Judge John Aitken, President of the SEC (retired)

John is currently a Recorder sitting in Crime on the North East Circuit. He retired as President of the Social Entitlement Chamber in May 2020. John has also lectured at Northumbria University, sat on their examinations board and has been an external examiner for the Bar Council.

Before joining the Criminal Bar in 1984, John’s pathway into the judiciary was an unconventional one.

He attended state schools, leaving education at the age of 16 to work as a waiter, a driver and then Police Officer. After taking A-levels at night classes, John became a mature student at Newcastle Polytechnic. His first role into the judiciary was in 2000 as an Assistant Recorder (Crime), adding the civil jurisdiction in 2002. Later that year John was appointed as a Fee-Paid Immigration Adjudicator, he then ceased practice at the bar in anticipation of his next appointment to go onto become a full-time Immigration Judge in 2003.

“I had from a young age wanted to be a lawyer, I don’t now recall why, but I do recall pestering my older sister to write to get information on how to become a solicitor when I was aged 10 or so. Becoming a judge was simply inconceivable growing up, I had no contact with anyone who had even spoken socially to any lawyer, but they were portrayed on television and it looked interesting. I had not thought of becoming a judge until I went into practice, perhaps 10 years from call to the bar.

“I became interested in the judiciary from my appearances in court, but also from knowing members of chambers who themselves became judges, this demystified the process and the type of person who might qualify, once I realised that it was ability that was the gauge rather than a type of person who became a judge, that led to my making application.

“The skills I gained in practice ahead of my judicial career were how to handle a courtroom, dealing with witnesses, understanding documents and processes including the build-up to a trial. Basically, an understanding of all the moving parts that need to come together to make a trial or hearing a productive one.”

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