The Judiciary of England and Wales has teamed up with King’s College London to design an online course to increase the public’s understanding of the role of judges.

The Modern Judiciary: Who they are, what they do and why it matters‘ is a Massive, Open, Online Course or MOOC, is free of charge and open to anyone. No previous legal knowledge is required to enrol. It is hoped that the course will “help increase public understanding of a judge’s role and dispel myths based on outdated views of the Judiciary.”

The launch comes at a time when judges are increasingly under attack from politicians and the media.

In 2016, The Daily Mail dubbed the three High Court judges who ruled that Parliament must vote to trigger Article 50 ‘Enemies of the People’, sparking outrage from lawyers.

“I think some of the things that were said risked undermining the judiciary, and unfairly undermining the judiciary, and therefore undermining the rule of law,” former Supreme Court President Lord Neuberger said later. “If you have a free press these things can happen and to pretend it’s the end of civilisation, when these things happen once or twice, is wrong. If it became standard practice then I would be worried.”

But only last month, the new Lord Chancellor, Robert Buckland QC, was forced to speak up for Scotland’s judges after sources in government appeared to imply they were politically biased.

Despite the attacks, judges remain one of the professional groups most trusted by the general public. According to Ipsos-Mori’s Veracity Index, four out of five people (81 per cent) trust judges to tell the truth.

The planned start date of the five-week course is January 2020. It will cover the work of the judiciary, examine judges’ portrayal in the media and students will learn how to understand judgments. The format will include a range of interactive content, including quizzes, mini-lectures, articles, case studies and interviews with judges from England and Wales.

Lord Burnett, the Lord Chief Justice, said, “It is vitally important that the public understands what a modern judge’s role is so that they can have confidence in the decisions they make. The work of the judiciary is often surrounded by myth based on an outdated view of judges and I hope that this course will be both interesting and informative.”

James Lee, Vice-Dean (Education) for The Dickson Poon School of Law at King’s College London, said, “We are delighted to be working in partnership with the Judiciary on this exciting project, building upon King’s long tradition of engagement with the Judiciary and professions. It is an opportunity to promote public understanding of the judge to a wide audience, incorporating a range of perspectives on the law.”

Judges speaking up – and being slapped down