In January there will be up to 25 vacancies in the High Court. For the first time no previous judicial experience is required. Vacancies will be open to solicitors or barristers with 7 years post-qualification experience. Here we take a look at the work of the 3 High Court divisions and the role of a High Court judge.
High Court judges and the 3 divisions
Judges in the High Court deal with serious criminal cases and complex civil cases. They sit in London at the Royal Courts of Justice, occasionally travelling to major court centres in England and Wales.
High Court judges are assigned to 1 of the 3 divisions of the High Court: the Queen’s Bench Division the Family Division and the Chancery Division.
The role is full time and salaried and a High Court judge cannot return to legal practice. There are presently 103 high court judges, each given the prefix ‘the honourable’ and referred to as ‘Mrs or Mr Justice surname’.
Judges in the High Court are sometimes known as ‘red judges’ because of their colourful robes, but red robes are usually only worn by judges dealing with criminal cases. High Court judges hearing civil cases wear a gown with red tabs at the neck and no wig.
Every judge is assigned a clerk who provides support from the Royal Courts of Justice in London.
What does each division do?
The Queen’s Bench Division (QBD) is the biggest of the 3 divisions and has the most varied jurisdiction. It deals with personal injury, negligence, libel, slander and breaches of: contract; statutory duty and the Human Rights Act. If you want to change your name by deed-poll, that’s where your application will be managed.
Within the QBD there are 5 specialist courts: Commercial Court, Admiralty Court, Administration Court, Mercantile Court and Technology and Construction Court. The Administrative Court has the power to oversee the quality and legality of decision-making in the lower courts and tribunals. It also hears applications for judicial review of decisions of public bodies.
Rabinder Singh was appointed to the Queen’s Bench Division in 2011, and enjoys the mix of cases crossing his desk, "the variety of the work was one of the attractions of being appointed to the QBD. In this type of work you need to have an interest in the law as sometimes you will be dealing with difficult points of law. You also need to be interested in the variety of work and the practical issues that can arise in trials.”
The QBD presently has 71 judges and is headed by Sir Brian Leveson, President of the Queen’s Bench Division.
More information on the QBD and its specialist courts is on the judiciary website.
The Family Division deals with divorce, including disputes over children, property or money, adoption and children who are ‘ward of court’. They also make judgements on behalf of those who are unable to make decisions for themselves, such as people in a persistent vegetative state. Other legal matters covered include: some cases of international child abduction; forced marriage; female genital mutilation and probate. A judge hearing a case in Chambers (a private room) will not wear formal court robes or a wig.
High Court judge Alistair MacDonald finds the Family Division intellectually challenging “it’s an incredible privilege to be deciding cases at the cutting edge of family law. Cases often reflect the current issues in society more widely. In this division you never know what’s going to come across your desk but it’s always interesting and stimulating.”
The Family Division currently consists of 19 judges and is headed by Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division.
More information on the Family Division is on the judiciary website.
The Chancery Division deals with the resolution of disputes involving company law, partnership claims, conveyancing, land law, patent, mortgages, insolvency and professional negligence. There are 18 judges in the Division which also includes 4 specialist courts: Companies Court, Patents Court, Bankruptcy Court and the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court.
Sonia Proudman hears cases in the Chancery Division, and finds the work stimulating, “the work of a High Court judge is much harder and more consistently cerebral than I had expected. What has surprised me most is that virtually every case raises a new point of law. My judicial colleagues in the Chancery Division are outstanding in terms of ability, intellect and humanity."
The president of the Chancery division of the High Court is known as the Chancellor of the High Court a post currently held by Lord Justice Vos.
More information on the Chancery Division is on the judiciary website.