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A day in the life of a deputy district judge

4 December 2015

Find out what a ‘typical’ day looks like for an (anonymous) deputy district judge ...

Arriving in court, I find I am the only judge sitting today, which can be an isolating experience when there is no other judicial member there to liaise with. While not being able to take work home is a freedom of sorts, it allows no opportunity to prepare in advance. Therefore, an early start is essential to wade through a pile of different files or a trial bundle.

On my judicial appointment, I quickly learned the importance of being able to read large volumes of paperwork in very short periods of time. So I read and take notes before the list begins, whereupon the court building comes alive with litigants and lawyers. Things remain quiet behind the scenes, as judges are shielded from the drama until each case comes before them.

Emergencies are squeezed onto my list - an ex parte application for a non-molestation order and an application to suspend a housing warrant due to be executed that day. It is a busy morning of case conferences, enforcement applications (charging and third party debt orders), infant settlements, assessment of damages in a PI case, and an application to set aside judgment.

It runs into lunchtime, the remainder of which is spent preparing for a small claim trial starting at 2pm. This raises some complex legal issues, which the litigants in person have little grasp of. After I have prepared and delivered judgment, one party erupts and security arrives to escort them from the building.

Time and people management, empathy, a strong social and moral conscience, decisiveness, sound judgment, and the ability to assert authority and control one’s court are all important components of judgecraft. Handwriting that is legible to the court staff who read our orders is a must, though notably absent amongst the judiciary!

Finally, the list ends, and the building is quiet again. I am not finished though, as a mound of boxwork awaits. It contains a variety of correspondence requiring reply, consideration of consent orders, track allocations and directions.

Checking the lists for next week, I find I have a wholly different family sitting, of first hearing dispute resolution appointments, first directions appointments and financial dispute resolutions. I have a dreaded possession list too, mainly social housing-related; in the bigger courts, this can mean 60 cases in one day. It requires a deep breath, focus and adrenalin, but it is a steep and valuable learning curve - not just because of the legal points such a list can raise, but also in that it allows me to engage with the more vulnerable members of society who are often involved in such cases.

So, the life of a deputy district judge … always exhausting, usually interesting and stimulating, and rarely straightforward. No two days are the same, and five years in, I still find something unfamiliar at every sitting. That challenge and variety is part of the job’s attraction. I am always learning, never complacent and am honoured to be here. Years in private practice provide vital groundwork, but it does feel like an entirely new career that has only just begun.