Case Study: Thomas Ward

Thomas Ward

My career in the law was as a criminal practitioner from 1977 to approximately 2000; I had been a partner in a firm for about 20 years and decided that I was not wishing to continue to be a criminal lawyer for the rest of my career. I resigned from the firm but continued for a number of years as a Consultant, which allowed me to seek other opportunities to do different things in the law. I obtained an appointment as a legal member of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Appeal panel. I also became a part-time Immigration Judge sitting mainly in Glasgow and London.

I had previously been a temporary Sheriff from 1990 to 2000 and was re-appointed to that particular post as a part-time Sheriff in 2007. When I became a temporary Sheriff in 1990, the appointment was done on the basis of a recommendation. There was no formal application process. With the creation of the Judicial Appointments Board the process was radically different. It was clear from the application form that practical examples of situations I had encountered in practice was what was sought. The interview process was not as nerve racking as perhaps expected, mainly because I had gone through it when applying as a part timer. There was a written exercise in which you were questioned firstly by the legal members and then the whole panel. The questioning was robust but I never felt as though I was being cross-examined as a hostile witness!

As a solicitor I had always viewed the shrieval bench as being for others. However over the years it became apparent that appointments were being made from all branches of the profession and with the creation of the Judicial Appointments Board, appointments were being made on the basis of merit and nothing else. I think that was a great encouragement, particularly to the solicitor branch of the profession to apply for shrieval posts. It also seemed to me, as a solicitor, that perhaps, if not a natural progression, it was an aspiration which could now be achieved.

Now that I have been appointed I have seen at first hand what the job entails. As a part-time Sheriff you are generally channelled into one particular area of the law for the duration of your day at a Court. As a full timer, especially in a single Sheriff Court, you are exposed to a whole myriad of people and cases. Often you are working under pressure. The job is stimulating and interesting. Even in a small Court unusual cases crop up which require thought, care and attention. The job is as I expected it to be. In many ways you are your own boss. Decisions are yours and you require to be able to justify them. The beauty of the job is that no two days are ever the same!

Appointments process type: