The judiciary in the UK are that group of people who apply the law of the land to the facts of the cases before them. However, the judiciary, in doing this, also create law in the UK through the common law precedents system. The judiciary are therefore a very powerful body of individuals and one limb of the law-making structure.

The judiciary incorporates a fairly broad range of different types of judges. Magistrates are low level members of the judiciary, although they are not legal professionals and do not have substantial legal training. These people are instead members of the lay judiciary, trying lower level cases or sending cases to be heard by higher ranking members of the judiciary in superior courts. Magistrates usually sit in threes.

District judges are also lower level members of the judiciary. They, along with deputy district judges, are responsible for most county court business, some High Court cases and some Magistrates' Courts hearings. They usually sit alone.

Moving further up the hierarchy of the judiciary are circuit judges. This type of judiciary carries out the majority of Crown Court work and some county court and High Court work. They are also senior enough in the judiciary to sit in the Criminal Division of the Court of Appeal if called upon. They are assisted by deputy circuit judges and recorders, though neither of these can sit in the Court of Appeal.

High Court judges are senior members of the judiciary, and hear the most serious types of Crown Court case, as well as sitting in the Court of Appeal, usually in the Criminal Division. Deputy High Court judges do the same work on a part-time basis.

The Lord Justices of Appeal are very senior members of the judiciary, sitting permanently in the Court of Appeal. Finally, the most senior members of the judiciary are the Law Lords who sit in the House of Lords and the Privy Council.

The Lord Chief Justice is responsible for the training, guidance and deployment of judges and represents the views of the judiciary of England and Wales to Parliament and ministers. It is now the Judicial Appointments Commission which is responsible for selecting candidates for the judiciary, who are then appointed by the Secretary of State for Justice. If there are any concerns about the actions of a particular member of the judiciary, complaint can be made to the Judicial Appointments and Conduct Ombudsman.

The work of the judiciary is mainly ‘judicial' in the sense that they adjudicate upon disputes. They deduce the facts from the evidence presented in court, apply the law to those facts and then decide the case. The members of the judiciary who sit in appellate courts will often hear legal argument based on points of law rather than disputed facts.

Where a case is concerned with the application of a statute, it is the task of the judiciary to ascertain the intention of the legislature when passing that statute. Where adherence to the literal meaning of the words in the statute would cause some problem, such as inconsistency with Human Rights law, the judiciary will create new law by interpreting the statute in an alternative way.

The judiciary can also create entirely new legal principles, for example the judgment of Denning in Central London Property Trust Ltd v High Trees House Ltd [1947] KB 130, effectively created the doctrine of equitable estoppel. Similarly, the ‘neighbour principle' was propounded by Lord Atkin in Donoghue (or M'Alister) v Stevenson [1932] AC 562, and is now widely acknowledged as the basis of the modern law of negligence.

There can be some debate as to whether the judiciary of England and Wales should create the law at all. It may be argued that this role should be solely confined to elected Parliament, who represent the interests of the democratic electorate as a whole. This is in contrast with the judiciary, who are not elected but instead are appointed, and do not represent the interests of the wider public. In fact, in setting common law precedents which can affect the legal position of many, they are only considering the facts of one particular case before them.

Where a case gives rise to a potential Human Rights issue, the member of the judiciary hearing the case must be very careful to act in a way which is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. This is because, although private bodies do not have to act compatibly, the courts, as a public body, do have to.

The judiciary may also pass guidelines for the determination of future cases. These guidelines hold particular weight in certain areas, for example, all personal injury damages awarded in personal injuries and the principles to be applied in applications for interlocutory injunctions have been subject to judicial guidelines.

A particularly key aspect of the judiciary is that its members are independent. The independence of the judiciary is crucial because when they are interpreting and applying the law they must not bring political considerations into the decision.

Governments often appoint senior members of the judiciary to head inquiries into matters of public interest. This is because, where sensitive or difficult issues arise, the respect and independence that the judiciary carry can be an advantage in the public eye. However, some judicial inquiries, such as the Denning Report into the Profumo scandal, the Scott Inquiry into the sale of arms to Iraq, and the Hutton Inquiry into the death of David Kelly, have generated much controversy and may have had a negative impact on the appearance of the judiciary and particularly their impariatlity.

For more information on the role of the judiciary in England and Wales, the Government has created a useful website at www.judiciary.gov.uk. This website contains details of what different members of the judiciary do, what they wear and how they should be referred to. It also provides details of some judgments and reports into the judiciary.

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