Judges in Great Britain

Many student essays are rather sceptical of how judges are trained in their role. Students describe the process as inadequate and out of date. Textbooks, by contrast, uphold the training of judges as being quite adequate and quote the main Acts of Parliament which have resulted in major reforms of the judicial training system. This essay aims to strike a balance between these two opposing views of the modern training of judges, by examining both the positives and the negatives which are currently found in the system.

To begin with, we must remember that the training of judges has undergone much reform with a new Judicial Studies Board (JSB) to coordinate training. Furthermore, there have been several Acts of Parliament which have affected the delivery of training. Examples of such Acts include The Childrens Act 1989 and The Human Rights Act 1998. Both of these Acts implemented improvements in the training of judges on contemporary social issues and issues relating to children. Some would argue, however, that the reforms have not been bold enough. Areas for consideration by the JSB could include training in fields such as criminology and psychology.

These fields are vital in understanding the minds of criminals. However, we must remember that judges are the select candidates from a group of highly intelligent and able individuals. It could be argued that they need less training about their role than, say, solicitors and barristers, since they are able to use their natural intelligence and understanding of the law and of human nature in their role as a judge. Furthermore, they have often had many years' experience of advocacy in courts of law, often as barristers, and they are well accustomed to the procedural customs of courts and to the legal way of thinking.

Nevertheless, is it really such a positive asset to have a barrister's experience? Barristers are indeed well trained in debating cases. However, they are used to arguing a case from only one side, and have not had any experience in weighing up both arguments fairly and reaching a decision, based on the facts presented before them in court, as does a judge in his judicial capacity. If we turn to examine the training of judges in France, for example, we see a much more lengthy process whereby the best law graduates can train specifically as a judge as opposed to an advocate or a desk lawyer.

Training takes place in the Ecole Nationale de la Magistrature (National School for the Judiciary) and takes as long as three years rather than our one week course in Great Britain. Perhaps, then, this is the main criticism of our way of training judges – that it is simply not long enough. Judges need more time to consolidate their learning than just one week. However, as has been outlined above, the approved candidates for the judiciary already have legal knowledge and experience.

Furthermore, they have been selected because they meet the criteria of a good judge in their specific field or role. How much more training does an individual need who is already overqualified for their position? At the end of the day, it is the responsibility of the new Judicial Studies Board to find out how much training is required and it is also their responsibility to implement reform based upon their findings. I have every confidence that they will succeed in their current and future training programmes for new and also for established judges in Great Britain.