Judge or sheriff

Justice of the Peace (JP) stipendiary magistrate
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Career outlook for

Figures and forecasts for roles at the same level, which require similar skills and qualifications.

Average UK salary

Currently employed in Scotland

Jobs forecast

This information is supplied by LMI For All, where data is currently available for Scotland.

What's it like?

You would oversee a court to ensure that people accused of breaking the law are treated fairly in legal cases. You’d make judgements and give sentences based on the evidence and the law.

There are different types of courts and judges to deal with different types of cases.

Justices of the peace (JPs) and stipendiary magistrates sit in Justice of the Peace Courts to deal with crimes like speeding, vandalism, and assault.

Sheriffs and sheriffs principal sit in Sheriff Courts. They deal with more serious criminal cases such as dangerous driving, serious assault and theft, and some civil cases. They also conduct Fatal Accident Inquiries into sudden or suspicious deaths.

In the High Court of Justiciary judges hear cases for the most serious crimes such as murder, and appeals from all the criminal courts.

Judges also sit in the Court of Session where they hear civil cases - such as disputes relating to family law, contract and commercial law - and appeals over civil law cases.

As the holder of a judicial office, you would make sure that the accused gets a fair trial. Your decisions would make a big impact on people’s lives. It would be your job to ensure that justice is done.

You would:

  • Read background papers about a case
  • Oversee the conduct of the case according to the law
  • Keep order in the courtroom
  • Make sure that cases run smoothly
  • Explain legal issues to the jury, if there is one
  • Make rulings on legal issues as the two sides present their evidence for and against the accused

If you are hearing a case alone or with other judges then you would consider the arguments and the evidence and make a judgement, explaining why you have reached that conclusion.

If there is a jury you would accept the jury’s decision. If the jury finds the accused guilty you will decide on a sentence within the limits of the law.

Cases can last anything from less than an hour to several months.

Judges sometimes also do other types of work, such as leading investigations into important public issues.

Working conditions

Travel

JPs will probably only work on one local court but sheriffs and judges may travel to courts around Scotland.

Environment

You would work in a court. You would also have an office.

Hours

Court is in session during the week.

UK employment status

Full-time

Part-time

Self employed

Here are some of the skills that people in this job would be most likely to have:

  • Communicating with people
  • Listening to people
  • Communicating ideas through writing
  • Working on your own
  • Being logical
  • Paying attention to detail
  • Making decisions

Build your skills

Your skills can help you choose the career that’s right for you. You can build your skills through work, study or activities you do in your spare time.

To understand more, have a look at what are my skills?

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Getting in

Entry requirements for courses can change. Always contact the college, university or training provider to check exactly what you’ll need.

Qualifications

To qualify for appointment as sheriff a person must be and have been an advocate or solicitor for at least 10 years, requiring an honours degree (SCQF level 10) or above in Scottish Law or an ordinary degree (SCQF level 9) with distinction in Scottish Law, a Diploma in Professional Legal Practice (SCQF level 11) or Law of Scotland qualifications.

To enter a LLB (law degree) you will need at least four Highers at B or above; some courses require Advanced Highers and some courses will ask that qualifications are gained in one sitting. You may also be able to gain entry the first year of some courses with an HND (SCQF level 8) in Legal Services and relevant post-school experience.

You may also be required to sit a National Admissions Test for Law (LNAT).

You can apply for entry to an accelerated LLB course, usually involving entry to the third year of study, with a relevant degree or honours degree (SCQF level 9/10).  

Alternatively you can complete Pre-Diploma Training while working with a qualified solicitor to gain Law Society of Scotland qualifications. If you take this alternative route you are still required to obtain a Diploma in Professional Legal Practice (the Diploma) and undertake a traineeship.

If you are a qualified as a solicitor outwith Scotland, Transfer tests are in place for solicitors from England, Wales, Northern Ireland and other parts of the European Union who wish to re-qualify as Scottish solicitors:

  • The intra-UK transfer test is applicable to solicitors qualified in England, Wales and Northern Ireland
  • The aptitude test for EU-qualified lawyers applies to all other European Union qualified lawyers

Useful subjects

Most courses require

  • English or English-based subjects
  • Maths
  • Science subjects

Some universities offer joint honours degrees where you can combine Law with another subject. This could be Modern Languages, Economics, Business, Politics or Sociology. It can be useful to have a language, business or social studies subject if you're interested in this option.

 

You will also need

Each sheriff requires to devote considerable time to maintaining an up-to-date knowledge and awareness of the relevant law, rules of evidence and procedure.

Before sitting alone, a sheriff will normally undergo five days of specific training plus five days sitting alongside an experienced sheriff.