Judges: Who are they, and what do they do?

3 mins
March 24, 2022
What comes to mind when you think of a judge? Black flowing robes and a dusty wig? A courtroom drama? Ultimate power? Many of us have a high-level idea of what judges do, but what is the real role of a judge and what are their day-to-day responsibilities? This article aims to answer those questions!

First do you become a judge?

This one is a bit strange as judges aren't hired; instead, they are appointed. The Judicial Appointment Commission (JAC) is an independent organisation that selects candidates for judicial office in England and Wales and some tribunals with UK-wide powers. To be selected as a judge, you must:

  • be a qualified solicitor, barrister or chartered legal executive
  • have worked as a legal professional for between five and seven years, depending on the type of judge you want to be
  • and be a citizen of the United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland or a Commonwealth country. 

Can you become a judge without a degree?

You can become a judge by skipping university and becoming a chartered legal executive or after qualifying as a solicitor apprentice and practising for five to seven years. 

How does the JAC decide if you should be a judge?

The JAC looks at a whole variety/range of factors to determine whether someone has the right qualities to be a judge. They consider a candidate's:

  • intellectual ability 
  • whether they are fair and even-handed
  • authority
  • communication skills.

What are the responsibilities of a judge?

It comes as no surprise that the responsibilities of a judge vary depending on what type of judge they are. For example, a Crown Court Judge conducts trials for criminal cases with the support of a jury. Whereas a Family Court Judge is tasked with mediating family matters (such as divorces and custody arrangements) without a jury. The atmosphere in family court is usually less formal to help ease sensitive cases. Having said all that, the primary duty of a Judge is to uphold the law and see that justice is reached; they analyse and interpret all evidence to make fair verdicts and sentences when necessary. 

What does a judge do?

Here's a list of common tasks Judges are required to do day-to-day.

  • overseeing cases in court and enforcing a code of conduct by upholding laws and procedures
  • staying updated with new passing bills, laws and legislations
  • explaining laws and technical terms to members of the jury
  • meeting with Lawyers to discuss cases and encourage settlements
  • listening to the prosecuting and defending parties' arguments
  • upholding all human and civil rights
  • ruling on whether evidence can be used in court
  • informing defendants of their rights
  • analysing all aspects of each case, listening to testimonies and considering evidence presented during the case
  • reviewing cases to ensure that no details are overlooked
  • using sound judgement based on evidence to make the right decision and reach a verdict
  • deciding on suitable punishments in criminal cases
  • approving search and arrest warrants
  • monitoring the activities of Judicial Assistants and Court Officers.
  • performing marriage ceremonies and issuing marriage licences
  • granting custody of minors during divorce cases to one of the parents, depending on the circumstances

How much do judges earn?

As a judge, you can work full-time, part-time or work on a fee-paid basis; this is an agreed payment for the work regardless of how long it takes.

The judicial hierarchy is divided into nine salary bands:

  • Employment tribunal and district judges presiding over hearings in magistrates' court are paid the least (but still a lot!); they make an average of £110,000 a year as of 2019. 
  • Circuit judges, who sit in Crown Courts and county courts, are paid roughly £160,000. 
  • Meanwhile, Lords and Lady Justices of Appeal and the Supreme Court earn roughly £230,000.

When do judges retire?

Interestingly, judges must retire when they are 75 years old; this makes way for more diversity and career progression in the judicial field. As we've heard, it takes a while to qualify as a solicitor (even longer for a barrister!). Then they need to gain at least five years of experience once qualified. All this means that they have a relatively short career!

What are your next steps in law? 

As you've probably realised by now, doing anything in the legal profession takes time and experience. So why not start adding to your CV now? Check out our law virtual work experience programme to learn some of the key skills you'll need to begin your judgeship!

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