I qualified as a solicitor in 1993 and after a few years as parliamentary counsel in London, returned to Scotland and called at the Bar in 1998. As an advocate, I practised mainly in civil law, specialising in public and administrative law. After nine years at the Bar, I was appointed crown counsel of Ascension Island in the South Atlantic where I advised the government on criminal and civil matters. That provided me with an entirely different legal perspective: the Island has a small community and operates an almost exclusively lay justice system with lay magistrates, lay advocates and lay prosecutors. As the only lawyer on Island, part of my role involved working with and training the court users. The experience made me appreciate the significance that judicial decision-making has within a small community as well as the importance of the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary.
Before I returned to Scotland, I applied to be a part-time sheriff in the hope that I might be able to build upon my overseas experience in Scotland. I sat as a part-time sheriff for over five years but it was really only when I sat for a three-month period in Peterhead Sheriff Court that I began to appreciate what it might be like to do the job full-time. I realised then that I enjoyed making decisions, trying to reach conclusions based on sound reasoning and communicating those to court users.
As far as the appointment process is concerned, in my experience it is well worth devoting as much time to completing the application form as possible: it is important to identify relevant examples and explain how these illustrate the required skills. By the time I applied in 2014, the application form could be completed electronically which made it far easier to draft and complete. I found the interview itself to be thorough and fair. It was an advantage to be able to prepare exercises in advance which meant there was less room for the unexpected. The length of time between interview and learning of the outcome had significantly reduced from when I applied to be a part time sheriff, which meant less time agonising over the outcome!
Since taking up my full time post I have found the job hugely rewarding. The role is entirely different from being an advocate. There are no longer the highs and lows of winning or losing a case. Instead there is the daily variety of caselaw and challenge of making properly reasoned decisions within a high volume of work. Whilst at times demanding, it is often stimulating and provides a real sense of playing a meaningful part in the administration of justice in Scotland.