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Roles of county court legal and administrative staff

This content applies to England & Wales

Each member of court staff has their functions and tasks in administration of County Court proceedings.

Judges

There are several different types of judges in the County Court including:

  • circuit judges
  • district judges
  • recorders and assistant recorders.

Some judges are attached to one particular court, others may sit in different courts across England and Wales.[1] The name of the judge and their title will be written at the top of the list of cases to be heard.

Circuit judges

Circuit judges are the principal judges in the County Court and they deal with all County Court cases. However, they usually handle larger value cases and will rarely deal with small claims. Circuit judges can hear appeals against decisions by district judges and there is usually one senior circuit judge who is responsible for running the court. Circuit judges can be recognised by the purple trim on their gowns, and are addressed as 'your honour'.

District judges

Cases allocated to the small claims track will usually be heard by a district judge, but may be heard by a circuit judge if both the district judge and the circuit judge agree.[2] District judges nearly always deal with small claims. Their jurisdiction extends to cases allocated to the fast track, as well as some multi-track cases, including possession claims and homelessness appeals.[3]

The powers and duties of a district judge may be exercised by a part-time deputy district judge, or by an assistant district judge who has similar powers and who may also conduct small claims hearings. District judges should be addressed as 'Sir' or 'Madam', and in written correspondence, 'Dear Judge' is the most appropriate form of address. 

Assistant recorders and recorders

These are part-time circuit judges who work as barristers or solicitors the rest of the time.

Administrative staff

Most tasks of an administrative nature, such as issuing claim forms, serving documents, and listing of hearings, for instance, are carried out by court staff responsible to a court manager. The administrative members of staff are civil servants, employed by the Ministry of Justice.

The court manager

The Court Manager is the senior administration officer of the court and oversees the day-to-day workings of the court. It is useful for advisers to know how to contact the Court Manager, as they will be able to advise about court protocol.

Clerks and ushers

Technically, clerks and ushers have different functions. In practice, however, it is often difficult to distinguish their roles at a court hearing. 

Ushers and clerks manage the list of cases for the day and assist the judge as required. They are responsible for checking that all the parties to the proceedings have arrived and will ask each party if they are being represented and if so, by whom. If requested to do so, ushers or clerks will seek permission from the judge for non-interested parties to observe the proceedings in chambers (with the permission of both parties). 

Where there are a number of cases being heard, ushers and clerks can arrange to change the order of the cases to allow more time to consult with the client. They must get the consent of the judge and the other parties to the proceedings in order to do this. This can be particularly useful if last minute offers to settle the case are made by the other side, or advisers are working on a duty scheme and have limited time with a client.

Bailiffs

Each County Court employs Enforcement Agents with specific legal powers and duties, mainly in relation to the enforcement of judgments and orders (for example, to carry out a warrant of possession), and for serving certain documents on behalf of the court. 

The Ministry of Justice has published its National Standards for Enforcement Agents, which applies to public and private Enforcement Agents. The standards are not legally binding.

[1] s.6 County Courts Act 1984 as amended by Sch.9 (5) Crime and Courts Act 2013.

[2] Civil Procedure Rules, rule 27 and Practice Directions 27.1 and 2.11.2.

[3] Civil Procedure Rules, rule 2.4.

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