This blog post was written by Alicia Zahedi-De Wolfe, a law student at LSBU, detailing her experience of the Judges of Tomorrow event organised by Professor Sara Chandler.
Sara Chandler arranged a trip for a group of seven students to attend the “Judges of Tomorrow” event at the Old Bailey.
The Judges of Tomorrow event took place at the Old Bailey and was attended by two other universities. We sat in the Sheriff’s Dining Room in front of a panel of four judges: Wendy Joseph, a Crown Court judge at the Old Bailey, Martin Bedow, a Crown Court judge at Southwark Crown Court, Tan Ikram, a judge at Westminster Magistrates’ Court, and James Taylor, a judge at London Central Employment Tribunal.
The purpose of this event was to teach young people what judges do on a typical day, and to spark an interest so they consider the idea of becoming a judge in the future when they may otherwise not have thought about it.
We heard from members of the panel throughout the evening. Martin Bedow, for example, talked us through the variety of cases he has dealt with in the past – from those involving high profile film producers to sexual abuse cases, including Operation Yewtree, a police investigation into the sexual abuse allegations against Jimmy Saville.
He told us that although being a judge can sometimes be a lonely job, compared to life as a barrister, he enjoys the ability to have more control over his work and to have more structure in what he is doing. Unlike other judges, Bedow stated that he thoroughly enjoys long cases, such as one he is currently doing that will be going on for five months, as he can really get his teeth into them, and longer cases tend to mean that more experienced advocates will act as counsel.
Bedow explained that while once jurors might have had to look at 30 lever-arch files full of documents the system has modernised now to the extent that each juror now gets an iPad, updated daily to include only the relevant documents, which makes things faster and easier.
Bedow concluded by expressing his delight at how the legal system has changed in terms of diversity. He said when he started working at the bar there were seven male barristers to one female, but now it is more like 50/50.
Tan Ikram spoke to us on a personal level, telling us that he got a 2:2 in his law degree and actually failed the bar exam, which caused him to go down the solicitor route. He has worked on cases such as the London riots in 2012. As a district judge in the Magistrates’ Court, Ikram said that he liked making the decisions by himself without having a jury to think about. Despite this, the Crown Court judges, Wendy and Martin, stated when asked that it is very rare that a jury has come to a decision with which they wouldn’t agree. Wendy said that on only two occasions during the years she has been a Crown Court judge did a jury reach a decision that she disagreed with.
James Taylor explained that working in the London Central Employment Tribunal meant that cases were brought to him on a postcode basis, meaning that all of his cases were dealing with employment in central London, so he has dealt with high profile cases involving banks, the Government and national security, to hotel workers and car park employees. Working in employment law means that Taylor deals with a lot of discrimination cases, which he described as being very important to society as a result of the Equality Act 2010.
The floor was then opened for questions. I asked if the judges felt like they spent more or less of their evenings and weekends doing work as a result of becoming a judge compared to when they were barristers or solicitors. All four of them agreed that being a barrister or solicitor meant that sometimes there would be lots of work and they would be working non-stop, and then sometimes there would be periods of time up to a week where they had nothing at all. Being a judge means that the workload is more steady and balanced, and it has meant that they have had to work more efficiently because the courts close and they are not allowed to take evidence home etc.
Someone asked the judges if they have ever been haunted by a decision made on a case. Wendy said that she had never been haunted by a decision made, because as a Crown Court judge, the jury makes the decision and she just assigns the relevant prison sentence. However she did say that she particularly hates cases involving the death of children, and when she has to sentence dogs to death. She said that although such cases are unpleasant for judges, judges are actually far more removed from the situation than counsel, as they have to personally deal with the defendant and victim.
James said that though cases didn’t haunt him, it was particularly unpleasant when people that had been subject to discrimination for a period of time were obviously severely distressed, and acted as litigants in person, as it was very upsetting. This was especially evident when James was aware of a high risk of suicide depending on the decision he made.
Another question was asked regarding how the judges felt if a decision went to the Court of Appeal and their decision was overturned. The Crown Court judges explained that as the jury makes the decision, it would be the fault of the jury and not them. However if, for example, the judges failed to admit some evidence thinking it was inadmissible and that caused the jury to come to the wrong conclusion then that would be a problem, though it had never happened during either of their careers.
Martin explained that though a decision has never been overturned, he was once chairman of a parole board that decided a prisoner convicted of murder should be allowed to be in a less restrictive prison. Upon being moved to that prison, a parole board there decided he should be let out and following his release he went on to commit the same crime less than three months later. As he was chairman and as such had written a report as to why the decision was made to transfer this prisoner to a lower security prison, he had to be questioned by the police and said it was obviously a nerve-wracking and unpleasant experience.
Wendy concluded by taking all of us to Courtroom 1, the most famous courtroom in the world. The witness box had a roof over the top of it, and she explained that this was the only one like that left at the Old Bailey, and it was because the courts used to be outside, so the witnesses were protected from the weather.
The whole event was a thoroughly enjoyable evening and gave us all an excellent insight into the variety of work that judges do.