I followed a fairly conventional legal career. Having chosen to specialise in commercial litigation, I worked with two large commercial practices, eventually becoming the Head of Litigation for Scotland in my last firm. Working up the career ladder in private practice however meant moving into a managerial position and moving gradually away from what I enjoyed most – analysing and applying the law.
I had aspired to become a member of the judiciary since I first walked into Edinburgh Sheriff Court for a mock plea in mitigation, during my diploma in legal practice. At the time, however, I believed that this was an unattainable aspiration.
I did not appear to fit the demographic from which sheriffs might historically have been selected; a mother of young children, from a working class and ethnic minority background with a career specialising in the narrow field of commercial litigation. The shrieval bench was for others. I dared not even enquire into the process.
However, the creation of the Judicial Appointments Board removed the mystery which had shrouded the appointments process. I attended one of the open evenings hosted by members of the Board. I reviewed both the guidance notes and the application form. I knew that the process was going to be demanding, but I decided to throw my hat in the ring.
I have been through the recruitment process twice: I was appointed as a part-time Sheriff in 2011 and was appointed to a full time position in 2014. My appointment as a part time sheriff gave me the opportunity to gain experience and to prove to myself that this was the right job for me.
The application form is thorough and requires the applicant to give careful thought to his/her qualities and qualifications for the post. Selecting appropriate written work for submission made me reflect upon my legal ability, my powers of reasoning and my style of writing. The interview itself is rigorous - the use of case studies provides a fair means of testing the applicant's judicial qualities. It provides the applicant with an opportunity to demonstrate his or her ability to make decisions and more importantly, to justify them. The questions by the panel are challenging, wide-ranging and insightful. In short, I found the process robust but fair, transparent and surprisingly enjoyable.
I consider it an enormous privilege to serve as a member of the Scottish judiciary – the work is rewarding and varied, stimulating and challenging. There is no doubt that early life on the Bench involves a huge learning curve and requires you to turn your mind to areas of the law in which you may have little or no experience. But that is also one of its attractions. There is no shortage of more experienced sheriffs ready to assist and guide those who are newly appointed.
I would encourage anyone with a keen interest in justice and people and who enjoys interpreting and applying the law, to consider applying for judicial office.