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Edward Bennett
Edward Bennett
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Your chance to become a Recorder in 2017
Date:26 JAN 2017
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The Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) will launch a Recorder competition on 1 February 2017.

The Lord Chancellor has asked the JAC to recommend the 100 best potential Recorders, without regard to their current jurisdictional experience or geographic location.

The need is for about 70 criminal and 30 family Recorders.

The roles are open to solicitors and barristers with 7 years’ post-qualification experience. The JAC hopes to see applications from the widest possible range of suitably qualified practitioners.

The Recorder role is often a first step to more senior judicial positions. Candidates are not expected to have judicial experience and those who are appointed will receive all the training they need.

The part-time nature of the Recorder position means it can easily be combined with other legal commitments.

Details  of the selection process are on the JAC website. There is also guidance on what to consider before applying including a test for candidates to assess readiness for judicial work.

To make sure we can attract applications for Recorder from the widest backgrounds, the JAC has designed the process for this selection exercise so that applicants will not have to be a specialist family or criminal practitioner or study the detail of a new jurisdiction to be ready to apply.

While candidates are not required to have a specific jurisdictional background before appointment. We also want to encourage those with a background in family law who are keen to serve as family Recorders to apply.

This year’s process has 4 stages and only the most meritorious will progress from one stage to the next:

  1. an online multiple-choice test designed to test situational judgement and critical analysis; about 60% of candidates will proceed to stage 2;

  2. an online scenario test that will be marked by a panel; it is designed to invite written narrative answers;

  3. a telephone assessment that will involve analysing a text and answering questions about it. Only those selected for telephone assessment will be asked to complete the self-assessment and provide details of people who can provide independent assessments (references). The self-assessment will be considered alongside the telephone assessment;

  4. an interview and role-play; independent assessments will be considered at this stage.

The tests have been devised and extensively ‘road-tested’ by practitioners and judges from different jurisdictions and backgrounds, taking expert advice, to check that they select fairly on merit.

We have not been asked to select candidates for specific geographic locations. We have been asked to recommend for appointment the best 100 potential judges – it is as simple as that. Then it will be for the Lord Chief Justice to deploy them.

I started my judicial life as a Recorder. The pre-JAC appointment system involved filling out an application form and being interviewed. What happens now is more sophisticated but really only a development of what has long gone before. Being a part-time judge is stimulating, worthwhile and can be enormous fun. If you think you have what it takes, have a go.

Lord Justice Ian Burnett
Vice Chairman
Judicial Appointments Commission

Lord Justice Burnett was appointed a Lord Justice of Appeal in October 2014, and Vice-Chairman of the JAC in November 2015. He was an Assistant Recorder and Recorder, before appointment as a Deputy High Court Judge and then High Court Judge in 2008.

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Celia Dawson: on being a Recorder

Celia Dawson has been a District Judge on the South Eastern Circuit since 2004. She was appointed a Recorder in 2016. She practised as a solicitor specialising in crime and family law.

My route to becoming a family Recorder has not been entirely conventional.

I studied literature at university, but my interest in law was piqued by listening to local solicitor Andrew (now Lord) Phillips give advice as the ‘legal eagle’ on Jimmy Young’s radio show. He seemed able to explain difficult legal concepts in ordinary language and I was inspired.

I became an articled clerk and then equity partner in a local solicitors firm. My speciality was crime and I spent many hours in the police cells and magistrates’ court as duty solicitor. I then began to get instructions from my criminal clients to help them when their children were involved in care proceedings. From there I was instructed by guardians to represent children.

When I had children I became a legal adviser in the magistrates’ court because the regular hours gave me more time with my family. Once my youngest went to school I returned to private practice.

My main area of work was children’s cases. I was also an advocate in the County and High Courts. I still maintained my criminal expertise by acting for private clients, unions and insurance companies.

It was at this stage that the local justices’ clerk suggested I apply to be a 'stipe', now known as a district judge in the magistrates’ court. Until then I had never thought of a judicial career. Being a part-time judge was a great boost to my confidence and ability. I now understood what information I wanted to hear from advocates when I was making decisions on the bench and my own advocacy improved. My firm was very supportive and gave me the time off for sittings, although I still needed to be in constant touch with my clients back at the office.

I was appointed as a full-time district judge in 2004, and continued to run my parallel careers in crime and family. In 2011 I felt ready for a challenge and, encouraged by our local Designated Family Judge, I applied for a family Recorder. I reached the assessment centre stage but was unsuccessful. I was horribly nervous and was ill prepared. Unwilling to accept defeat I gave it another go in 2015.

This year’s Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) competition will not test specific knowledge but rather your capacity to acquire it and use it in a judicial context. The skills of being a judge, such as assimilating complex information, working at speed and under pressure and dealing fairly with people are the same in every jurisdiction.

The training by the Judicial College is comprehensive and supportive. The residential induction course is hard work, but geared to practical judging skills.

Having two jobs is not easy. However the advent of electronic bundles in the family court means that you can read and prepare your judicial caseload from home and whilst sitting you can also keep in touch with your other job.

The best thing about being a Recorder is that the work is demanding and stimulating. You have to be able to deal with complex and sometimes distressing situations objectively. You must be on top of the game legally and apply the latest case law in your judgments. You have to be a clear, sensitive communicator of good news and bad. All of which brings me back to why I wanted to be a lawyer in the first place.

My advice to anyone thinking about it is to have a go, more than once if necessary. Do your research into what the JAC are looking for and prepare, prepare, prepare!