Judge

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Graham, 57

What's the role of a judge in the legal system?

"A judge presides over trials," Graham explains simply. "They work with a jury in criminal trials to decide whether an accused person is guilty or not guilty. In civil disputes problems arise between individuals, companies or the government which need to be decided by someone who is independent and fair."

The two forms of disputes require judges to work either with a jury (in criminal trials such as breaking and entering, or assault), or to act independently (in civil cases including family disputes like divorces or child custody).

How did you become a judge? How is it different from your previous court experience?

"I was a barrister for 28 years," Graham explains, "and one day I received a phone call from the government and was offered the job. My initial response wasn't all that enthusiastic, but when I thought about it, it seemed like a very good idea - and so it's proved seven years later."

Most judges are selected from practicing barristers or solicitors who have courtroom experience. While a barrister argues cases in court on behalf of a client, being a judge requires impartiality. "You need to monitor yourself all the time," Graham explains with quiet authority, "because everybody has prejudices and everybody is affected by the situations that come before the court. But in the end the quality of justice administered is based on how you respond - how you discipline yourself to keep prejudices under control and to ensure that the law is applied equally and fairly to all."

What is your working environment like?

Many people believe that a judge's work is confined to a courtroom, but much of Graham's job happens behind the scenes in his chambers. Apart from a small shelf given over to Graham's passion for literature, his chambers are crowded with legal tomes and manuals. Here Graham will read background material surrounding cases, as well as research similar precedents (previous decisions made by judges) and prepare jury directions or sentences in criminal matters, and judgements in civil disputes.

Graham works in the County Court (new window), which has 57 judges presiding over trials both in Melbourne and on circuit in 12 regional centres in Victoria. "I'm in a small set of chambers with three other judges and there are about 20 judges on our floor. We regularly discuss our cases and share information," he explains. Additionally Graham has an Associate who assists him with legal research and administration, and a courtroom officer called a Tipstaff. Graham and his staff go on circuit to regional centres for two months each year.

What's the hardest part of the job?

As well as long hours and stressful periods, Graham's job carries a heavy responsibility, not just to the community, but also to the individuals on trial. "It's not easy to send people to jail, particularly if you've visited the jails as I have," Graham answers. "The conditions are tough and unfortunately at times you have no other option, though occasionally you have the satisfaction of being able to keep a young person out of jail."

And what's the best aspect of your job?

"The job is always challenging," Graham offers. "It's different, the problems that arise - whether they're criminal or civil cases - always involve a lot of human drama."

Find out more about this career path at myfuture.edu.au (new window) (Note: free registration is required to access the myfuture site).