Judges sit at the pinnacle of the UK legal system, presiding over everything from murder trials and libel cases to employment tribunals and copyright disputes. According to Lord Judge, the Lord Chief Justice, moral courage is an essential quality for anyone interested in becoming a judge as the work often involves making unpleasant decisions, such as sending individuals to prison for the rest of their lives or taking children away from their parents.
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Earn a degree from a reputable university. Although the "old boys' network," under which judges were selected from a narrow pool of society's elite, has mostly been dismantled, judicial appointments still depend on a element of personal recommendation. The more prestigious your university, the more likely you are to make the sort of contacts that will be of benefit later in your career.
Train and qualify as a barrister or solicitor. Although the quickest way to do this is to earn a law degree, another option is to study the non-law degree of your choice and then undertake a year-long conversion course. Although this path involves an additional year of study, it can provide a broader foundation of knowledge.
Gain as much experience as possible and specialise in cases relating to the same area of the law you wish to work in once you become a judge. You will need a minimum of five years post-qualification experience before you can apply to become a judge, though in reality most candidates wait considerably longer.
Apply for a place on the Work Shadowing Scheme run by the Judicial Office. This provides an opportunity to spend up to three days observing a judge as he or she prepares for trial, manages cases, presides over proceedings and delivers sentences. You can choose to shadow a High Court, Circuit, District or Tribunal Judge, depending on your preference.
Apply to the Judicial Appointments Commission for a fee-paid (part-time) position as a judge. In order to prove your suitability, you will have to pass a series of exams and then be shadowed by a current judge to ensure you are capable of dealing with such a high level of responsibility. A fee-paid position will initially involve dealing with simple, less serious cases until you gain experience. Payments are made according to the number of days worked, which will depend on the type of appointment. Part-time judges usually work at least 15 days each year. In order to apply to become a full-time judge, applicants are expected to have held a fee-paid position for a minimum of two years.
Tips and warnings
- The Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act (2007) has widened eligibility for all but the most senior judicial posts. Fellows of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives are now able to apply to become judges. There are also opportunities with the Copyright Tribunal for trademark and patent attorneys.
- Although there is no upper or lower age limit for becoming a judge, candidates are expected to be able to offer at least five years of service. As judges must retire at the age of 70, you are unlikely to be accepted if you apply past the age of 65.
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