Describe the qualifications, selection and appointment process for inferior judges.

The aim is to diversify the judiciary and applications are sought from a wide background provided they have the appropriate qualifications.

Grade: A-C | £0.00.

There are two different types of judges, superior judges and inferior judges. Their appointment, the courts they sit in and how they can be dismissed is affected according to which type of judge they are.

Superior judges are those judges who are entitled to sit in the High Court, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court which replaced the House of Lords.

Inferior judges are those judges who sit in courts below the level of the High Court and consist of Circuit judges who may sit in both the Crown Court and the County Court, recorders who sit as part time judges in the Crown Court and who may also sit in the County Court. District judges who deal with small claims and other matters in the County Court.  District judges (Magistrates Courts) who hear cases in the Magistrates Courts in the place of the Magistrate in London and other large towns and cities where larger volumes of work are involved.

The principles of judicial precedent have a lot to do with why we have these different levels of courts and judges.  They form a hierarchy with the higher courts being able to create precedent for the lower courts to follow. The Senior Courts also have appellate jurisdiction and this also has a bearing upon the qualifications and the training and the work of the senior judges.

The Courts and Legal Services Act 1990 introduced the concept that established the very important principle that the selection and appointment of the judiciary should be about appointing candidates that were properly qualified and set out the qualifications needed for the different levels of judges.  Prior to the introduction of the Act the procedure for appointing judges was open to criticism for a number of reasons.  This included the fact that the Bar effectively had a monopoly on superior appointments.  Many argued that this resulted in an elitist judiciary and that the top judges all came from similar social backgrounds with high percentages having been to public schools and attended either Oxford or Cambridge Universities.  The Act based qualification upon relevant advocacy qualification and by providing for promotion from one level to another level.

The relevant advocacy qualification is based around the need to have qualified as either a barrister or a solicitor.  It is hoped that this will lead to a better social mix eventually although numbers of appointments from the ranks of solicitors is still low.

Academic lawyers who may be employed in higher education institutions can now be appointed.  The 1990 Act specifically provides for this, so it is no longer necessary to have practised as a lawyer.  This may also have an effect on the balance of the judiciary in the long term. 

New appointment procedures and requirements also need to take account of the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007 and the principles underlying the evolving constitutional settlement between the executive and the judiciary set out in the concordat agreed between the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice for England and Wales in January 2004, and the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 (“CRA 2005”).

We will look at the appointment of District Judges, Circuit Judges and Recorders in turn.


District Judges Candidates must be qualified Barristers or solicitors with 5 years’ legal experience or a CILEx Fellow with five years post qualification experience.


Circuit Judges Candidates must be a Barrister or solicitor with 7 years legal experience, or a Recorder, District Judge or Chairman of an Employment Tribunal for 3 years.


Recorders Candidates must be a Barrister or solicitor with 7 years’ legal experience. Appointments are for five years, and are usually automatically extended by the Lord Chancellor for further successive terms of five years.


At one time judges were approached by colleagues and members of the Lord Chancellor’s department under the 'old boy' network but this led to criticism over lack of transparency and openness. Inferior Judges are now selected by the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) (established under the “CRA 2005”) which is made up of a mixed panel of judges, lay people and lawyers. There are fifteen Commissioners, including the Chairman. The JAC is a selecting Commission and is not responsible for appointments.


Vacancies are advertised widely including on the JAC’s website, the Law Society’s website, in the Law Society’s e-newsletter - Professional Update and, depending on the vacancy, in the Times, the Law Society Gazette and other media. Candidates no longer have to wait to be approached, they can apply and provide references in much the same way that they would for any other job.


The emphasis is upon merit and in effect selection is solely on merit and only people of good character should apply. The aim is to diversify the judiciary and applications are sought from a wide background provided they have the appropriate qualifications.


The JAC will look to see that the candidate has the five core qualities and related abilities which are required for judicial office. These are intellectual capacity, personal qualities, an ability to understand and deal fairly, authority and communication skills, and finally efficiency.


Candidates must be citizens of the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland or a Commonwealth country. The statutory retirement age is 70 for all judges and applicants would be expected to offer a ‘reasonable length of service’ – usually at least five years. Applications from disabled people are encouraged and steps are taken to ensure fair treatment.


The opportunity may be taken to apply a qualifying test to short-list candidates in which case they will attend a local centre where they will be provided with a scenario and asked to answer a number of questions.


As with many other recruitment processes short-listed candidates are invited to a selection day, which consists of either an interview, or an interview and a role playing exercise.


The Crime and Courts Act 2013 contains provisions to further modernise courts and tribunals and in respect of judicial appointments. The JAC may for example take account of diversity considerations to distinguish between candidates who are of equal merit.

The Lord Chancellor no longer has any say in appointment of inferior judges. Power is now transferred to the Lord Chief Justice and the Queen makes the appointment on the advice of the Lord Chief Justice once the JAC has completed their selection.


The fact that the Lord Chancellor is no longer responsible for the appointment of judges together with other changes such as the creation of the new Supreme Court could be seen as strengthening the independence of the judiciary. These changes followed criticism to the effect that the Lord Chancellor was a political appointment and a member of the cabinet and at the same time very closely involved in the appointment of the judiciary. This seemed to be very much at odds with the principle of separation of powers.


The Commission (JAC) was set up to maintain and strengthen judicial independence by taking responsibility for selecting candidates for judicial office out of the hands of the Lord Chancellor and making the appointment process clearer and more accountable.

(Word Count 1177)

Courts and Tribunals Judiciary

Judicial Appointments Commission

Becoming a judge - Chambers Student

Appointed Circuit Judge by the Queen

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