Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been reading Penny Darbyshire’s new book Sitting in Judgment: The Working Lives of Judges (Hart, 2011), with the intention of reviewing it here for the UKSC Blog (full review to follow in due course!).

Sitting in Judgment provides extensive qualitative research into the working practices, outlooks and backgrounds of judges, at all levels. She seeks to ‘debunk’ some of the myths about and stereotypes of judges, or at least to give an insight into the real ‘texture’ of judges and the daily life of judging.

Stereotypes of the judiciary are common (see, for example, the comments section to our post hereMight be a different story if the Judges had ever sampled just one hard day[]s work in muck and dust”) and the hypothesis is that the supposed shared educational and socio-economic backgrounds of judges will lead to certain kinds of judgments (eg, JAG Griffith: “When people like the members of the judiciary, broadly homogeneous in character, are faced with . . . political situations, they act in broadly similar ways  . . . . Behind these actions lies a unifying attitude of mind, a political position, which is primarily concerned to protect and conserve certain values and institutions.” The Politics of the Judiciary, (1991) 4th Edn, p.19).

These issues are often in the background to the present debates about how judges should be appointed and so-called judicial law-making.

Early in the book Darbyshire points out that many of the “bad cases”, out of touch judges’ dodgy decisions which are covered in the tabloid press, relate to part time judges.

Whilst this is probably true, my initial thought is that a ‘judge is a judge is a judge’, at least as far as the public are concerned and their dealings with them. Also many full time judges will have started their judicial careers as part time judges . . .

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. She was a visiting fellow at Wolfson College, Cambridge in 2005.