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Last update: 03-07-2007
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Legal professions - England and Wales



1. Judges 1.
2. Lay Magistrates 2.
3. Prosecutors 3.
4. Clerks of the Court 4.
5. Bailiffs 5.
6. Magistrates’ Courts 6.
7. Lawyers 7.
a) Barristers a)
b) Solicitors b)
8. Notaries 8.
9. Legal Executives 9.


1. Judges

Eligibility for appointment

Unlike the system in many other European countries, those who aspire to be judges in England and Wales have first to be lawyers, either solicitors or barristers. To be considered for appointment as a judge applicants must be citizens of the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland or a Commonwealth country and have practised as a lawyer in England and Wales for a minimum period of time as specified by law for each type of judicial post. In general these minimum periods are seven or ten years. In practice, however, judges who are appointed tend to have been lawyers for about twenty years. Lawyers tend to become judges in their mid (to late) career, therefore.

Before being considered for a full-time judicial post lawyers must usually have sat as part-time judges. This means that lawyers are appointed initially to part-time posts where they are required to sit as judges for a number of days per year (usually about 20) but they also continue to practise as barristers or solicitors. After two or three years service a part-time judge is entitled to apply to become a full-time judge. Full-time judges are usually entitled to serve as judges until their 70th birthday.

Appointments process

The judicial appointment process in England and Wales is being reviewed. Currently the Lord Chancellor, a Government Minister, has personal responsibility for the appointment, or for advising on the appointment, of all members of the professional judiciary in England and Wales and Northern Ireland (and some holders of tribunal appointments who serve in Scotland). Senior appointments are made by The Queen on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, although here too the advice of the Lord Chancellor is sought by the Prime Minister.



The most senior judicial appointments are made by invitation only but for all other judicial posts candidates are required to apply for appointment. Their applications are considered against specific published criteria for appointment. Those candidates who best meet the criteria are invited to either an interview or an assessment centre during which their suitability for appointment is further tested against the criteria. Current members of the judiciary, senior officials who report to the Lord Chancellor and specially selected and trained lay people (i.e. non-lawyers) are all involved in the selection process.

Judicial independence

Judicial independence requires that judges decide cases according to their own judgment without any outside influence. In particular, the interests of justice require that in their work, judges remain independent of, and not subject to, the views or control of the Government. No judge can be a director of a commercial company nor must they be influenced by pressure from individuals or groups with an interest in the outcome of a case. In each case a judge must administer justice in accordance with the law and according to the circumstances of the case, whether his or her decision is popular or not.

Judicial independence does not, however, just mean independence from outside influence, but also that of one judge from another. No judge, however eminent, is entitled to tell another judge how to exercise his or her judgment in any individual case. Judges can seek advice from fellow judges and will take account of views expressed by other judges in other cases. They must, however, take note of judgments given by higher courts which are binding.



The Lord Chancellor cannot comment on, or intervene in, judicial decisions or the conduct of legal proceedings by a judge. People who are dissatisfied with the decisions or conduct of judges are normally able to appeal to a higher court.


The Senior Salaries Review Body is an independent body which makes recommendations to the Government about the salaries of a number of groups, including the judiciary. The Government considers the recommendations yearly before deciding on the. New salary levels come into effect on the 1 April each year. The current salaries can be found at:

Types of judges

The different types of courts in England and Wales are described in the factsheet Organisation of Justice – England and Wales. As the practice has developed over many years of having different levels of courts to deal with cases of different levels of complexity, in a somewhat similar way judges of differing judicial status, in both full-time and part-time posts, sit in those courts.

The senior professional judiciary are the four Heads of Division:

  • The Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales – is the senior professional judge in England and Wales and presides over the Criminal Division of the Court of Appeal and the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court.
  • The Master of the Rolls – is the next in the judicial hierarchy who presides over the Civil Division of the Court of Appeal.
  • The Vice-Chancellor – the Lord Chancellor is the President of the Chancery Division of the High Court, but in practice the Vice-Chancellor acts as the Head of Division.
  • The President of the Family Division – is the chief judge of the Family Division of the High Court.
The main full-time judges are:

Lords of Appeal in Ordinary - also known as the Law Lords, they sit in the House of Lords in its capacity as the final court of appeal in the United Kingdom. Although members of the House of Lords, in practice, the Law Lords do not usually take part in the House of Lords’ legislative proceedings except when they relate to legal matters.



Lords Justices of Appeal – sit in the Court of Appeal which deals with both criminal and civil cases.

High Court Judges – sit in the High Court where the most complex civil cases are heard, but they can also hear the most serious and sensitive criminal cases in the Crown Court (for example murder).

Circuit Judges – the next in judicial rank after High Court Judges are normally appointed to hear criminal, civil and family cases.

District Judges – deal with civil law cases. Most of their work is in chambers (i.e. not in open court trials). They have the power to try any action in a county court below a specified financial limit which is reviewed from time to time. Cases above that limit are generally heard by a Circuit Judge. District Judges finally dispose of over 80% of all contested civil litigation in England and Wales.

District Judges (Magistrates’ Courts) – were formerly known as Stipendiary Magistrates. They sit in magistrates’ courts and deal with the same types of cases that are dealt with by lay magistrates (see below) but they can assist in particular by hearing the lengthier and more complex matters.

Masters and Registrars of the Supreme Court – are officers of the Supreme Court and deal with some of the work of the High Court. Queen’s Bench and Chancery Masters and Bankruptcy Registrars deal with most of the interlocutory work arising within their areas of jurisdiction, and in certain circumstances may also try actions. Taxing Masters (known as Costs Judges) have the power to assess the legal costs of any actions in the Supreme Court and to hear appeals against assessments made in the Crown Court.



Part-time judges are usually appointed for a period of not less than five years, subject to the relevant upper age limit. The main types of part-time judges are:

Deputy High Court Judges - are qualified for appointment as a High Court Judge and are authorised to sit from time to time in one or more of the Divisions of the High Court.

Recorders – have similar jurisdiction to that of a Circuit Judge although generally deal with the less complex or serious matters coming before the court.

Deputy District Judges – sit in the county courts and at district registries of the High Court and deal with the least complex cases that fall within the jurisdiction of District Judges.

Deputy District Judges (Magistrates’ Courts) – were formerly known as Acting Stipendiary Magistrates and deal with similar work to their full-time counterparts.

Deputy Masters and Registrars of the Supreme Court deal with similar work to their full-time colleagues.

Other appointments:

In addition to the courts, there are many tribunals in England and Wales which deal with varied subjects such as immigration, tax, mental health, land and property, welfare benefits, transport and employment. Members of tribunals can include non-legal specialists or experts, such as doctors, and lay people, although the chairman is almost always legally qualified. The Lord Chancellor is also responsible for appointing tribunal members and chairmen. As with other judicial appointments, applicants for full-time appointment are normally expected to have gained sufficient experience through service in a part-time capacity.



Further information

2. Lay Magistrates

Lay magistrates, also known as Justices of the Peace or JPs, deal with over 95% of all the criminal cases in England and Wales. They do not have to be legally qualified and are unpaid. Foreign nationals may apply to become magistrates if they are resident in the United Kingdom.

Lay magistrates sit part-time, normally as one of a “bench” of three, one of whom is trained to act as the chairman and who helps to guide the bench through its business and speaks for it. A bench is always assisted by a legally qualified clerk to advise on law and procedure. There are more than 30,000 magistrates who carry out their duties locally. They deal with the relatively less serious criminal cases such as minor theft, criminal damage, public disorder and motoring offences and also a range of issues affecting families and children or licensing applications. It is a requirement that benches of magistrates should reflect the communities which they serve and they are expected to sit on at least 26 half days a year.

The arrangements for the appointment and training of lay magistrates are different from those for the professional judiciary. The Lord Chancellor appoints magistrates on the advice of local Advisory Committees. Magistrates are required by law to retire at 70 and people aged between 18 and 65 are eligible to apply.

Further information

3. Prosecutors

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is responsible for reviewing and, where appropriate, prosecuting criminal cases in England and Wales following investigation by the police. Crown Prosecutors also advise the police on matters relating to criminal cases.



Crown Prosecutors are classed as civil servants and are recruited through open competition. To be eligible for employment applicants must be a solicitor admitted in England and Wales with a full current practising certificate, or a barrister called to the English Bar who has completed pupillage. They must also be a citizen of the European Union or Commonwealth. Lawyers who qualified outside England and Wales are required to undertake and pass a lawyer transfer test before taking up a post.

The Code for Crown Prosecutors

The Code for Crown Prosecutors sets out the basic principles which Crown Prosecutors should follow when they make case decisions.

The decision on whether or not to go ahead with the prosecution of a case is based on two tests; the evidential test and public interest test.

Crown Prosecutors must be satisfied that there is enough evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction against each defendant on each charge. The public interest must be considered in each case where there is enough evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction.

Crown Prosecutors must balance factors for and against prosecution carefully and fairly. Public interest factors that can affect the decision to prosecute usually depend on the seriousness of the offence or the circumstances of the suspect.

Types of Prosecutors

The head of the Crown Prosecution Service is the Director of Public Prosecutions (the Director). The Director is involved in only the most difficult and sensitive cases referred to the CPS by the police. He is superintended by the Attorney General, who is responsible to Parliament for the Service.



With headquarters based in London, York and Birmingham, the CPS operates under a structure of 42 geographical Areas in England and Wales. These Areas correspond with the boundaries of the police forces in England and Wales. Each Area is headed by a Chief Crown Prosecutor (CCP) who is responsible for prosecutions within the Area. In London the CCP is supported by Assistant Chief Crown Prosecutors. Although CCPs are directly accountable for their Areas, most of the responsibilities for the efficient and effective administration of the Area fall to the Area Business Managers.

Details of the salary ranges for the different levels of Crown Prosecutors can be obtained by telephoning +44 20 7710 6093 (020 7710 6093 for callers from within the United Kingdom).

Further information

4. Clerks of the Court

Apart from in the magistrates’ courts, the clerks and other staff in most courts in England and Wales are not required to be legally trained. They are civil servants who deal with administrative matters and assist judges. They cannot provide legal advice.

As civil servants all court staff are employed by Her Majesty’s Court Service and the posts are open to all European Union citizens.

5. Bailiffs

The role of clerks to the court is different in the magistrates’ courts. As mentioned in the section on judges, lay magistrates are not legally qualified. They rely on advice from legally trained clerks, of which there are two types.



Justices’ Clerks

Justices’ Clerks are the principal legal advisers to the magistrates. They are lawyers (either barristers or solicitors) that have at least a five year relevant qualification. They advise magistrates on law and procedure both in and out of court and are responsible for the management and training of legal advisers, the quality of the legal services provided and the provision of consistent legal advice throughout their administrative area. There are no nationality requirements for appointment.

Legal Advisers (also known as court clerks)

Legal advisers sit in court and advise magistrates on law, legal practice and procedure. They too are legally qualified (usually solicitors or barristers). Again there are no nationality requirements for appointment.

Further information

6. Magistrates’ Courts

There are the following different types of bailiff:
High Court Enforcement Officers

Before 1 April 2004 enforcement of High Court writs was carried out by sheriffs on behalf of the High Sheriff for a specific area. Since that date High Court writs are now enforced by High Court Enforcement Officers appointed and assigned to districts by the Lord Chancellor or his delegate. They are responsible for enforcing court orders by recovering money owed under a High Court judgment, or a county court judgment transferred to the High Court. They can seize and sell goods to cover the amount of the debt. They also effect and supervise the possession of property and the return of goods.



County Court Bailiffs

These are civil servants employed by Her Majesty’s Court Service to deal with enforcement of judgments and/or orders made and registered in the county courts. As civil servants their posts are open to all European Union citizens. They enforce warrants of execution, repossess land with warrants of possession and recover goods under warrants for return of goods. The regulation for bailiffs executing warrants is set out in sections 85–111 of the County Courts Act 1984. The procedures for execution are set out in the Civil Procedure Rules. In addition, county court bailiffs carry out other duties, including personal service of documents and warrants of committal. The regulations on committal are set out in section 118-122 of the County Courts Act.

Certificated Bailiffs

These are private bailiffs who are certificated under the Dist ress for Rent Rules, and are authorised by a Circuit Judge sitting in the county court. Distress for rent refers to the seizing of a tenant’s goods by a landlord to secure payment of rent arrears without the intervention of the court. Under a number of other Acts certificated bailiffs are also permitted to enforce other specific debts such as council tax, non-domestic rates etc.

Non-certificated bailiffs

These are entitled to recover the money owed for a variety of debts by seizing and selling your goods but cannot levy distress for rent, road traffic debts, council tax or non-domestic rates, or enforce the collection of money due under High Court or county court orders.



Further information

7. Lawyers

The legal profession in England and Wales is made up of two separate types of lawyer - barristers and solicitors. Each has a distinct and defined roll. All legal professions are self-regulatory. The Bar Council regulates barristers and the Law Society regulates solicitors.

While there are some functions which require action to be taken by lawyers (see for example Sections 20 to 25 of the Solicitors Act 1974) there is no requirement for a person to seek the advice of, or be represented by, a lawyer in court. In simple cases of debt a litigant may not consider it necessary to consult a lawyer. As a general rule, however, if a claim is for a sum over £5000 and particularly if it includes a claim for compensation (‘damages’), it is advisable for a litigant to at least seek the advice of a lawyer.



a) Barristers

A barrister is a lawyer who has been admitted to "plead at the bar." That means that he or she has been called to the bar by the "benchers" of one of the four In ns of Court ( Middle Temple, Inner Temple, Gray’s Inn and Lincoln's Inn) and is allowed to appear in court to argue a client's case. Barristers are very much like solicitors in the sense that they have a broad horizon of areas in which they can specialise.

What a barrister does

Barristers are individual specialist legal advisers and courtroom advocates. They are self-employed and work in groups in offices known as chambers where they are known as a 'tenant' of the chambers. Each tenant is expected to contribute towards the cost of the chambers. Each set of chambers will have an experienced barrister as its head who will manage the work for the tenants. Each barrister is independent of the other tenants, however, and they are required to build their own client base.

Barristers are mainly trained in advocacy; in other words, they are trained to represent their clients in the higher courts. However advocacy is not the only thing barristers do. In fact their responsibilities vary enormously depending on the area of law in which they specialise. So when they are not in court barristers, much like solicitors, will spend a lot of their time advising clients and researching cases as well as researching and keeping up to date within their chosen field. Nowadays the role of the barrister is moving more and more towards that of an expert in a particular field. Barristers will have specialist knowledge and expertise in one area of the law and as such they will often be called upon to advise solicitors and provide expert opinion on complex cases.



The skills needed to become a Barrister

The Bar Vocational Course (BVC) is the vocational stage that must be completed by those who want to become barristers.

Barristers must be confident and comfortable with speaking in public, be able to think quickly on their feet and have a drive to succeed. The Bar Council states the following requirements are necessary:

  • Academic ability (good results at final school exams (‘A’ levels in England and Wales) and at least an Upper Second Class Honours Degree)
  • Good written and oral communication skills
  • Numeracy skills
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Personal effectiveness
  • IT skills
  • Professional responsibility
  • A commitment to continuing professional development
Queen’s Counsel

Approximately 10% of practising barristers are Queen’s Counsel (or QCs) who, when the monarch is a king, are referred to as King’s Counsel (or KCs). The rank of Queen’s Counsel has traditionally been a mark of distinction as an advocate. Queen’s Counsel deal with the most important and complex cases. Solicitors have been eligible to become Queen’s Counsel since 1996.

Lawyers from other European Union countries practising in England and Wales

Lawyers from other European Countries who want to practice in England and Wales are required to submit an application to the Bar Council’s Joint Regulations Committee providing evidence of their legal qualifications. They are then required to sit an aptitude test and attend a number of qualifying sessions. Before being allowed to practice as a barrister those lawyers who have passed the aptitude test must be called to the bar by one of the Inns of Court (see above). Depending on the individual circumstances of each lawyer the Inns decide which and how many qualifying sessions the lawyer must attend.



b) Solicitors
Role of a solicitor

A solicitor's role is to give specialist legal advice and help.

There are over 60,000 solicitors practising in England and Wales and their work varies enormously. A solicitor's job is to provide clients (members of the public, businesses, voluntary bodies, charities, etc.) with skilled legal advice and representation, including representing them in court. Most solicitors work in private practice, which is a partnership of solicitors who offer services to clients. They may have a general practice covering many areas of law or specialise in a particular field. Others work as employed solicitors for central and local Government, the Crown Prosecution Service, the Magistrates' Courts Service, a commercial or industrial organisation or other bodies. When someone becomes a solicitor they can choose the kind of environment which suits them best.

Generally solicitors provide legal advice to clients. If those clients then require to be represented in the higher courts in England and Wales a solicitor will instruct a barrister to conduct the case in court. A barrister is not always required, however, as suitably qualified solicitors have rights of audience (that is they are entitled to represent clients) in the higher courts.


The Law Society makes the rules for the legal education and training required and they are designed to ensure that the trainee receives an education which is both thorough and broad. Training is very competitive and anyone intending to become a solicitor has to be aware of the commitment which is required. Currently there are many more students than there are training contracts and the big firms can take their pick from the very best candidates.



Solicitors require good all round communication skills, written, verbal and interpersonal. They will preferably be logical thinkers who are able to research topics carefully and present information in a clear and structured manner.

Lawyers from other European Union countries practising in England and Wales

Under the Establishment of Lawyers Directive 98/5/EC a European Union lawyer established and registered in another Member State is able to apply for admission as a solicitor in England and Wales after practising UK law (which includes Community law) for three years, and does not need to sit an aptitude test. Lawyers who have practised UK law for less than three years may also apply provided they are registered with the Law Society and have pursued a professional activity in the UK for at least three years. Other lawyers may apply to take the Qualified Lawyers’ Transfer Test.

European Union lawyers practising on a permanent basis in England and Wales will have a choice between registering with the Law Society or the Bar Council and must comply with the rules of their chosen regulatory body. Irish lawyers, however, must register with the Law Society if they are solicitors and with the Bar Council if they are barristers.

Further information

8. Notaries

A Notary is an ancient established profession, a member of the third and oldest branches of the legal profession in the United Kingdom . He or she is a qualified lawyer, usually a solicitor, who is appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury and is subject to regulation by the Court of Faculties, one of the oldest courts of England .



Notaries are subject to similar professional rules as solicitors and are required to renew their practising certificates annually. They can only do so if they have complied with the rules. A Notarial appointment is a personal appointment held by each individual Notary.

Qualification as a Notary

Qualification as a notary is open to all graduates, not just law graduates. All prospective Notaries are required to obtain a Diploma in Notarial Practice. Under the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990 the Master of Faculties has the power to set the necessary qualifications.

Special provision is made for lawyers from the EU who wish to practise in England and Wales . They are required to apply to the Notarial Qualifications Board for exemption from the qualifications required in England and Wales . They must then pass a competency test as a means of transferring the qualifications from their country of origin.

Internationally recognised legal status

A Notary holds an official seal. Under the signature and official seal of a Notary, acts of a Notary are recognised as evidence of a responsible legal officer in most countries of the world.

Duties of a Notary

Notaries undertake the following duties:

  • Prepare, attest, authenticate and certify (for use anywhere in the world), deeds and other documents, under the signature and official seal of the Notary.
  • To issue authentic copies of instruments which a Notary makes in public.
  • To administer oaths and declarations for use in proceedings in England and Wales and elsewhere.
  • To note or certify transactions relating to negotiable proceedings and to draw up formal papers relating to occurrences on the voyages of ships and their navigation as well as the carriage of cargo in ships.

Further information

9. Legal Executives

Legal Executives are qualified lawyers specialising in a particular area of law. They have to pass the Institute of Legal Executives (ILEX) Professional Qualification in Law in an area of legal practice to the same level as that required of solicitors. They also have to have at least five years’ experience of working under the supervision of a solicitor in legal practice or the legal department of a private company or local/national government. Fellows are issued with an annual practising certificate, and only Fellows of ILEX may describe themselves as 'Legal Executives'.

The work of Legal Executives

Specialising in a particular area of law the day-to-day work of Legal Executives is similar to that of a solicitor. They do not have any independent practice rights but can undertake civil, criminal and matrimonial litigation.

They are fee earners - in private practice their work is charged directly to clients - making a direct contribution to the income of a law firm. This is an important difference between Legal Executives and other types of legal support staff who tend to handle work of a more routine nature.

Legal Executives are considered private representatives of the companies for which they work but if they work for a Government Department they are civil servants. There is a wide range of specialist activities which Fellows of ILEX are trained to undertake.

People from other EU Member States can apply to ILEX for exemption from their training courses. Eligibility for exemption is considered on a case by case basis.

Further information

« Legal professions - General information | United Kingdom - General information »



Last update: 03-07-2007

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