any kind of political activity and on appointment sever all ties with political parties. However, they are allowed to vote.
Are there judges who are freemasons?
It is inevitable that some judges will belong to the Freemasons. However, the oath given by judges on appointment - "I will do right to all manner of people after the laws and usages of this Realm, without fear or favour, affection or ill-will" ensures that the judge explicitly acknowledges that he or she is primarily accountable to the law which he or she must administer. There is no question that membership of the Freemasons would have any effect whatsoever on the outcome of cases.
Since 1998 anyone offered a full or part-time salaried judicial appointment for the first time has also been asked as a condition of appointment whether he or she belongs to the Freemasons and, if not, that he or she notifies the Lord Chancellor in the event that he or she subsequently joins them.
Can a judge get promoted / demoted / dismissed?
Judges can be and are 'promoted' to higher courts. A judge sitting in the High Court or the House of Lords will probably have started life as a solicitor or barrister, and then become a recorder (a fee-paid judge who still works in their chosen profession for at least some of the time). They are then able to apply to become a salaried, or full-time, member of the judiciary in a number of jurisdictions. On occasions, judges are promoted through the courts, but it is also possible for a barrister or solicitor who has sat in a fee-paid, or part-time, judicial capacity to apply to sit straight in the High Court. The most senior judges will almost certainly have sat at High Court level before being promoted.
Judges can also be dismissed. The most senior judges - the Heads of Division, Law Lords, Lords Justices of Appeal and High Court judges - can only be removed by The Queen after an address from both Houses of Parliament, although this has never happened.
Other judicial office holders can be removed by the Lord Chief Justice for incapacity or misbehavior. This is very rare, and in the case of a full-time serving judge needing to be removed, has happened just once, in 1983, when a circuit judge was removed from office after pleading guilty to several charges of smuggling.
Fee-paid , or part-time, office holders, who are usually appointed for at least five years, may not have their contracts renewed on the following grounds: misbehaviour; incapacity; persistent failure to comply with sitting requirements (without good reason); failure to comply with training requirements; sustained failure to observe the standards reasonably expected from a holder of such office; part of a reduction in numbers because of changes in operational requirements; and part of a structural change to enable recruitment of new appointees.
How do I complain about a judge or a judgments?
For those who do not win their case, there is normally a right of appeal. For those who are unhappy with the way their case has been handled by the judge, or by the overall experience of appearing in court, there are mechanisms available to make a complaint. More information about Complaints and Appeals.
Can divorced judges hear family cases?
Yes. Judges are expected to put aside any personal feelings when hearing a case.
Do you have to be a certain age to be a judge?
No, although you do need to have been qualified as a barrister or solicitor for a set number of years.
However, it is worth pointing out that no legal qualification at all is needed to become a magistrate. There are just under 30,000 magistrates in England and Wales, all of whom are unpaid members of their local community. Anyone between the age of 18 and 65 can apply to become a magistrate. They retire at the age of 70.
Do you have to have been to university to be a judge?
To be appointed to paid judicial office it is currently necessary to have been fully qualified as a barrister or solicitor for a minimum time period (at present, at least seven years since qualifying), depending on the office in question. Often barristers and solicitors will have taken a law degree at university, although those without a law degree can take a 'conversion' to law course so that they may enter the legal profession.
But advocacy experience is not an essential requirement for appointment to judicial office - the Government is also planning to legislate to allow registered patents agents, trade mark attorneys and Fellows of the Institute of Legal Executives with the required number of years' experience to apply for certain appointments.
In the case of the magistracy, whether you have or have not attended university does not matter at all.
Why do most judges appear to be older white men?
The Lord Chief Justice is very keen that the judiciary reflects the society it serves, but there are a number of factors that affect the achievement of that aim. Perhaps one of the biggest factors is that the paid judiciary can only be selected from the pool of legally qualified lawyers whom are eligible to apply. As this pool becomes diverse, it follows that the judiciary will too.
There has been progress on this in recent years, but there is more to do. Some steps already taken include the appointment of two judges who work in a part-time capacity, recognising that both have childcare commitments. There are also various mentoring schemes aimed at raising levels of awareness about the work of judges amongst minority ethnic lawyers.
The magistracy has also worked hard to become more representative of the community it serves. Indeed, some 8.5 per cent of magistrates are now from a minority ethnic background - only slightly less than the proportion of ethnic minorities in the overall population. There is also a roughly even split between the numbers of male and female magistrates appointed.
Who chooses/employs judges?
The Judicial Appointments Commission was launched on 3 April, 2006, under the terms of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005.
The Commission will take over responsibility for making selections for the appointment of judicial office-holders, with some limited exceptions:
The Lord Chancellor will temporarily retain responsibility for any appointments that might arise to fill any vacancies amongst the Heads of Division and members of the Court of Appeal until 1 October, 2006. This will give the new Commission to implement a suitable process of its own; For a limited period the Lord Chancellor will continue to advise The Queen on the appointment of any High Court vacancies. This arrangement will continue until the list from the Commission's first High Court competition becomes available no later than April 2007; and For a limited period, the Lord Chancellor will retain responsibility for those competitions started by the Department for Constitutional Affairs before April 2006 and which, by April 2006, will have made significant progress. These competitions should have been completed by July 2006. Magistrates currently go through a selection process involving application forms and interview. This is done at a local level. Recommendations are then made to the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and the Lord Chief Justice. The Judicial Appointments Commission will not assume responsibility for advising on the appointment of magistrates until it is ready to do so.
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