CARLISLE Crown Court has been described as a 'jewel' of the Northern Circuit by a judge now sitting at the Earl Street complex who believes that the most important quality when dispensing justice is a simple one.

“Not to lose the human side of things and to listen more than you speak,” concludes Richard Archer who, three years ago at the age of just 32, became one of the youngest crown court judges in recent history.

Born and bred in Merseyside, Judge Archer read law at Liverpool University before being called to the bar in 2007.

During his time as a barrister, he was based at 15 Winckley Square law chambers in Preston and became a frequent visitor to Carlisle, gaining experience of both prosecution and defence.

In 2018 he was appointed a recorder — part-time judge — and, earlier this year, made the step up to the position of circuit judge. Appointed by the Lord Chief Justice to the Northern Circuit, he will divide his time in the near future between Carlisle and Preston combined centres.

The 36-year-old said: “I’ve known from a relatively young age, certainly teens, if not earlier, that I wanted to be a barrister.

"I couldn’t really tell you why. It was just something that to me seemed like it might be interesting and it might be varied so I did what I suppose anybody does if they’re interested in a career, you go and get some experience.”

His first 'mini-pupillage' — work experience — came at the age of 16. “I got to see then, from that very first day, just quite how varied and different it is. You can’t put your finger on a particular thing, but I thought ‘yes, this is a good fit, this is what I want to do’; and since then I’ve never wanted to do anything else,” he said.

And having begun his spell at Carlisle, he added: “I’m looking forward to it very much.

“Very many people on circuit — judges who’ve been here in the past, including High Court judges — have always said that Carlisle is the jewel in the crown on the northern circuit.

"It’s a very tight-knit team. It’s been the same staff, more or less, for years and they all obviously work very well together. And so compared to very busy court centres, where you might not see the same ushers or clerks every day, you get to feel part of a team very quickly.

“I feel very much at home and everyone’s been very good, very welcoming. And of course it’s a beautiful part of the world to be in — you get that as a bonus!”

Judge Archer praised the 'can-do' attitude from Carlisle staff which saw jury trials — halted following the first COVID lockdown last year — return earlier than anywhere else on the circuit.

Lasting effects of COVID, he says, will continue to present stern challenges for the dedicated team, along with solicitors, barristers, defendants and witnesses alike.

However, the caseload backlog at Carlisle is 'fairly minimal' compared with elsewhere thanks to hard work behind the scenes.

Judge Archer expects to experience 'two different worlds' at Carlisle and Preston, perhaps due to the unique geography of the former in which, he believes, inhabitants have 'varying backgrounds'.

“I think people who don’t know Carlisle, or Cumbria, or maybe only know it as somewhere to come on holiday, to the Lake District, may be forgiven for thinking it’s not a particular diverse place.

"But actually I don’t think that’s right. On first glance, people may look very similar and therefore you assume that they’re all from the same background and same walk of life,” he said.

“But Carlisle as a city and Cumbria as a county I think is so much more diverse. There are people who’ve lived here all their lives and there are people who’ve moved here either for work or for scenery. There are people who have a very good upbringing and a very comfortable financial upbringing, and there are people who have to make ends meet on not very much at all.

“I think my job, or the job of any judge, is to recognise the person that’s in the dock and indeed the person that’s come to give evidence as a witness and not to just assume they are in the dock as someone from Cumbria or from Carlisle, so therefore they can be treated the same.

"We have so many guidelines to apply in terms of sentencing and many people have said ‘well, why do you need a judge now?’; because there’s a box which says if you’ve done this much harm and if you’re this much to blame then there’s your sentence and dish it out.

“But I think that would be to ignore the person and I do think you have to look at the person and you say, yes that’s the sentence, and that’s the suggested sentence or framework; but now transpose that on the person that’s here, on the mitigation that’s been presented by the barrister or solicitor who’s doing that job and look to give a human sentence.

"And that’s something I’ve never looked past, whether as a judge or a barrister.

“So many people who may read stories about defendants who’ve been sentenced or committed a crime — you may see now particularly, in the age of social media, comments of ‘typical X or Y’ or ‘oh yes, just another one’.

"But they’re not ‘just another one’. They are an individual and I think that’s the most important quality you can have as a judge: not to lose the human side of things and to listen more than you speak.”

Judges are now selected following a rigorous application process which has replaced a traditional 'tap on the shoulder' appointment procedure. Candidates were, historically, Oxbridge-educated and hailed from one of the four Inns of Court in London.

So what does Judge Archer think of what has been dubbed by some as a 'rise of the baby-faced bench'?

“I don’t know about youth. I can obviously only speak for myself having been sitting as a recorder for the past three years,” he said. “I instantly felt an affinity with it. I knew at that stage that’s what I wanted to do.

"I think we are perhaps moving towards judges being appointed, generally, at a younger age because it is a more conscious career choice for people involved in the law.”