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A day in the life Of...
Edward Bennett
Edward Bennett
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A Day in the Life of ... DDJ Jonathan James
Date:28 JUN 2016
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DDJ Jonathan James

What is your position and what you do on a day-to-day basis?

I am variously a Deputy District Judge with a s 8 children ticket, a law trainer and now family law arbitrator. When not sitting in the North West, I train lawyers and GP's and have just set up a family law arbitration service.

How long have you been in this role and what brought you here?

I've been a Deputy for 6 years now and a trainer for 5. I was a solicitor in private practice, focusing on family law, for 20 years.

What are the people you work for/with like? Any memorable stories?

They’re a pleasure to work with. Other judges are genuinely supportive and collegiate. The support staff deal with even the least of judges impeccably.

What is the best and worst part of the day for you?

The best time can be finding a list of genuine substance and interest to deal with, especially if it involves a subject area which is new to me. I have an addiction to learning new things. Unfortunately this arrived long after I left school and university but better late than never!

The worst time is the journey back from court. I serve a very broad geographical area and invariably travel by train. While I do get to read or write on the way, any hold up can result in a very late return home. The train line I usually use operates depressingly obsolete rolling stock, just to add to the misery.

What adjectives best describe you?

Single minded, endlessly persistent.

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What keeps you motivated?

Making a genuine difference to people's lives. Just occasionally I have had a litigant who has come out on the wrong end of my judgment endorse it and I find that immensely satisfying. To have explained and justified a decision so thoroughly that even the person who doesn't get what they want out of it agrees that it is fair is the greatest approval I can ever receive.

Tea or coffee?

Coffee. Frankly I'm obsessive about it. I even roast my own beans. I don't necessarily drink vast amounts but it has to be good stuff.

What would you say to anyone thinking of a  career in your field?

The selection procedure is very demanding and you need to prepare thoroughly for it. Becoming a Deputy as a solicitor is a risk laden undertaking. It often involves significant sacrifice in career terms, losing promotion, employment even. However, I wouldn't for one moment want to turn the clock back. Because selection is so fiercely contested and scrutinised, it's a huge professional compliment to be appointed and one which clients in particular take very seriously indeed. You may have to make your own opportunities outside judging though.

What song do you listen to the most?

This last year or two I think it's been Cat Stevens 'Morning has broken' but my musical tastes are extremely wide ranging so nothing stays at the top of the playlist for long.

How do you enjoy your time outside of work?

Being with my family. If there's one thing a career in family law teaches you to treasure, it’s a strong family life.

If you could change one thing about the family  justice system what would it be and why?

The thing I am genuinely excited about in family law is the development of arbitration. Initially I didn't see the point – after all, isn't that what Courts are for? Then a solicitor in Yorkshire explained to me how it can be used by lawyers to break out of the ill fitting one-size-fits-all approach of the FPR. Family lawyers have the opportunity of devising a process for any given case which best suits the needs of those specific clients. Delay, expense and stress can all be seriously mitigated. I'm hoping to see major take up of arbitration, and not just because I happen to be offering the service!

You can follow DDJ Jonathan James on Twitter @nfasltd.