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The judges

The elitist characteristics of the English legal system are most apparent in its different treatment of the judges of its courts. Judges of the High Court and above have immense prestige and status. They are always given the title of knighthood on appointment to the Bench so they are entitled to be called (for instance) Sir John Smith (ladies are called - for instance - Dame Mary Brown). These titles may sound quaint to foreigners but in England they still carry social prestige and are sought after. These judges are paid substantially more than Cabinet Ministers. Socially and even politically, much deference is paid to them. The press is ready to report almost any comment they make and (for example) criticism of a government department or other public body made by a High Court judge in the course of a case before him would nearly always produce a flurry of activity in the appropriate quarters. It might even lead to a political inquiry, and it would at the least often produce apologies or ministerial explanations. These superior court judges are also often used for non- judicial tasks. Governments frequently turn to them to head inquiries into disasters or scandals or other similar matters, when demands for a public inquiry are too strong to be ignored.

Judges tend to be middle-aged to elderly. Superior court judges have hitherto invariably been appointed from the ranks of practising barristers. It is rare for a person to be made a high court judge unless he has had at least fifteenyears' experience as a barrister. Most have had much more. Nowadays, it is unusual for anybody to be appointed to the Court of Appeal who has not previously served a stint as a high court judge and, similarly, Lords of Appeal are usually appointed from the ranks of the Court of Appeal judges. All this means that judges are unlikely to be young, and the more senior the judges, the older the average age tends to be. Few high court judges are under 50, few judges in the Court of Appeal under 55, and few Lords of Appeal under 60. Many, in all three courts, are much older than this. By contrast John Major was 49 when he became Prime Minister and Tony Blair was 43 when he became Prime Minister.

Senior judges tend to come overwhelmingly from the professional and managerial classes. Very few judges come from working-class backgrounds. Politically, it is probable (though judges do not parade their political views) that the overwhelming majority of judges are somewhat conservative, but at the present time, there are signs that many of the judges do not like the modern version of free-market conservatism which has been dominant for the last twenty years. Minorities are not well represented in the judiciary. No woman has ever been appointed a lord or lady of appeal, and in 1994 there was only one lady justice of appeal and three lady high court Judges. No black judge sits in the High Court or above, though there are black judges in lower courts. It is claimed that there is no discrimination in making judicial appointments, and that the pool of suitably qualified applicants for judges today reflects the fact that there were few women or black people who were barristers twenty-five or thirty years ago. This is the age group from which present day judges must expect to be found. Today there are plenty of women barristers and barristers from ethnic minorities.




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