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United Kingdom Law: Legal Profession

The legal profession

The legal profession in England and Wales is split up into two main categories to reflect the two broadly different roles within the legal system. 

Barristers are members of the Bar Council of England and Wales and have rights of audience in court.  They are governed by the Bar Standards Board.  Every barrister also has to be a member of an Inn of Court.  The four Inns are Inner Temple, Lincoln's Inn, Middle Temple and Grays Inn.  Barristers are generally classed as being self employed in that they operate in sets of  'chambers' but are not employed by a law firm as such. There is a Bar Directory which lists all known barristers by name and you can also search for sets of chambers.

Solicitors are members of the Law Society .  The regulation of solicitors is done by an independent body called the Solicitors Regulatory Authority (SRA).  There are also textbooks on the conduct of solicitors below.  Solicitors do not generally have rights of audience in court but there are some exceptions, they generally do the legal research and can represent their clients in legal negotiations but then pass the case over to a barrister if it is necessary to take action in court.  It is rare that a client will directly employ a barrister.


There are lots of different types of judges sitting within England and Wales, all in different courts and tribunals and with different roles and powers.  There are 3 main jurisdictions civil, criminal and family and in these sections there are judges, magistrates and those that sit on tribunals.

Judges sit in different courts depending on seniority.
Circuit judges are appointed to one of 7 regions within England and Wales and these sit in the Crown and County courts within that region. 
District judges are full time judges who deal with the majority of cases in the county courts. 
High Court judges are appointed to one of the 3 divisions of the High Court: Chancery, King's Bench or Family. 
The Court of Appeal judges sit in one of  2 divisions of the Court of Appeal, Civil or Criminal Division, the majority are called Lord Justices of Appeal and you will often hear them referred to as Lord or Lady. 
The highest court of appeal in the UK is the Supreme Court (formally the House of Lords) and in this court there are 12 justices.  The number of justices that sit to hear a case varies but it must always be an odd number. 

After the changes in 2006 the Lord Chief Justice is responsible for deciding where judges sit and what cases they hear.  There is also a Judicial Executive Board to help govern and direct and this includes the  Lord Chief Justice, Master of the Rolls, President of the King’s Bench Division, President of the Family Division, Chancellor of the High Court, and two Lords Justices.

Legal Aid & Citizens' Advice

The Legal Aid Agency provide criminal and civil legal aid and advice in the UK.  More information can be found on their website which is below.