updated on 06 June 2017
I am currently the judicial assistant to the master of the rolls, Sir Terence Etherton. A typical day varies depending on whether we are in court. If we are not in court (usually on Mondays and Fridays), I work on producing a bench memorandum for one of the cases that the master of the rolls is hearing the following week. A bench memorandum consists of an overview of the judgment being appealed, the submissions of the parties and an outline of the judicial assistant’s opinion on the merits.
If we are in court, I will remind myself of the facts and issues in dispute in the appeal. Before we go into court there is usually a pre-hearing meeting with the two other judges. At that meeting the judges discuss their initial impressions of the case. Having read the papers and come to a conclusion on what I think the merits of the case are, it is very interesting to hear the judges’ views upon having read the same material. Sometimes the judges’ discussion will highlight an issue or argument that I may have thought less important and it is useful for me to rethink my analysis in light of this.
We then go into court for the hearing. It is very enjoyable to watch the advocates present the case and, as a barrister, you start to think about how you may have put the case differently. In particular, it is interesting to see how the arguments and issues can shift and evolve throughout the course of the hearing as the advocates respond to judicial interventions.
After the case is finished the judges have another meeting to discuss what they think after having heard oral submissions. I find this discussion very useful, as it provides an opportunity to reflect on which parts of the advocates’ submissions were especially helpful to the judges in coming to their conclusions. At the end of the discussions, the master of the rolls usually asks me if I have changed my opinion since the beginning of the case. While at first it is very nerve-racking, you quickly become comfortable with discussing and debating cases with the lord and lady justices.
Other tasks that judicial assistants also help with are drafting a case summary to assist the judge when considering permission to appeal applications and helping to write extra-judicial speeches.
I am finding the experience an invaluable insight into appellate judicial decision-making and it has provided me with a unique opportunity to watch, study and learn from some of the best advocates in England and Wales. Further, discussing the cases and being challenged on my views by the judges hones my own analytical faculties and provides a very special form of training that will greatly assist me when I return to chambers.
Ruth Kennedy is a tenant at 2 Temple Garden Chambers in London. She is currently a judicial assistant, for the 2016-17 period.