Taking part in the Judicial Work Shadowing Scheme (JWSS), I was to learn, represents a remarkable insight into the workings of the High Court from the judiciary’s perspective. Having arrived at the Royal Courts of Justice, at the Rolls Building, I was greeted by a chancery associate and shown to the chambers of the High Court judge I was shadowing, Mr Justice Peter Smith. From the outset, he was delightfully frank and generous in his insights and opinions on the cases he was currently involved in, the court system and the judiciary and on more general matters affecting the judiciary. He was also very warm in his interest in me and my career choices, giving me good, practical advice.

From chambers, and having been briefed on the day’s listings, we walked through the secure section of the Rolls Building to court 10 where, as a JWSS participant, I walked into the court through the judge’s entrance: from the outset of the proceedings, the experience is very much from the judiciary’s perspective in every aspect. One must be careful not to judge the shadowing experience from day one and consider the it over the three days as a whole, as I am sure participants will be surprised how much they glean from the overall experience. One must also remember that it is a very privileged experience and that there is not necessarily a formal structure in place for the participants to follow. In that sense, it is down to the shadowing individual as to his or her ability to embrace it and by doing some homework so that they are ready with appropriate questions which may be asked of the judge: it is a golden opportunity to procure this advice.

The bond between the judge and his associate is quickly apparent, bridging that gap between judicial isolation and the normality of everyday life, and the practical aspects of being a litigant. Far from living in an ivory tower, they are practical, fully aware of the hardships of those represented, or appearing in person, before them.

Upon entering the court, the order of the day’s business is quickly established and the advocates – their varying skill levels are readily apparent from the bench – are shown in no uncertain terms who is in charge. Perhaps it is this steely exterior and curt manner with advocates which is the public persona of the judiciary. The JWSS disabuses participants of this perception by humanising the judiciary: behind the austere, stern monologues delivered in staccato, is a thoroughly informed, rational lawyer. It is readily apparent that judges, in common with practitioners, are under pressure, have limited time and a multitude of demands placed on them. Reassuringly, it also showed me that manners and emotion can play a part in the presentation of the case and not just the ‘stable’ of the advocate.

Considering some of the High Court’s cases, there is certainly an international element to them – English law jurisdictional clauses in foreign countries mean it is increasingly a forum of adjudication for global disputes, perhaps due to the worldwide confidence in English law and the English judiciary. This does seem to add another layer of intricacy for the judiciary as they have to be mindful of cultural diversity on matters such as holy days, working days and court listings. I witnessed first hand the impact of interpreters, for example, on the conduct of trials, in that they slow down the rhythm, watering down the effectiveness of cross-examination, or so it seemed to me.

Mr Justice Peter Smith had not only a forensic knowledge of the Civil Procedure Rules, as one might expect, but had statute and case law at his fingertips like a have never seen before. This is certainly legal practice at the sharp end, with one’s mind going quickly from the facts of one case to another; by the time they reach the High Court, the litigation is highly developed and highly complex. I have long since been lost in admiration at the ability of barristers to immerse themselves in cases in a short time and in quick succession, but the judiciary, it seems, are able to do this while looking at both sides of the coin and in even less time. And, which is more, as deciders of the litigation this must be a weighty burden to bear and one gets a real sense of this responsibility whilst participating in the JWSS.

For practitioners who practise litigation, or for those when there is a potential litigation element to an otherwise non-contentious caseload, an opportunity to have an intensive ‘course’ in the procedure, the terminology, the politics, the etiquette (I could go on) at the highest level is one to be greeted with great enthusiasm.

Above all else, I came away from the shadowing experience with more confidence in the litigation process and its nuances – which are hard to educate oneself in – and with the judiciary somewhat demystified. Overall, I also have a feeling that I had another string to my bow and the next time I walk past the Rolls Building, I will have a ready smile on my face in remembrance of my time with Mr Justice Peter Smith.

Andrew Kidd is a private client solicitor at New Quadrant Partners LLP, based in central London

  • The Judicial Work Shadowing Scheme gives eligible legal practitioners who are considering a career in judicial office, either now or in the future, an insight into the work of a judge. Find out more.