Mr Justice Akenhead: If you’re one of those who think the life of a judge is one of leisure punctuated by the odd judgment, think again. We don’t even have time to practise our golf strokes
Friends of mine - apparently intelligent but non-legal ones - assume that a judge’s daily life is a gentle one: late breakfast, arrive at court at 10.25, into court at 10.30, lunch noon till 2.30, finish at 3.30 and then onto the golf course. If only …
The average day starts at about 8.30am and first, inevitably, the emails need reading. There are then often meetings about programmes and diaries. At the Technology and Construction Court (TCC), the judges run their own diaries but under the eye of the judge in charge. Programming is immensely important to the parties and we try to ensure that any full trial is brought on within months rather than years.
There is also a need to accommodate urgent business such as adjudication decision enforcements, emergency injunctions, arbitration appeals and what are known as Part 8 proceedings. These latter cases usually involve parties to current construction or engineering projects who need resolution on key legal issues such as what the contract means on some key point. The more urgent business is usually brought on well with four weeks, although the court can and does accommodate injunctions on as little as 30 minutes’ notice.
At 10am the judge will often go into court to deal with a 30-minute procedural hearing, in which directions will usually be given for a trial to take place some months later. Orders can be made, often by agreement in the TCC, that each party is to disclose relevant documents, produce written witness statements and expert reports and generally get the case ready for trial.
At 10.30am the main business of the day starts: the trial that is currently taking place. Trials can run from one day to eight weeks. Only exceptional trials run for longer than that. The trial can relate to any aspect of construction, engineering or technology. There can be cases involving supposedly deficient software, delayed building projects, final accounts, fire damage cases, leasehold dilapidations, nuisance (such as tree root encroachment or unacceptable levels of smell) and professional negligence.
The special jurisdiction of the TCC means that almost any case involving a level of technical detail can come its way. There could therefore be claims involving ship construction - which some would say is merely sophisticated “steel bashing” - with some engines and generators, oil or gas pipelines or platforms or land contamination.
The TCC also has a substantial, and growing, international reputation, so claims involving parties and projects from all round the world can find their way here.
Although the parties involved in the trial will usually have a break for lunch, the judge will often continue to work over a sandwich. The parties expect the judge to have read the relevant papers for the case and it is important that the judge keeps well ahead.
Unlike the judges in Rumpole or Judge John Deed - who indulge in boozy lunches or thought-provoking tipples - in real life, it is only Adam’s ale (water) which is drunk. The trials usually continue until about 4.30pm, although in appropriate circumstances it could go on if necessary to enable a particular witness to finish, or to finish the trial and avoid the parties having to come back for another expensive day in court.
Unfortunately, golf has to wait. Once or twice a week meetings are arranged, often to deal with matters which are of importance to the TCC but which also involve others. For instance, TCC judges have to participate in meetings relating to the new Rolls Building, which will open later this year and house the TCC and Commercial and Chancery Courts, or there can be meetings with the different users of the TCC, such as solicitors, barristers, surveyors and experts.
Following the meeting, the judge may well have to do more reading or to continue writing a judgment on an earlier case. Four or five times a month, TCC judges will speak at seminars or conferences so a long day may become longer.
It is then too late for golf when the judge returns home. If he or she is unlucky, the judge may be on 24-hour duty to handle emergency injunction applications on
non-TCC business; but that usually happens only for one week a year.
So, I hear you ask, why do judges do it? Many reasons come to mind. The job is stimulating, interesting and generally helps the world go round. And before you ask, yes, my golf handicap has gone down since I became a judge.