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.
Judges in the 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. A court trial is before a judge only.
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.
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