The role of judges
Judges use their knowledge and experience of the law to make sure that a trial is conducted in a fair and legal way. The roles played by judges are different in each type of legal case. You can prepare for your own case by finding out how each judge is likely to work.
The role of a judge in a Crown Court
In England and Wales, Crown Courts are where serious criminal cases are heard by a judge and jury.
In those cases, the judge makes decisions about the law and manages the trial. The jury considers the evidence, and decides whether the person on trial is guilty or innocent.
In cases when the jury finds the defendants guilty, the judge issues their sentences.
Throughout the trial, the judge makes sure that the jury is aware of its legal role, and what it should and shouldnt do so that the court case stays within the law.
The role of a judge in a civil case
Civil cases are handled differently than criminal cases. They are heard in the High Court or in County Courts in England and Wales. With a few exceptions (such as in libel cases) there is no jury to decide the facts of the case.
Instead, the judge listens to the evidence, and to the arguments from both sides, and then makes a decision.
In civil cases, the judge will:
- encourage cooperation between the two sides
- control the way the case is handled
- help to settle the case
- suggest other ways of solving the problem behind the case
The role of a judge in a family case
Family cases can be heard in the High Court, county courts or magistrates courts, depending on the type and difficulty of the case.
Family cases can include:
- divorce and child support cases
- public law cases involving children (for example, when a local authority wants to take children away from parents who cannot properly care for them)
- private law cases involving children (such as when theres a custody dispute between parents)
There are no juries in family cases, and family judges have received special training in how to deal with these sensitive issues.
To keep everybody at ease, family court judges do not wear robes, and the atmosphere is less formal than in other court cases.
In these cases, judges listen to the different arguments and any evidence or opinions from experts before making the judgement that they think is in the childs best interest.
Judges interpret the law
Judges are independent from the police and the government, and cannot be told what to do, or have their decisions changed by ministers. If someone is unhappy with a judges decision, they must appeal to a higher court.
Laws are created by Parliament, and it is the job of a judge to make sure that people are punished if they break those laws. But judges also apply common law, which is the law that has grown out of decisions by judges in court cases over decades and even centuries.
Decisions made by judges in higher courts are recorded, and judges on lower courts must use those decisions to help them make their own rulings in court cases.
This means that court cases are not treated randomly, and punishments for the same sort of crime are similar and fair, wherever they happen.
How a judge is appointed
In England and Wales, judges are chosen by the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC), which is an independent organisation.
Those chosen to be judges are usually either experienced barristers or solicitors. The precise level of experience required to be a judge varies.
You can visit the JACwebsite to find out how to apply, as well as information on thequalities the Commissionlooks for in people who want to be judges.
How judges sentence
When judges issue a sentence on a convicted criminal, they must work within guidelines set by the government.
This process helps to make sure that sentences are fair and generally similar for the same crimes, regardless of wherethey take place.
- How sentencing is worked out
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