Back to school for UK judges in bid to raise courts awareness

Owen Bowcott Legal affairs correspondent
Ian Burnett, the lord chief justice, hopes the new initiative will lead to a more diverse judicial system. Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA

Traditionally, judges issue summons to court but the lord chief justice of England and Wales has decided to allow judges to be summoned to the classroom.

On a visit to a school in Ipswich, Lord Ian Burnett has urged schools to invite judges into their classrooms so that children can learn more about the justice system.

The initiative is aimed at increasing knowledge about the judiciary and courts among children aged between 11 and 14. Online teaching resources will be made available to schools, including encouraging schools to stage mock trials.

Eager to advance the process, the judiciary has even published an email address to be used by schools requesting a visit by a judge. Lord Burnett is also keen to increase diversity on the bench and hopes to support those from all backgrounds to follow careers in law.

Speaking at Claydon high school, the lord chief justice said: “The rule of law is fundamental to our British way of life. Every day, many thousands of judges make decisions which affect people’s lives, and their livelihoods. But most people have little idea of what goes on unless they find themselves in the system.

“I want to make it easier for schools to help teach pupils about the justice system, and how it really works – I want to invite students to talk to us about our work.

“We already know that having a discussion with a real judge is very popular with school students. I want to make this opportunity more widely available to schools by asking them to consider inviting judges to visit and give them access to other resources that support their curriculum, and their careers conversations with students.

“I also want to send the message to all students, from whatever background, they could be the lawyers and judges of the future.”

Ensuring that the next generation appreciates the importance of the justice system is a consistent theme pursued by Burnett, who became lord chief justice last summer.

At a press conference before Christmas, he said: “I want to build on the work already being done in schools to enable children to learn about the justice system, the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary. Lesson plans are available and perhaps it is something worth focusing on more ... This is unsung work of great value.”

His enthusiasm may reflect a broader concern within the legal profession that whereas the public appreciates the need to fund the health service and education, there is far less public awareness of the importance of the courts.