The ultimate task of a judge is to settle a legal dispute in a final and public manner, and thus affirm the rule of law. Judges exercise significant governmental power. They can order police, military or judicial officials to execute searches, arrests, imprisonments, garnishments, distrainments, seizures, deportations and similar actions. However, judges also supervise that trial procedures are followed, in order to ensure consistency and impartiality and avoid arbitrariness. The powers of a judge are checked by higher courts such as appeals courts and supreme courts.
Before the trial, a pre-trial investigation collecting the facts has been conducted by police officials, such as police officers and coroners, prosecutors or public procurators. The court usually has three main legally trained court officials: the judge, the prosecutor and the defence attorney. The role of a judge varies between legal systems. In an adversarial system (common law), as in effect in the U.S. and England, the judge functions as an impartial referee, mainly ensuring correct procedure, while the prosecution and the defense present their case to a jury, often selected from common citizens. The main factfinder is the jury, and the judge will then finalize sentencing. Nevertheless, in smaller cases judges can issue summary judgments without proceeding to a jury trial. In an inquisitorial system (civil law), as in effect in continental Europe, there is no jury and the main factfinder is the judge, who will do the presiding, judging and sentencing on his own. As such, the judge is expected to apply the law directly, as in the French expression Le juge est la bouche de la loi ("The judge is the mouth of the law"). Furthermore, in some system even investigation may be conducted by the judge, functioning as an examining magistrate.
Judges may work alone in smaller cases, but in criminal, family and other significant cases, they work in a panel. In some civil law systems, this panel may include lay judges. Unlike professional judges, lay judges are not legally trained, but unlike jurors, lay judges are usually volunteers and may be politically appointed. Judges are often assisted by law clerks, referendaries and notaries in legal cases and by bailiffs or similar with security.
Requirements and appointment
There are both volunteer and professional judges. A volunteer judge, such as an English magistrate, is not required to have legal training and is unpaid. Whereas, a professional judge is required to be legally educated; in the U.S., this generally requires a degree of Juris Doctor. Furthermore, significant professional experience is often required; for example, in the U.S., judges are often appointed from experienced attorneys. Judges are often appointed by the head of state. In some U.S. jurisdictions, however, judges are elected in a political election.
Impartiality is often considered important for rule of law. Thus, in many jurisdictions judges may be appointed for life, so that they cannot be removed by the executive. However, in non-democratic systems, the appointment of judges may be highly politicized and they often receive instructions on how to judge, and may be removed if their conduct doesn't please the political leadership.
Judge as an occupation
Judges must be able to research and process extensive lengths of documents and other case material, understand complex cases and possess a thorough understanding of the law and legal procedure, which requires excellent skills in logical reasoning, analysis and decision-making. Excellent writing skills are also a necessity, given the finality and authority of the documents written. Judges work with people all the time; by the nature of the job, good dispute resolution and interpersonal skills are a necessity. Judges are required to have good moral character, i.e. there must be no history of crime. Professional judges often enjoy a high salary, in the U.S. the median salary of judges is $101,690 per annum, and federal judges earn $208,000–$267,000 per annum.