Making the right judg(e)ment

Blog post by Michael Stewart

Wednesday 5 April 2017

The chances are you’ve never heard of the Judicial Office (JO); the relatively small but crucial part of the civil service where I work.

JO is an independent office of the Ministry of Justice which supports judges, magistrates and tribunals. Unlike most civil servants our 180 staff report not to ministers but instead to the Lord Chief Justice, the most senior courts judge in England and Wales, and the Senior President of Tribunals, leader of the tribunals judiciary.

I work in the Corporate Communications Team with two main audiences: 26,000 courts and tribunals’ judges, magistrates, tribunal members – collectively known as ‘judicial office holders’; and our own JO staff, providing a full communications service to both. As a member of a small communications team with a wide remit and diverse audiences, my role is varied, interesting and can be challenging. In a typical day I could be drafting communications for judges or staff, designing the layout of a judicial report, meeting the CEO to discuss staff engagement, liaising with our press team on a high profile judgment, or providing comms advice to colleagues. I also take judges’ photographs when needed so if you see a picture of a judge in a newspaper there’s a fair chance it will have been me who took it.

Working for the judiciary is different in some ways to working for ministers, but having worked for both there are many similarities and the golden rules of communicating still apply.

I quickly learnt that judges are extremely busy people and that the visible work they do in court and hearing rooms is only a fraction of what their roles entail. Judges are hearing complex cases daily, and part of our job as comms professionals is to provide the communications advice they need to help them do that. Although judges are expert communicators in courts and hearing rooms, we have expertise in communicating outside of that setting, particularly in the digital space so this is the focus of much of my work with judges.

If working with judges, you will have your perceptions challenged. It’s a long way from the stereotype of quill pens and ink pots and most now value digital communications by default. For example, 40% of judicial intranet users view the site on mobile devices and these figures are growing every month. We’re looking to take advantage of these changing trends and improving our digital offering with better use of video and looking at integrating multimedia into our digital newsletters.

Working for an independent office can sometimes lead to feeling isolated from central government, however the JO is supportive of learning and development so I keep up with GCS through training, events, comms groups and on the IC space. I recently passed the first GCS/IoIC Intermediate Diploma, I’m JO’s GCS Development Adviser, and I’ve also taken advantage of GCS mentoring.

Having previously worked in ministerial departments it’s fascinating to work in this part of the Civil Service, with the breadth of the work, challenges, pace it offers. It’s given me a real insight into the judiciary, I’m continuously impressed at their dedication to their vital constitutional role, and I relish the challenge of supporting them in this.