I have followed a relatively unusual route to the Bench: the kind of route that might well not have brought me to this point in the days before the judicial appointments process was formalised. After starting out in a broad mix of court work in private practice, I moved into the Children’s Hearings System where I spent 10 years as a Reporter, followed by a further 10 years as the Principal Reporter. During that latter 10 years I was only in court twice, both times sitting behind Counsel in the Court of Session. Not perhaps the best preparation for judicial office.
Nevertheless, I was encouraged by an experienced Sheriff to apply for a part-time post. I was far from sure that judicial office was for me, so the option of a part-time appointment seemed a good way to gain experience and test myself out. I quickly discovered, however, that I loved the variety of work. As a Sheriff, I find no end of human interest in the cases that come before me, mingled with the professional challenges involved in making fair and correct decisions and communicating them effectively, while still dealing efficiently with large volumes of work.
The sense of fellowship among judges brings another unanticipated bonus. I have never asked the audience but on occasions I have felt the need to phone a friend. Invariably I have received helpful advice or guidance when doing so.
I have twice been through the Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland process: in 2005, when I was appointed as a part-time Sheriff and in 2009, following which I was appointed to a full-time position. One benefit of my previous career is that I have extensive experience of public sector recruitment processes, from both sides of the interview table. In my experience the JABS process is among the best.
Many recruitment processes fall short at the first hurdle by failing to specify what qualities candidates are being asked to demonstrate and how they should demonstrate them. JABS achieves this with exemplary clarity. Thereafter the process is certainly demanding, but designed to give candidates a fair chance to show their mettle. There is probably no better way to test the candidate’s capacity to analyse law and facts than by scrutinising his or her judgments or opinions; the prepared presentation is a golden opportunity for the candidate to demonstrate a grasp of wider issues of law and justice; and the interview questions drill down into the characteristics required to be an effective judge.
With its focus on fair process and on justice for the vulnerable, my previous career has in fact proven to be a far better preparation for life on the Bench than I could have imagined. I would encourage anyone with a keen interest in justice and in people, and an ability to make decisions, to consider applying for judicial office.