It is important to remember that in the UK, alongside the court system, there is a tribunal system too, with opportunities for legal and non-legal members and judges.
For simplicity, we focus here on judicial roles with the courts. However, you can find more information about tribunals on the Courts and Tribunal Service website and roles within these on the JAC website.
What does a judge do?
The role of a judge is a complex one. Core responsibilities are to:
- Read the paperwork relevant to a matter being brought before them
- Listen to those presenting or arguing the case, ensure that any matter is conducted according to relevant court rules and regulations
- Advise on points of law, reach decisions on the outcome of the matter, where required to do so
- Pass sentence or impose any other penalty or obligation on parties involved.
Obviously, all this will depend on the matter being brought before the judge – e.g. a criminal trial with jury or a request for an injunction.
What qualifications are needed to become a judge?
There are two core requirements to becoming a judge:
- Legal qualification as a barrister, solicitor or in some cases a chartered legal executive
- At least 5 years work in the legal profession – more may be required depending on the role
Those with ambitions of becoming a judge will need the relevant legal qualifications to enter their preferred branch of the profession as a minimum. While judicial posts are open to solicitors, the majority of judges were previously barristers. This is changing, but slowly.
What skills do judges need?
Three key skills stand out as essential for a judge:
- legal knowledge (including court procedures)
- the ability to exercise sound judgement
- the ability to apply clear logic to a decision
However, among other things, a judge will also need to have:
- excellent communication and listening skills
- the ability to digest and assess large quantities of information quickly
- people skills to manage participant in the court process
What are the different types of judges?
There are a considerable number of judicial roles, all with slight differences in purpose, jurisdiction, type and complexity of case heard. In addition to judicial appointments to courts there is also a tribunal system. The Courts and Tribunals Service website is the best place to look for full information. Some key roles for those looking at a judicial career in due course include:
- Often the first step on a judicial career
- Recorders sit in both Crown and County Courts
- These are part time roles usually combined with work in private practice
District Judge (magistrates’ courts)
- Usually hear criminal cases, but also some civil cases and usually hear cases alone
- Appointment usually comes after a period as a deputy district judge
District Judge (county courts)
- Matters covered include a broad range of civil and family law cases (such as property possession matters, child proceedings, domestic violence injunctions and insolvency proceedings).
- District judges are full-time judges who deal with the majority of cases in the county courts.
- Usually district judges will have served as deputy district judges beforehand
- Circuit judges may deal with criminal or civil cases, while some are authorised to hear family cases. Others may work in specialised civil areas (e.g. chancery) or as judges of the Technology and Construction Court.
- Circuit judges sit in the Crown and County Courts within their particular circuit (region).
- Circuit judges must be lawyers who have held a ‘right of audience’ for at least ten years and will have sat as a recorder or district judge
High Court Judge
- High Court judges deal with the more complex and difficult cases including important criminal and civil cases.
- High Court judges are assigned to the Queen’s Bench Division, the Family Division or the Chancery Division.
- High Court judges usually sit in London, but they also travel to major court centres around the country as well.
How are judges appointed and how to become a Judge in the UK?
To apply for legally qualified judicial roles in the courts system, you would apply via the
Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) who appoint judges.
In addition to meeting the basic eligibility criteria of the judicial role (e.g. 5-7 years’ experience), there is a lengthy selection process – requiring applications and assessments – the details of which, and the criteria governing suitability, will depend on the role and the seniority of its standing.
How much do judges get paid?
Judicial pay ranges from around £90,000 to £270,000 per year, depending on their seniority. Some judicial roles are part time, and may be combined with earnings (and higher earnings) from private practice.
Can a solicitor become a judge?
Solicitors can and do become judges. Because of the focus on court work, the majority of judges were formerly barristers, but this is not a requirement. The ability of solicitor advocates to appear in all courts is likely to assist with a slightly more balanced judiciary.