Sitting in judgment

By Nuffield Foundation

A new book based on research funded by the Nuffield Foundation sheds light on the working lives of judges in England and Wales.

The public image of judges has been stuck in a time warp; they are often depicted in the media as ‘privately educated Oxbridge types’, usually ‘out-of-touch’, and more often than not as ‘old men’. These and other stereotypes – the judge as a pervert, the judge as a right-wing monster – have dogged the judiciary.

Indeed the limited research that was permitted in the 1960s and 1970s tended to reinforce several of these stereotypes. Moreover, occasional high profile incidents in the courts, elaborated with the help of satirists such as Private Eye and Monty Python, have ensured that the ‘old white Tory judge’ caricature not only survives but has come to be viewed as incontestable.

Since the late 1980s the judiciary has changed, largely as a result of the introduction of training and new and more transparent methods of recruitment and appointment. But how much has it changed, and what are the courts like after decades of judicial reform? Given unprecedented access to the whole range of courts – from magistrates’ courts to the Supreme Court – Penny Darbyshire spent seven years researching the judges, accompanying them in their daily work, listening to their conversations, observing their handling of cases and the people who come before them, and asking them frank and searching questions about their lives, careers and ambitions.

What emerges is without doubt the most revealing and compelling picture of the modern judiciary in England and Wales ever seen. From it we learn that not only do the old stereotypes not hold, but that modern ‘baby boomer’ judges are more representative of the people they serve and that the reforms are working. However Darbyshire also shows us a legal system under stress, lacking resources but facing an ever-increasing caseload.

This book will be essential reading for anyone wishing to know about the experience of modern judging, the education, training and professional lives of judges, and the current state of the courts and judiciary in England and Wales.

Sitting in Judgment: The Working Lives of Judges is published by Hart Publishing.

About the author
Penny Darbyshire has a first degree in law, a master’s degree in criminology and a Ph D in socio-legal studies. She has been a lecturer, senior lecturer and reader at Kingston University since 1978. She is also an adjunct associate professor, University of Notre Dame, London Law Centre, and was a visiting lecturer at the University of California at Berkeley, from 1992 until 1993.

By Nuffield Foundation

Explore our projects

Empty-street-with-cyclist-and-pedestrian-in-distance-Law-and-compliance-during-COVID-19-PROJ
In progress

Justice | 2020 - 2021

Law and compliance during COVID-19

View project
New

Justice | 2020 - 2022

Youth custody: Educational influences and labour market consequences

View project
Serious-teenage-girl-gestures-as-sits-on-couch-in-school-counselor-office-Mental-health-service-provision-for-children-state-care-England-PROJ
New

Justice | 2020 - 2021

Mental health service provision for children in state care in England

View project
In progress

Justice | 2019 - 2022

Understanding criminogenic influences on youth offending

View project
In progress

Justice | 2019 - 2021

The Edinburgh Study: causes and impacts of criminal justice pathways

View project
In progress

Justice | Welfare | 2019 - 2021

Girls and women with experience of care and the criminal justice system

View project
In progress

Justice | Welfare | 2018 - 2020

The implementation of new rules and guidance for permanent foster care

View project
Woman-carries-daughter-to-council-house-COVID-19-families-low-income-poverty-in-pandemic-PROJ
In progress

Justice | 2018 - 2020

Paths to administrative justice in Wales

View project
In progress

Justice | Welfare | 2018 - 2021

System conditions and welfare inequalities in children’s services

View project
In progress

Justice | Welfare | 2018 - 2020

Looked after children grown up

View project
Reported

Justice | Welfare | 2018 - 2019

Pathways of incarcerated children in care

View project
Reported

Justice | Welfare | 2017 - 2018

Visualising data in care proceedings

View project
Serious-teenage-girl-gestures-as-sits-on-couch-in-school-counselor-office-Mental-health-service-provision-for-children-state-care-England-PROJ
New

Justice | 2020 - 2021

Mental health service provision for children in state care in England

View project
New

Justice | 2020 - 2022

Youth custody: Educational influences and labour market consequences

View project
Empty-street-with-cyclist-and-pedestrian-in-distance-Law-and-compliance-during-COVID-19-PROJ
In progress

Justice | 2020 - 2021

Law and compliance during COVID-19

View project
In progress

Justice | 2019 - 2022

Understanding criminogenic influences on youth offending

View project
In progress

Justice | 2019 - 2021

The Edinburgh Study: causes and impacts of criminal justice pathways

View project
Reported

Justice | Welfare | 2015 - 2018

Bridging the Evidence Gap in Family Proceedings

View project
Reported

Justice | 2016 - 2018

The impact of Litigants in Person on the Northern Ireland court system

View project
Reported

Justice | 2016 - 2017

Transparency and privacy in family courts

View project
In progress

Justice | 2017 - 2020

Enhancing problem-solving practice in youth court

View project
Reported

Justice | 2016 - 2019

Implementation of recommendations of the Carlile report

View project
In progress

Justice | 2013 - 2019

Timely disclosures mean timely interventions for young offenders and victims

View project
Reported

Justice | 2008 - 2012

The impact of anti-social behaviour interventions on young people

View project
Empty-street-with-cyclist-and-pedestrian-in-distance-Law-and-compliance-during-COVID-19-PROJ
In progress

Justice | 2020 - 2021

Law and compliance during COVID-19

View project
New

Justice | 2020 - 2022

Youth custody: Educational influences and labour market consequences

View project
In progress

Justice | 2019 - 2022

Understanding criminogenic influences on youth offending

View project
In progress

Justice | 2019 - 2021

The Edinburgh Study: causes and impacts of criminal justice pathways

View project
In progress

Justice | Welfare | 2019 - 2021

Girls and women with experience of care and the criminal justice system

View project
In progress

Justice | Welfare | 2018 - 2020

The implementation of new rules and guidance for permanent foster care

View project
Woman-carries-daughter-to-council-house-COVID-19-families-low-income-poverty-in-pandemic-PROJ
In progress

Justice | 2018 - 2020

Paths to administrative justice in Wales

View project
In progress

Justice | Welfare | 2018 - 2021

System conditions and welfare inequalities in children’s services

View project
In progress

Justice | Welfare | 2018 - 2020

Looked after children grown up

View project
In progress

Justice | 2017 - 2020

The Mental Health MHTS For Scotland

View project
In progress

Justice | Welfare | 2017 - 2020

Birth fathers’ recurrent appearance in care proceedings

View project
In progress

Justice | 2017 - 2020

Challenging the ombudsman: are review processes adequate?

View project
Reported

Justice | Welfare | 2018 - 2019

Pathways of incarcerated children in care

View project
Reported

Justice | Welfare | 2017 - 2018

Visualising data in care proceedings

View project
Reported

Justice | Welfare | 2017 - 2018

Addressing the ‘care cases’ crisis: a sector-led review

View project
Reported

Justice | 2017 - 2019

Immigration judicial reviews

View project
Couple of African descent attends couples counselling to discuss finding fault in divorce
Reported

Justice | Welfare | 2017 - 2020

Pensions on divorce interdisciplinary working group

View project
Siblings play ball in a playground - Siblings Contact and the Law
Reported

Justice | Welfare | 2017 - 2019

Siblings, contact and the law: an overlooked relationship?

View project
Reported

Justice | Welfare | 2017 - 2019

Measuring outcomes for children’s social care services

View project
Reported

Justice | 2016 - 2018

The dissemination of lessons from research to the Judiciary

View project
Reported

Justice | 2016 - 2018

The impact of Litigants in Person on the Northern Ireland court system

View project
Reported

Justice | 2016 - 2017

Transparency and privacy in family courts

View project
Reported

Justice | 2016 - 2019

Implementation of recommendations of the Carlile report

View project
Reported

Justice | Welfare | 2015 - 2016

Feasibility study for research into improving children’s social services

View project
Search projects

We improve people’s lives by funding research that informs social policy, primarily in Education, Welfare and Justice. We also fund student programmes that give young people skills and confidence in science and research.

We offer our grant-holders the freedom to frame questions and enable new thinking. Our research must stand up to rigorous academic scrutiny, but we understand that to be successful in effecting change, it also needs to be relevant to people’s experience.

Profile

COVID-19 response

Nuffield-funded social scientists are conducting COVID-19 research in real-time, to capture people’s experiences of the social, cultural and economic impacts of the pandemic.