Court Usher

The Job and What's Involved

Court ushers are responsible for preparing courts for hearings and making sure that everything is in the right place at the right time. They are also responsible for making sure that everyone involved in the hearing is there and knows what to do.

Court administrative officers play an essential role in making sure that the business of a court runs smoothly and that cases progress through the system. They are often the first point of contact for people attending court.

There are different types of courts:

Magistrates' courts which hear most criminal cases ranging from driving offences to theft and assault. They also act as family courts, where they decide on relationship breakdown and childcare cases, and youth courts which deal with offences committed by young people under 18. Magistrates are unpaid, trained members of the community who usually sit in a panel or 'bench' of three.

Crown Courts deal with more serious criminal offences such as murder, rape or robbery. They also deal with appeals from magistrates' courts. Crown Court cases are heard by a judge who decides on the sentence but the decision about whether someone is guilty or not is decided by a jury of twelve members of the public who are chosen at random.

County courts deal with civil cases which include matters such as people owing money, claims for personal injury or disputes over contracts. Hearing may be formal or informal.

The High Court deals with the most complex civil cases and with appeals gainst decisions made in the county court.

The Court of Appeal hears appeals against decisions made in the High Court and the Crown Court. Any disputes from the Court of Appeal go to the House of Lords.

In addition to the courts, there are tribunals which hear cases concerning:

  • Members of the public seeking redress against government decisions such as those on asylum and immigration, criminal injuries compensation or social security.
  • Disputes between employers and employees such as those concerning unfair dismissal or discrimination.

A court usher's duties are mostly practical or administrative. A few are ceremonial. Duties vary depending on the court, but for most ushers they include:

  • Preparing the courtroom for the day including laying out papers, providing drinking water, arranging seating and checking the fire exit.
  • Operating the switchboard and public address system.
  • Noting the arrival and names of lawyers and whom they are representing.
  • Noting the arrival of witnesses and defendants, showing them where to go and explaining procedures to them.
  • Informing the court clerk that the hearing can begin.
  • Asking everyone to stand when the judge or magistrate comes into court.
  • Calling the defendant and witnesses into court.
  • Swearing in jurors and administering the oath to each witness in turn.
  • Labelling pieces of evidence and passing them over to the judge or jury.
  • Passing messages between the court clerk and the lawyers.
  • Maintaining discipline in the public areas.
  • Clearing up the court or chambers at the end of a session, gathering leftover items and lost property.
  • Arranging panels for coroners' court sessions.
  • Taking fees, using electronic equipment.
  • General clerical duties, including data inputting and retrieval, photocopying and filing.

In Crown Courts there are several ushers, some with more specialised duties. The sworn usher swears on oath to maintain the jury's seclusion during the case.

Duties include:

  • Escorting the jury to and from the courtroom.
  • Staying outside the jury room while the jury is considering its verdict, to stop anyone approaching them.
  • Taking messages between the jury and the judge.
  • Attending to the needs of jury members.
  • Organising hotel accommodation for the jurors if they have to stay overnight, transporting them between the court and the accommodation and staying with them.
  • The senior usher in each Crown Court is known as the jury bailiff whose duties include:
  • Making sure the jurors receive reminders before the case, telling them where and when to arrive.
  • Welcoming the jurors, noting their time of arrival, and escorting them to the jury waiting room.
  • Explaining the court rules and procedures.
  • Distributing claim forms for expenses and loss of earnings.
  • Answering any questions and putting them at ease.

Ushers usually work 37 hours a week, 8.30am to 5.00pm, Monday to Friday. Occasionally, they may have to attend late sittings. There are usually opportunities for part-time work and flexible working.

Ushers mainly work in courtrooms or offices or at reception desks, and sometimes travel between different courts. A sworn usher may occasionally spend nights away from home in a hotel. A driving licence may be required for some jobs, particularly in more rural areas.

In court, ushers wear smart, dark clothes and calf-length gowns.

Starting salaries may be around £12,700 but experienced court ushers may earn up to £15,400 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

In England and Wales the courts are run by Her Majesty's Courts Service (HMCS) and tribunals are run by the Tribunals Service. Courts are found in all cities and most major towns. There are 216 county courts and 77 Crown Courts. Crown Courts, which deal with more serious criminal cases, are found in larger towns and cities. The number of ushers varies depending on the size of the court.

Jobs are advertised in the local press, on the Ministry of Justice website and on the Civil Service Recruitment Gateway. Entry is fairly competitive.

Education and Training

While there are often no formal qualifications required, applicants generally have at least two GCSE's (A*-C) or the equivalent including English.

The Diploma in society, health and development and the Diploma in public services may be relevant for this area of work.

Successful applicants will need to gain satisfactory clearance from the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) before they can start in post.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

There is no formal training structure at present and courts operate different training systems. Training is mainly on the job and usually takes about a year.

A new usher normally shadows an experienced usher, gradually taking on more of the duties. There are also short courses on topics such as security issues, dealing with difficult situations, working with jurors and equality awareness.

There will be opportunities to work towards NVQ's:

  • Level 2 in court/tribunal administration and court/tribunal operations.
  • Level 3 in court operations.
  • Level 3 in witness care.

NVQ's in business administration and customer services are also commonly offered.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A court usher needs to be:

  • Firm and confident in dealing with all kinds of situations.
  • Good at customer service.
  • Able to speak clearly.
  • Methodical and accurate.
  • A good communicator in speech and writing.
  • Able to respect confidentiality.
  • Able to relax people and keep them calm if they have a long wait.

Your Long Term Prospects

In the higher courts and large magistrates' courts, an usher may be promoted to supervising usher or section manager, with responsibility for a group of ushers.

A court usher can also be promoted to the grade of administrative officer within the Civil Service.

Get Further Information

Civil Service Recruitment Gateway
Website: www.civilservice.gov.uk/jobs

HM Courts & Tribunals Service
Website: www.hmcourts-service.gov.uk

Ministry of Justice, 6th Floor, Temple Court,
35 Bull Street, Birmingham, B4 6WF
Tel: 0121 250 6350
Website: www.justice.gov.uk/hmcts

Skills for Justice, Centre Court Atlas Way, Sheffield S4 7QQ
Tel: 0114 261 1499
Website: www.skillsforjustice.com

Tribunal Service, 5th Floor,
102 Petty France, London SW1H 9AJ
Tel: 0845 600 0877
Website: www.tribunals.gov.uk

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