Circuit judge (England and Wales)

Circuit judges are judges in England and Wales who sit in the Crown Court, county courts and certain specialized sub-divisions of the High Court of Justice, such as the Technology and Construction Court. There are currently over 600 circuit judges throughout England and Wales.

The office of circuit judge was created by the Courts Act 1971 and replaced the former offices of Chairman of Quarter Sessions and Borough Recorder.[1] Circuit judges are styled His or Her Honour Judge X and are referred to as His or Her Honour. They are sometimes referred to as "purple judges" on account of their purple colour dress robes.[2] Part-time circuit judges are known as Recorders but are also addressed as "Your Honour".

Circuit judges rank below High Court judges but above District judges. They may be appointed to sit as deputy High Court judges, and some of the more senior circuit judges are eligible to sit in the Criminal Division of the Court of Appeal.

Until 1 April 2005 there were six court circuits in England and Wales, namely the Midland, Northern, North Eastern, South Eastern and Western circuits, and the Wales and Chester circuit. On that date, following the creation of Her Majesty's Courts Service (HMCS), the circuits were replaced by seven regions: Midlands, North West, North East, South East, London, South West and Wales.

Formerly, circuit judges could only be drawn from barristers and solicitors of at least 10 years' standing.[3] However, in 2004 there were calls for increased diversity among the judiciary that were recognised and the qualification period was changed[4][5] so that, as of 21 July 2008, a potential circuit judge must satisfy the judicial-appointment eligibility condition on a 7-year basis.[6]

When hearing criminal cases, circuit judges wear a violet robe with lilac trim, bands, a short horsehair wig and a red tippet (sash) over the left shoulder. For civil cases they wear the same robe with a lilac sash, but neither bands nor wigs are worn. When sitting at the Old Bailey, and for some types of High Court work, circuit judges wear a black silk gown over a court coat or a waistcoat.[7] On ceremonial occasions they wear violet robes with a lilac trim and a full-bottomed wig.

Literary references

In Rumpole and the Reign of Terror by John Mortimer, Horace Rumpole dismisses the idea of being a circuit judge: "Circus judge is what I call them."[8]


  1. section 44 Courts Act 1971
  2. "In Pictures: Court room makeover". BBC News. Retrieved 16 October 2013.
  3. Courts Act 1971, s.16(3)(a)
  4. "Increasing Diversity in the Judiciary". Department for Constitutional Affairs. October 2004. Retrieved 2008-03-05. CP 25/04
  5. "Explanatory Notes to Tribunals, Courts And Enforcement Act 2007". Office of Public Service Information. 2007. Archived from the original on 2009-02-21. Retrieved 2008-03-05. paras.281-316
  6. Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007, s.50/ Sch.10, Pt.1.13
  7. "Court Dress - Examples". Courts and Tribunals Judiciary. Retrieved 30 November 2014.
  8. Mortimer, John (2007). Rumpole and the Reign of Terror. Penguin UK. ISBN 9780141025704.
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