Due to the nature of the job, judges are so careful not to do anything that casts doubt on their independence or create a perception of bias that it’s sometimes easy to forget they’re just like you and me – human.
So it was fascinating and insightful to hear the Court of Appeal’s Lady Justice Carr discuss the challenges of the job and her approach to work at London International Disputes Week.
Lady Justice Carr was part of a panel discussion exploring the toll that disputes work can take on legal professionals.
What emerged from the discussion was a picture where solicitors take on their client’s stress and barristers, at the sharp in court, feel an overwhelming sense of responsibility for the result. But, as Lady Justice Carr pointed out, when the hearing finishes and the court bundles are all packed up, ‘the buck stops with the judge’.
‘You can feel the shift of responsibility from the bar to the bench,’ she said. ‘Trying to get it right is a huge challenge. I still hate that there has to be a loser.’
There are other stresses. Judges are trying to work out how they are going to manage their diaries and always having to think ahead. Digital progress is great but, Carr points out, judges don’t have hours and days of training, or IT consultants in the room next door.
Nonetheless, when it comes to reducing stress for everyone, judges have an important role to play.
‘When I was at the bar, a judge walked in and said “this is the worst prepared case I have ever seen”. It was not fair or true, but for me in terms of stress it was an appalling start,’ Lady Justice Carr recalled. ‘Be aware of your impact. Judges need to be aware of the demands of parties, deadlines, requests.’
How judges express themselves orally and in judgments can also make a difference.
‘I did a long trial at first instance. I bumped into another silk six months later and said he did a great job. He said it didn’t feel like that when he read the judgment.’
Now, when Lady Justice Carr drafts a judgment, she reads it through ‘different lenses’.