The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







For the hardcore band Judge, see Judge (band)

A judge or justice is an appointed or elected official who presides over a court. The powers, functions, and training of judges varies widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

A judge can also be simply a qualified person who evaluates and passes judgement on anything; for example, a judge at a county fair might award prizes to the best cattle or best home-made jam; a judge at a dog show determines which of several dogs best meets the standards for the breed.


Judges in the Legal System

Many judges from all over the world continue to wear wigs; a tradition imported from the legal system
Many judges from all over the world continue to wear wigs; a tradition imported from the British legal system

Judges are considered to be the leaders of one of the three branches of government, the judiciary. In a democratic country with a rule of law, judges are supposed to be impartial, and not influenced by the political power (see separation of powers); especially, political leaders and the executive should not be able to influence judgment in a direction that they see fit.

In the USA, judges are not trained separately from lawyers and are generally appointed or elected from among practicing attorneys.

In most civil law jurisdictions judges go to special schools to be trained after graduating with a legal degree from a university; after such training they become investigative judges, see inquisitorial system. In common law countries, judges usually operate according to the adversarial system of justice under the applicable rules of civil procedure.

In the common law system, when there is a jury trial, the judge generally decides issues of law, i.e. which law applies and what the law requires, while the jury decides facts, i.e who did what, who is guilty, what is the amount of damages.

In Finland, there are two kinds of judges in district courts: a legally trained judge functions as the president of the court, while judges elected for a four-year term from the population, without any special legal training, serve as lay members of the court. Judges in special courts and apellate courts are always legally trained. Lay judges do not function like a common-law jury. In the usual case, three lay judges in district courts hear criminal cases in cooperation with a legally trained judge, each judge – legally trained or not – having an individual vote. Civil cases, however, are heard exclusively by legally trained judges.

Historically, in Europe in the Middle Ages, juries often stated the law by consensus or majority and the judge applied it to the facts as he saw them. This practice generally no longer exists. Notably, while some common law jurisdictions retain the jury system, civil law has often abandoned the jury in favor of a judge-based system.

Symbols of Office

Being a judge is usually a prestigious position in society, and as a result a variety of solemn traditions have become associated with the occupation. In most nations of the world judges wear long robes, usually black or red, and sit on an elevated platform during trials (known as the bench). The standard judge uniform originated with the Roman toga.

In some countries, notably Britain, judges also wear long wigs and colorful robes.

American judges usually always wear simple black robes and wield a gavel to keep order in the courtroom. However, in some Western states, like California, judges did not always wear robes during the Wild West days in the 19th century. Today, the Maryland Court of Appeals is the only state supreme court that deviates from the standard uniform; its seven judges wear red robes.

In the People's Republic of China, judges wore regular street clothes until 1984, when they began to wear military style uniforms, which were intended to demonstrate authority. These uniforms were replaced in 2000 by black robes similar to those in the rest of the world.


In most English speaking countries (particularly the United States) a judge is addressed as "Your Honor" when presiding over the judge's court, as a sign of respect for the office. Because of the broadcasting of US fictions in movies and television worldwide, some defendants in other countries occasionally address judges from their own country as "your honor" (or, rather, the translation thereof in the local language), much to the dismay of the local judiciary.

In France, the presiding judge of a court is addressed to as "Mr/Mrs President" (Monsieur président / Madame présidente).

The judges of the Supreme Court of the United States, and the judges of the supreme courts of several U. S. states and other countries are called "justices." In the United Kingdom, a comparable rank is held by the House of Lords; its judges are not called judges, but Law Lords, and sit in the House of Lords as peers. The justices of the supreme courts usually hold higher offices than the justice of the peace, a judge who holds police court in some jurisdictions and who typically tries small claims and misdemeanors. However, the state of New York inverts the usual order, with the Supreme Court of the State of New York being the trial court, and the Court of Appeals being the highest court. New York judges who deal with trusts and estates are known as "Surrogates."

Judges of courts of limited jurisdiction (such as bankruptcy courts or juvenile courts) were sometimes known officially as "referees," but this usage seems to be declining.

Judges sitting in courts of equity in common law systems are called "Chancellors."

Famous and Infamous Judges

Listed chronologically by date of birth.

Solomon ( 970s BC920s BC )
Solon ( c.638 BC558 BC )
Pontius Pilate ( 1st century )
Judge Bao Zheng ( 11th century )

Sir Thomas More ( 14781535 ) English humanist author
Sir Edward Coke ( 15521634 ) English colonial entrepreneur and jurist
Sir Francis Bacon ( 15611626 ) English philosopher, statesman, essayist
Sir Matthew Hale ( 16091676 ) Lord Chief Justice of England
1st Baron George Jeffreys ( 16481689 ) Baron of Wem, Welsh "Hanging Judge"
Ooka Tadasuke ( 16771752 ) Incorruptable and imaginative Japanese Judge

John Pickering ( 17371805 ) First US Federal Judge to be removed from office
John Jay ( 17451829 ) 1st Chief Justice of the United States
William Cooper ( 17541817 ) Father of writer James Fenimore Cooper
John Marshall ( 17551835 ) 4th Chief Justice of the United States

Sir Redmond Barry ( 18131880 ) British judge of colonial Australia
Roy Bean ( 18251903 ) Texas saloonkeeper and justice of the peace
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. ( 18411935 ) Progressive US Supreme Court justice
Louis Brandeis ( 18561941 ) Leader of American Zionist movement
Kenesaw Mountain Landis ( 18661944 ) 1st commissioner of Major League Baseball
Learned Hand ( 18721961 ) Coined the term calculus of negligence
Earl Warren ( 18911974 ) 14th Chief Justice of the United States
Baron Alfred Denning ( 18991999 ) British barrister and Master of the Rolls

Thurgood Marshall ( 19081993 ) 1st African-American on US Supreme Court
Joseph Wapner ( 1919 – ____ ) The People's Court judge
James Pickles ( 1925 – ____ ) British judge turned tabloid columnist
Richard Posner ( 1939 – ____ ) US Court of Appeals judge
Judge Judy ( Sheindlin) ( 1942 – ____ ) syndicated TV show judge
Lance Ito ( 1950 – ____ ) Los Angeles Superior Court judge

Famous Fictional Judges

This list includes both judges from the world of fiction, as well as people who use the prefix 'Judge' but who are not actually judges.

See also judiciary, court dress, list of jurists, barrister, solicitor, attorney

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