Describe both the training of judges and their role in the criminal courts, including first trial and appeal courts.

All Judges in England and Wales are trained by one body, the Judicial College.

Grade: A-C | £0.00.


The Judicial Appointments Commission recommends candidates for the role of a Judge in the courts of England and Wales. The candidate will have an appropriate legal qualification which has been held for a minimum of five years and in some cases a minimum of seven years.


In 1979 the Judicial Studies Board was set up and took on the responsibility for the training of Judges. Many Judges at the time did not believe they needed to receive training at all and the Judicial Studies Board was viewed with resentment by some Judges. It was the first time that Judges, from the House of Lords down, had to agree to judicial training. Judges now accept the need for training and are asking for more training to be available. 


Since April 2011 training of all 36,000 judicial office holders in England and Wales and tribunals around the UK has become the responsibility of the Judicial College. The nature and scope of the training that Judges receive is the subject of discussion and there are some characteristics which are worthy of particular note. The Judicial College believes that it is essential that the training of not only Judges but also tribunals members and magistrates remains under judicial control and guidance.


One feature is that the training is very short and in times of austerity when budgets are being cut, savings are having to be made. One way this is being dealt with is by reducing the length of courts’ residential seminars and also providing online training.


All Judges receive a full induction course before starting their careers on the Bench and continue to receive training throughout their judicial careers.


In reality the period of training is probably too short to properly prepare them for their work as Judges and probably most will have to rely heavily upon their qualifying experience as a working lawyer in the courts. Judges in the Higher Courts with extensive experience will probably make the adjustment to the new role more easily than those with less court experience. It is important for a Judge to adjust from acting as an advocate in court, he has to learn to be balanced and not take sides. Their induction course will be important to lay the foundations of good practice.


Questions do arise as to whether it is fair to place so much reliance upon their prior experience and whether Judges have sufficient training or support when it comes to keeping abreast with new law. With the Judicial College encouraging continuing training and providing specialist modules for Judges the training is becoming more accessible and more flexible. This continuing education is in place to provide training to cover new developments and to discuss sentencing provisions for example.


Judges in the Court of Appeal are allocated days for legal research but these are restricted whereas in other legal systems Judges are assisted by researchers conducting legal research on behalf of the court. When television cameras were allowed into the Court of Appeal for the first time in October 2013 senior judges were offered training before appearing on camera.


Inferior Judges, such as newly appointed assistant recorders, who sit in the Crown Court and who are likely to be relatively new to the judiciary will be undertaking criminal work. This is likely to be a steep learning curve for those who do not have the experience of working in the criminal courts. The short training period means that they will be hearing criminal cases soon after their appointment and training and it must seem to them a little like being thrown in at the deep end.


Their induction will provide them with the basic principles and give them the confidence they will need in court. They will learn the court procedures and how to sum up and deal with applications to adjourn proceedings and they will learn about sentencing. Such training addresses important practical functions that the Judge needs to grasp if he or she is to be effective. The induction course is delivered by an experienced Judge and will include mock trials when the candidates will have the opportunity to take part and deal with the issues that are likely to arise in real life.


This induction will be followed by an invitation to participate in a 'newly appointed recorders criminal conference' (NARCC) approximately one year after appointment. There are also continuing opportunities for further training in different specialist areas.


Inferior Judges are also expected to spend a week shadowing an experienced Judge before they can sit in court as a Judge themselves. Shadowing will include observing such tasks as preparing for trial, case management, presiding over court proceedings, hearing actions, sentencing, determining applications and giving judgments.


One day courses are also provided from time to time by the Judicial College which are intended to keep Judges abreast of changes in the law. Not all of these courses are compulsory, but some are.


Turning to the question of the role of a Judge in the criminal courts, at trials of fist instance many will think of Judges summing up the evidence for the jury and sentencing but there are other important functions to be undertaken.


Primarily it is the job of the Judge to preside over the conduct of the trial in order to ensure that the hearing is fair. A criminal trial is a complex matter with inbuilt safeguards and processes to ensure a balance and fairness. The role of the Judge at this point has been described as being very much like a football referee. A good referee will know when to intervene and allow the game to flow naturally. An experienced Judge will also need to know when to interject.


A Judge is qualified to deal with issues and questions as to the law. This is a significant role of the Judge and the Judge will need to be clear and concise. In this regard the trial Judge is the sole arbiter as to the law.


The trial Judge will also, and crucially, rule on any issues which arise as to the admissibility of evidence. This may be critical to the issues involved and may involve listening to arguments from counsel for both sides before making a ruling. The law relating to the admissibility of evidence can be complex and is an area of law and expertise quite distinct from the law relating to the matter before the court.


In the Magistrates' Court – District Judges decide both the verdict and the appropriate sentence and pre-trial matters such as bail under the Bail Act 1976. District Judges sit without a jury in the Magistrates' Court.


A Judge in the Crown court will, towards the end of the trial and examination of the evidence, sum up the evidence for the benefit of the jury. This requires particular skill. The Judge must not seek to influence the juries' verdict except when he is required to direct a jury to return a particular verdict in the event that the Crown Prosecution Service offer no evidence for the prosecution. Traditionally, as part of their summing up, the Judge will remind the jury of their role in the proceedings and what is expected of them in terms of a verdict.


Whilst this is a traditional part of the Judge's role it is not without comment and criticism. Even Lord Justice Moses argued recently to the effect that juries can be hindered by interventions by Judges. He referred to many directions being given in a 'foreign tongue' and that led to Judges often being unhelpful. He argued that we should “no longer pretend that Judges can assist a jury’s recollection by a recitation of the facts”.


Finally, if a guilty verdict is returned, the Judge has the important task of handing down a sentence to the defendant in accordance with statutory penalties and guidelines.


On appeal the role of the Judge changes dramatically. Their task is to review the hearing at first instance and decide whether the law involved was correctly interpreted and applied and whether the hearing was conducted properly. The options for the appeal Judge are to change the decision, order a retrial or vary the sentence.


It is inevitable that appeal Judges will have the opportunity to rule on an important point of law in some cases but in reality, due to the way the court hierarchy works, this will usually involve the Supreme Court or the Court of Appeal.


Finally appeal Judges can use their position of authority to clarify or amend the law as well as deal with the particular case before them.


In R v G and R (2003) two young boys aged 11 & 12 were charged and convicted of criminal damage by fire. The former House of Lords took the opportunity to make it clear that the correct form of mens rea required for the offence was a form of 'subjective' recklessness which had been preferred by the Law Commission in place of the form of 'objective' recklessness applied under R v Caldwell (1982).


The Supreme Court is now the the highest appeal court in the English legal system but at times they may feel that a change in the law is a matter best left to Parliament. This was the view of Lord Lowry in C (a minor)1996 when the House came to the conclusion that the presumption that children aged between 10-14 years are incapable of committing a crime still existed, but felt that there were other issues involved as well as the legal issues and that if a change was to be introduced, it was a matter best left for Parliament. The presumption was removed not long after by the Crime and Disorder Act 1998.




(Word count 1654)

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