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Recorder (judge)

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Title: Recorder (judge)  
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Subject: Records of members of parliament of the United Kingdom, Judiciary of England and Wales, Salathiel Lovell, Geoffrey Robertson, Edward Vernon Utterson
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Recorder (judge)

A Recorder is a judicial officer in England and Wales and some other common law jurisdictions.

England and Wales

In England and Wales, it now refers to two quite different appointments. The ancient Recorderships of England and Wales now form part of a system of Honorary Recorderships which are filled by the most senior full-time circuit judges. A modern system of statutory Recorders, on the other hand, has since 1971 appointed barristers and solicitors to part-time positions as judges, who sit for 3–6 weeks a year with the powers of Circuit Judges.

Formerly, a Recorder was a certain magistrate or judge having criminal and civil jurisdiction in a city or borough. A recorder was originally a person with legal knowledge appointed by the mayor and aldermen to 'record' the proceedings of their courts and the customs of the city. Such recordings were regarded as the highest evidence of fact.[1]

The Recorder of London is still appointed by the Court of Aldermen and is a member of it. In other areas, the appointment is made by the Crown. The duties of the office are regulated by the Municipal Corporations Act of 5 and 6 William IV and subsequent enactments.[2]

Where the position of borough Recorder is sought to be made by local councils the Lord Chief Justice set out "Guidelines for the Appointment of Honorary Recorders" stating the process of appointment that where it has been the practice of most large City Councils to appoint the Resident Judge to be Honorary Recorder of the city during his tenure of the office.

The appointment of an Honorary Recorder is made by the borough council concerned, and does not require the approval of the Lord Chancellor or the Lord Chief Justice, but the Lord Chief Justice would be pleased if boroughs considering making such an appointment would first consult the Senior Presiding Judge for England and Wales.

Historic office and Honorary Recorders

In England and Wales, the Recorder was the senior judge of some important urban centres, which were given the right to appoint a Recorder by the Crown. Typically, the appointment would be given to a senior and distinguished practitioner at the Bar, and it was, therefore, usually executed part-time only, by a person whose usual practice was as a barrister. It carried a great deal of prestige.

The Recorder of London is a senior Circuit Judge sitting at the Central Criminal Court (the Old Bailey). The office has an ancient association with the City of London.

Since the Courts Act of 1971, the system has been put on a statutory footing and some new positions have been created (for example, Redbridge[3]). They are now usually filled by full-time judges as a recognition of seniority. To distinguish them from the modern system of part-time Recorderships (see below) which was set up in 1971, historic and full-time Recorders are now usually designated "Honorary Recorders" but are usually styled "The Recorder of Anytown" i.e. the name of the city or borough which has conferred the title. Slightly confusingly, due to the reorganisation of court buildings and the districts and circuits which have been relocated into them, especially where local government reorganisation has occurred at the same time, such titles although bestowed by one Council may be held by the Senior Resident Judge sitting in another borough; a leading example is that The Recorder of Westminster presides at Southwark Crown Court.

The senior circuit judge of a metropolitan area, for example Manchester, Liverpool or Cardiff, may have the title Honorary Recorder. The practice for appointment of Honorary Recorders is now to be found in the Lord Chief Justice's Guidelines for the Appointment of Honorary Recorders[4] issued in October 2007.

Not all senior circuit judges are Honorary Recorders, but most Honorary Recorders are senior circuit judges.

Honorary Recorders who are also senior circuit judges may wear red robes (which carry more prestige) and are entitled to be addressed in Court as "My Lord/Lady" (like a High Court Judge) instead of "Your Honour" (like other circuit judges, including senior circuit judges who are not Honorary Recorders).

Recorders as part-time appointments

Since 1971, a system of part-time appointments has been in place in England and Wales, designed to give experience of judicial office to those not yet ready to take a full-time appointment. It is now the practice to require all full-time appointees to have had some part-time judicial experience. The part-time appointees were initially designated as "Assistant Recorders", with a view to promotion to full "Recorders". The position of Assistant Recorder no longer exists, and all appointments are made as "Recorders".

Appointments are made by the Crown by Royal Warrant, on the recommendation of the Lord Chancellor. Since 2006, however, the Lord Chancellor's recommendations are based upon an independent appointments process supervised by the Judicial Appointments Commission.

In the Courts of England and Wales, a Recorder is a barrister or solicitor. Recorders were originally required to be of at least 10 years' standing, though that requirement has been reduced in recent years to 7 years' standing. Recorders are appointed by the Queen on the advice of the Lord Chancellor to hold part-time judicial office. A Recorder acting as such has all the powers of a Circuit Judge and may sit in the Crown Court or in the County Court. If appointed to do so under section 9(1) of the Supreme Court Act 1981, a Recorder may sit as a part-time High Court Judge. Recorders sitting in the Crown Court are addressed as "Your Honour".

A Recorder is paid a daily fee and is expected to sit as a judge for between 3 and 6 weeks a year.

Formal Appointments of Titular and Honorific Recorders

With the major changes in both local government and the courts services through implementation of the Courts Act 1971 and the establishment of the Crown Court for England and Wales, the councils of boroughs have had the power to appoint a Circuit Judge or a Recorder of the Crown Court as Honorary Recorder of the borough concerned. The Crown Court is a single court sitting at numerous locations throughout England and Wales. At each Crown Court centre, a particular judge is appointed "Resident Judge", leads the team of judges who sit there and provides the essential link between the judiciary and the administration

In the late twentieth century, the role has become either:

  • titular, automatically the title of the senior Judge of a borough coincident with an ancient Assize. In the larger city court centres, the Resident Judge is usually a Senior Circuit Judge who is recruited and appointed specifically to that post. Those cities continue to elect the Resident Judge as Honorary Recorder. Such a judge holds office as Resident Judge and (if so elected) as Honorary Recorder until his retirement from the post, or
  • honorific, granted by a local authority to the senior Resident Judge of its principal Crown Court. In the many smaller towns and cities where the Resident Judge is not a Senior Circuit Judge, the position is different. The Resident Judge is deployed specifically to that post by the Lord Chief Justice (with the concurrence of the Lord Chancellor) from the ranks of the circuit bench, and holds office as Resident Judge for a set period, normally four years (renewable). It is hoped that when such a city or borough council resolves to elect its Resident Judge as Honorary Recorder, it will expressly make that appointment for no longer than the duration of the judge’s tenure of the post of Resident Judge.

The protocol of the use of the title is that it is customary for an Honorary Recorder, when sitting in the Crown Court in the city or town where he holds that office, to be described as such in the published court lists. This should not be done, however, when the judge is sitting in the Crown Court in another city or town, whether or not that city or town has an Honorary Recorder of its own.

The Dress rule is that where those Honorary Recorders who are also Senior Circuit Judges are authorised by the Lord Chief Justice to wear red robes when sitting in court. These robes are based on the design of the robes worn by judges of the County Courts, but in red and black. They were designed for the Recorders of Manchester and Liverpool when Crown Courts were established in those cities in 1956, many years before the establishment of the Crown Court for England and Wales by the Act of 1971. The right to wear them in court was extended in the 1980s to the other Senior Circuit Judges appointed as Honorary Recorders, but has not been extended to those who are not Senior Circuit Judges. Accordingly, when sitting in court. Honorary Recorders who are not Senior Circuit Judges continue to wear the normal robes of a Circuit Judge sitting in the Crown Court.

Boroughs which had a power by Charter to appoint a Recorder before 1971, but which had no Quarter Sessions, have a preserved right to appoint anyone, including non-lawyers, as Honorary Recorder, but an Honorary Recorder who is not a judge cannot sit as a judge in court or exercise any judicial functions.

This variety of Recorder should not be confused with those Recorders who are solicitors and barristers who are appointed as fee-paid part-time judges.

In other jurisdictions

Ireland and Northern Ireland

The Recorder of Dublin was the principal magistrate for the city of Dublin until the office was abolished in 1924. The office of Recorder of Belfast still exists. There were also Recorders of Cork, Galway and Londonderry.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong operates a system of appointing part-time recorders similar to that in England & Wales except that recorders are appointed to the High Court of Hong Kong and have the same powers as a full judge when sitting. The qualification for appointment is the same as that for High Court Judge: that is, having practiced as a barrister or solicitor in a common law jurisdiction for more than 10 years.[5] At anyone time, approximately eight to nine Senior Counsel hold the position of recorder. No junior barrister or solicitor has even been appointed a recorder. Additionally, a number of retired judges and Senior Counsel sit as deputy judges of the High Court for periods of one to three months a year.

United States and Canada

In some U.S. and Canadian jurisdictions, the Recorder's Court is a local court of limited jurisdiction, most often hearing misdemeanors, traffic violations, and other petty criminal offenses. The Recorder of New York City was one of the judges of the Court of General Sessions (the local court of general jurisdiction on criminal cases) and presided over most murder trials in New York City.

Biblical usage

In historic times, the recorder was the chancellor or vizier of the kingdom. He brought all weighty matters under the notice of the king, such as complaints, petitions, and wishes of subjects or foreigners. He also drew up papers for the king's guidance, and prepared drafts of the royal will for the scribes. All treaties came under his oversight; and he had the care of the national archives or records, to which, as royal historiographer, he added the current annals of the kingdom.[6]

List of Recorders

This is a list of the current Titular and Honorary Recorders, together with the Crown Court venue at which they sit.

Titular Recorders

Honorary Recorders

See also



  1. ^ Riley Munimenta Gildhallæ I. 42-3
  2. ^ Oxford English Dictionary entry
  3. ^$
  4. ^ Guidelines for the Appointment of Honorary Recorders
  5. ^ S.6A and S.9 High Court Ordinance
  6. ^ M.G. Easton. "Recorder." Easton's Bible Dictionary. Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 1897.
  7. ^ [1]


  • M.G. Easton (1897). Easton's Bible Dictionary. Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library. source. 
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