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Courts and tribunal services

Skills for Justice focus on the Courts administering the criminal justice system, as opposed to the administration of civil proceedings.

Legal Advisor

A Legal Advisor in the Magistrates’ Court is a qualified Solicitor or Barrister. His or her role is to ensure the effective and efficient provision of summary Justice by providing the highest quality of legal advice to Magistrates, staff and Court users.

Legal Advisors could either have become professionally qualified as a Solicitor or Barrister before commencing work with HM Courts Service or they could be employed by HM Courts Service as a trainee Solicitor / Barrister after completion of their academic and full-time vocational training. To qualify at the academic stage, candidates normally need to complete a law degree or a degree in another subject and then take a postgraduate law conversion course, although other ways of qualifying do exist. At the vocational stage, solicitors follow the Legal Practice Course (LPC), whilst barristers are required to complete a Bar Vocational Course (BVC).

HM Courts Service offers a specific scheme for trainee Solicitors /Barristers. Trainee legal advisers undergo training for up to two years. They develop knowledge of areas such as road traffic law and youth law. They also sit in courts, learning from more experienced legal advisers. Legal advisers receive ongoing training to ensure that they are kept up to date with changes in the legal system.

Magistrates' court legal advisers may progress within the magistrates' court system by concentrating on the legal or the managerial aspects of the work. Promotion is possible to justices' clerk or, on the managerial side, can take the form of specialisation. Specialist areas include finance, the training of magistrates, looking after a team of magistrates' court legal advisers, or managing the whole legal side of a court.

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Court Administration Manager / Court Manager

The Court Administration Manager is responsible for the administrative functioning of the Magistrates’ or Crown Court. A number of core and tailored courses are provided for Court Administration Managers to develop leadership and management capability. As well as attending training courses, some managers have the opportunity to obtain management qualifications such as NVQ Management Level 4 or a Masters in Business Administration.

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Court Clerk

The Clerk, sometimes called the ‘Associate’, looks after all the documents for the trial, and records all the Judge’s decisions and instructions, so that they can be acted upon. The Clerk is responsible for some of the most important formalities:

  • He or she reads out the ‘indictment’ (telling the defendant what he/she is charged with),
  • Ensures that the Jury takes a solemn oath to give a true verdict according to the evidence and that the witnesses take a solemn oath to tell the truth.

Internal training is provided for the Court Clerk role.

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Administrative Officers

Administrative staff undertake a wide range of administrative duties and make up the majority of staff in the court office. A court administrative officer should:

  • Have good communication skills
  • Be able to work with people from a wide range of different backgrounds
  • Have good customer service skills
  • Be patient, tactful and polite
  • Be able to explain procedures to people with no knowledge of the court system
  • Enjoy working with people.

Entry requirements vary from court to court. As a guide, candidates may need five GCSEs/S grades (A-C/1-3) or equivalent qualifications. English is required for vacancies in HM Courts Service. Candidates without these qualifications, but with relevant administrative experience may also be considered. An increasing number of successful applicants have A levels/H grades or equivalent.

New recruits are trained on the job. Some staff across HMCS were provided with the opportunity to obtain an NVQ Level 3 in Administration, NVQ Level 3 or 4 in Customer Service, and a NVQ Level 3 in using IT.

Experienced court administrative officers may be promoted to more senior posts. With additional training, it may be possible to become a legal executive.

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Enforcement Officers

Enforcement Officers implement the Courts Act 2003 Fines Collections Scheme. They enforce accounts in accordance with current time scales and in accordance with current policy also ensuring that all computer reports are actioned and maintained accordingly. Amongst other activities, they:

  • undertake pro-active telephone chasing against debtors
  • arrange and conduct Fines’ Clinics and negotiate payment with debtors
  • receive, complete, authorise and check means forms as required, ensuring that time to pay requests are processed and checked accordingly
  • liaise with other Courts, enforcement agencies and other stakeholders in order to maximise payment collection

No formal entry qualifications are required. Employers will look for basic numeracy and good communication skills. They also require applicants to show that they do not have a debt or criminal record.

Training in England and Wales is mainly on the job, although there may be opportunities to attend short courses. There are various promotional opportunities. Civil servants may be promoted to bailiff manager, move sideways into another Civil Service function or move into the private sector.

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Court Ushers prepare the courtrooms and help maintain order in the Court. In particular their role includes:

  • Dealing with court users attending for hearings in person and on the telephone
  • Preparing courtrooms for daily sittings and liaising with the Magistrates, Court Legal Advisor and Solicitors to ensure smooth running of the list.
  • Acting as Usher during Court hearings, calling cases on.

Although there are no formal entry qualifications, applicants generally have at least four GCSEs/S grades (A*-C/1-3), or the equivalent, including English.

Training is mainly on the job and usually takes about a year. A new usher shadows an experienced usher, gradually taking on more of the duties. In the higher courts and large magistrates' courts, an usher can be promoted to supervising usher, with responsibility for a group of ushers. A court usher can also be promoted to the grade of administrative officer within the Civil Service.

Source: Skills for Justice LMI March 2010

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