If you’re a bit naïve and you’ve seen the epic mid-90s movie, Judge Dredd, which stars Sly Stallone as a violent ‘Street Judge’, you might believe that this film provides an accurate depiction of a judge’s professional life. Well, I hate to burst your legal sci-fi bubble, but you’re way off the mark!
In fact, the main responsibilities of a judge are to preside over cases brought before the court and review legal briefs, arguments and evidence presented by the defence and the prosecution (criminal law cases) or the two combative parties in a dispute. Judges also provide support and guidance to juries and help them to understand their duties and responsibilities.
Finally, they will pass the final verdict in favour of one or more parties that are involved in the dispute. In criminal law cases, they will also decide on the sentence which will be endured by the defendant once a conviction has been made.
Judges may preside over both civil and criminal proceedings, depending upon the scope of their role and the powers vested in them by the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC). For instance, these guys might be overseeing criminal trials, personal injury or negligence cases, commercial disputes, civil cases or petitions in family courts.
To be a successful judge, you will need to be able to review and analyse the factual and legal components of a case, and go through the large amounts of information that is provided in case documentation and paperwork filed by the involved parties.
Furthermore, you will need a complete, extensive and up-to-date knowledge of laws, legal issues and judicial procedures.
Essentially, judges must function as independent, unbiased and fair arbiters. Therefore, judges must conduct themselves in an appropriate, respectful and professional manner at all times.
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Salary & benefits
Salaries for judges are based on the recommendations of a special advisory committee, which consults with senior judges and other judicial authorities. Salaries also depend on the jurisdiction and court where judges preside.
Currently, salaries for district judges start at around £100,000 per annum. High court judges receive remuneration around £170,000 or more, depending on their level of experience.
Judges work according to an annual calendar, beginning in October each year, which is comprised of four terms of varying periods. Judges are required to complete a minimum amount of hours each term.
In addition to presiding over court proceedings, judges will spend part of their time engaged in ‘non-court’ work, i.e. conducting research into judicial trends and developments and preparing judgements pertaining to the cases that they are working on.
Judges are also required to follow traditions and customs specific to their particular court, i.e. sporting a wig and brandishing a hammer where appropriate.
This is not a direct-entry profession; the majority of judges are experienced solicitors and barristers who have completed a minimum of seven years of full-time, post-qualification experience. However, top-level legal executives can also become district judges.
Training & progression
Before you can become a full-blown judge, you are normally required to complete a prescribed period of part-time, supervised work under the watchful eye of an experienced judge, as a recorder or deputy judge.
Upon fulfilling the part-time work and training formalities, candidates can apply for full-time appointments.
If becoming a judge is not enough and you want even more responsibility, then you can move even further up the ladder. However, career progression is entirely dependent on your experience and expertise. You could become a high court judge and, if you play your cards right, you could even become the Lord Chief Justice!