The Judiciary: England & Wales
Supreme Court of the United Kingdom
Under the provisions of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, a Supreme Court of the United Kingdom (UKSC) was established with effect from 1 October 2009. It assumed the responsibilities of the House of Lords (the Law Lords), including a final appellate jurisdiction over civil cases throughout the UK, and criminal cases in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Supreme Court is the highest court in the United Kingdom.
The existing Law Lords became the first justices of the UKSC; they continue to be members of the House of Lords but are unable to sit and vote.
New justices appointed after October 2009 are not members of the House of Lords; they are known as ‘Justices of the Supreme Court’. Justices of the Supreme Court, though not necessarily life peers, are styled ‘Lord’ and ‘Lady’ for life.
The Lord Chancellor
Appointed by The Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister, the Lord Chancellor is a senior member of the Cabinet. They head the Ministry of Justice as the Secretary of State for Justice.
Prior to the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, the Lord Chancellor was also Speaker of the House of Lords (replaced by the post of Lord Speaker), head of the judiciary (now the responsibility of the Lord Chief Justice) and the senior judge of the House of Lords in its judicial capacity (the Lord Chancellor may no longer sit as a judge).
The Lord Chief Justice
The Lord Chief Justice presides over the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court, and is the Head of the Judiciary of England and Wales, President of the Courts of England and Wales, and Head of Criminal Justice. He is responsible for representing the views of the judiciary to parliament and the government.
The Lord Chief Justice is supported by and chairs the Judicial Executive Board (JEB) that meets monthly during term time. Members of the JEB are: Lord Chief Justice; Master of the Rolls; President of the Queen’s Bench; President of the Family Division; Chancellor of the High Court; Vice President of the Queen’s Bench Division and Deputy Head of Criminal Justice; Chairman of the Judicial College; Senior President of Tribunals; Senior Presiding Judge; Chief Executive of the Judicial Office.
The Master of the Rolls
The Master of the Rolls is the Head of Civil Justice, and the second most senior judicial position in England and Wales after the Lord Chief Justice. By virtue of the office, he/she is a judge of the Court of Appeal and the president of its Civil Division. As a head of division and member of the Privy Council, he/she has the prefix of ‘Right Honourable’.
Attorney General and Solicitor General
Her Majesty’s Attorney General and Solicitor General are known as the Law Officers of the Crown for England and Wales, or simply ‘the Law Officers’.
The Attorney General for England and Wales is chief legal adviser to the government and oversees the Law Officers’ departments including the Crown Prosecution Service, the Serious Fraud Office, Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate and the Treasury Solicitor’s Department. Usually a member of parliament, the Attorney General also holds the office of Advocate General for Northern Ireland, is head of the Bar in England and Wales (taking precedence over all barristers) and has a number of independent public interest functions.
The Solicitor General – a Queen’s Counsel – is the Attorney General’s deputy (and junior in precedence), offering support across the range of responsibilities. A Solicitor General is also appointed for Scotland.
Lord Justice of Appeal
Known officially as ‘Lords Justices’, a judge who sits in the Court of Appeal is known as a Lord Justice of Appeal. They are privy counsellors and are styled, professionally, as ‘The Right Honourable Lord/Lady Justice ……’, or sometimes shortened to ‘Lord/Lady Justice ……’ or ‘[Surname] LJ’. The judicial title is not used in social correspondence.
The Heads of Division – the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, the Master of the Rolls, the President of the Queen’s Bench Division, the President of the Family Division and the Chancellor of the High Court – are also judges of the Court of Appeal.
The High Court
The High Court has three divisions: the Queen’s Bench Division, the Family Division and the Chancery Division. Heads of Division are generally appointed from among the Lords of Appeal in Ordinary (the Law Lords) or lords justices of appeal. The Queen’s Bench Division, the biggest of the three divisions, is headed by the President of the Queen’s Bench Division.
The President of the Family Division is also the Head of Family Justice; he/she will be a knight or a dame but is addressed according to their judicial title, though it would not be used socially.
The Chancellor of the High Court presides over the Chancery Division and is vice-president of the Court of Protection. He/she is an ex officio judge of the Court of Appeal and, as a member of the Privy Council, has the prefix ‘The Right Honourable’.
High Court Judge
Justices of the High Court are almost always referred to as High Court judges and are assigned to one of the three divisions of the High Court – the Queen’s Bench Division, the Family Division and the Chancery Division.
A male High Court judge is, by convention, knighted on appointment, but he is styled, for example, as ‘The Hon Mr Justice Cane’. The letters QC do not appear after his name. His style may be shortened to ‘[Surname] J’.
A female High Court judge is, by convention, made a dame on appointment but is traditionally styled, for example, as ‘The Hon Mrs Justice Macklin’, whether married or single. Since 2014, she may also be styled as, for example, ‘The Hon Ms Justice Macklin’. The letters QC do not appear after her name. Her style may be shortened to ‘[Surname] J’.
The prefix ‘The Hon Mr/Mrs/Ms Justice’ is dropped on retirement and retired judges are then styled, for example, as ‘The Hon Sir Jonathan Dean’ or ‘The Hon Lady Macklin’.
A person appointed to sit (part-time) as a deputy High Court judge is addressed in court as for a High Court judge. Outside court, he/she reverts to his/her usual style and retains no other judicial title.
Circuit judges are appointed to one of seven regions of England and Wales (Midlands, North West, North East, South East, London, South West and Wales) and sit in the Crown and County Courts within their region. In professional correspondence, they are addressed as ‘His/Her Honour Judge ……’; if they were a Queen’s Counsel when at the Bar, the letters QC follow the name. The forename is used if there is more than one judge with the same surname. On retirement, the style ‘Judge’ is dropped, becoming, for example, ‘His Hon John ……’.
Historically, recorders presided at the Courts of Quarter Sessions. Today a recorder is a part-time circuit judge, usually a practising barrister or solicitor, who may sit in both Crown and County Courts.
On appointment, district judges are assigned to a particular circuit and may sit at any of the county courts or district registries of the High Court on that circuit; they usually hear cases. By virtue of their office they are justices of the peace.
In correspondence, they are addressed as ‘District Judge ……’. On retirement, district judges are not referred to by any title; they are simply referred to as ‘Mr’, ‘Miss’, ‘Mrs’ or ‘Ms’.
The senior district judge is also known as the chief magistrate.
Queen’s Counsel and Barrister
Barristers are divided into Queen’s Counsel and Junior Counsel. When a barrister becomes a QC, he/she is said to ‘take silk’, after their silk gowns. On the direction of the Bar Council they are no longer termed ‘Barrister-at-law’, simply ‘Barrister’.
The letters QC are placed after the name of Queen’s Counsel while they are at the Bar, or after appointment to the Circuit Bench. They are not used after the names of High Court judges or persons holding other higher legal appointments.
Queen’s Counsel may also be appointed from the ranks of solicitor advocates or (honoris causa) distinguished academic lawyers.
Magistrates (Justices of the Peace)
Magistrates (also known as Justices of the Peace or JPs) are volunteers who hear cases in courts in their community. The Secretary of State and Lord Chancellor appoint magistrates in England and Wales on behalf of, and in the name of, The Queen. Local advisory committees recommend candidates.
Magistrates’ courts are the first tier within the justice system and are where all criminal cases begin. They pass serious crimes to the Crown Court; they also hear some civil and family cases.
In court, a magistrate is addressed as ‘Your Worship’, or ‘Sir’ or ‘Madam’. In correspondence, the letters ‘JP’ may be used after the name on the envelope, but this is not obligatory. Note that ‘JP’ precedes ‘DL’ as the former is a Crown appointment and the latter a lord-lieutenant’s appointment.