How to Become a Judge in the UK
Judges are public officials given authority to hear, determine, and preside over legal matters in courts.
While becoming a judge is a very competitive process, it is possible if you gain certain qualifications and skills. This page guides you through the Judicial Appointments Commission, who selects candidates for judicial roles, the responsibilities you’ll be given and salaries you should expect once you become a judge.
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Qualifications Needed to Become a Judge
There are some basic qualifications needed to become a judge. You must be a citizen of the United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland or a Commonwealth country. A minimum of 5-7 years of post-qualification experience is usually required, with the exact number of years depending on the role you apply for.
In terms of academic qualifications, the traditional route requires you to complete an undergraduate LLB or law conversion course, followed by the Bar Professional Training Course or the Legal Practice Course or to have passed the SQE post 2021. You should then acquire legal experience, through either a pupillage or a training contract.
You can also become a judge after following the CILEx route, by skipping the university experience and becoming a chartered legal executive first, or after qualifying as a solicitor apprentice and practising for 5-7 years.
When it comes to skills, the Judicial Appointments Commission will look at your intellectual ability, your ability to be fair and even-handed, whether you demonstrate an air of authority, and have good communication skills.
In addition, 70 is the statutory retirement age for judges, so you must be younger than this when applying.
How Judges Are Appointed
You can apply to become a judge online through the Judicial Appointments Commission website. At the first stage, you are required to write an application letter and provide references, both of which should put forward evidence that you possess the qualities and abilities required for this role. For some roles, you could be asked to conduct a written test. This could include analysing case studies, identify issues, and applying the law.
If shortlisted, you’ll need to complete a selection day. This involves an interview and roleplay exercises. Based on this, the selection panel members will evaluate your performance and make an initial recommendation to the commissioners. The JAC commissioners will then either accept or challenge the panel members’ recommendations and make the final ones.
Afterwards, once the Lord Chancellor accepts the recommendations, the JAC reaches out to candidates to let them know if they have been recommended for the roles. If you ultimately succeed, the Ministry of Justice will contact you to let you know the starting date. If you do not succeed, you can ask for feedback and apply again at a later time.
Judges’ responsibilities include ensuring that the trial is fair and making sure that the questioning is appropriate and that all issues are dealt with. In criminal cases, they will need to familiarise themselves with the indictment containing the charges; witness statements; and applications by the barristers concerning the admissibility of certain evidence in the trial.
During the trial, they will instruct jurors on the law and hear motions by the barristers. Judges have the responsibility to control the way the trial is conducted with relevant law and practice. They must also note the evidence and decide on legal issues such as admissibility.
At the end of the trial, the judge will sum up each of the charges made and remind jurors what the prosecution must prove to make jurors certain of the case. The judge highlights notes made during the trial and reminds them of the key points of each side’s argument. They will then give directions on the jury’s duties before they deliberate.
If found guilty, the judge will decide on an appropriate sentence, which may involve consideration of the individual circumstances of the defendant; the impact on the victim; relevant law and guidelines.
Many solicitors or barristers apply to become a part-time judge first to gain expertise. Part-time judges have the same responsibilities as those working full-time, but may handle less complicated cases.
You can work as a full-time salaried judge; part-time salaried judge; or work on a fee-paid basis, which is an agreed payment for the work regardless of the time it takes.
The judicial hierarchy is divided into nine salary bands. The lowest-paid include employment tribunal and district judges presiding over more serious hearings in magistrates’ court, who made an annual average of £112,542 as of 2019. Circuit judges, who sit in Crown Courts and county courts, were paid £161,332 in 2019. Meanwhile, Lords and Lady Justices of Appeal had an annual salary of $215,094 and Justices of the Supreme Court £226,193.
For their work during the COVID-19 pandemic, HM Treasury announced a pay award for judges of 2%.
If you are considering becoming a judge, you should familiarise yourself with the role. For instance, you can contact a local court and ask to shadow a judge for a few days. You should also be patient as you need to gain significant experience before applying. If you do plan on becoming a judge one day, you should keep the qualifications and skills listed above in mind and work on developing them throughout your legal career.
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