Margaret Obi was appointed as a Deputy High Court Judge in 2018, sitting in the then Queen’s Bench Division, Royal Courts of Justice in London.
When I was appointed as a Deputy High Court Judge, I had no previous judicial experience. However, I had quasi-judicial experience as a legally qualified chair for various bodies including in the fields of professional regulation and international humanitarian work. My professional background is as a criminal defence solicitor. I was a partner in a large legal aid practise until 2014, when I left to become an independent legal consultant. I currently advise defence legal teams in war crimes cases at the International Criminal Court, various governments on issues relating to human rights and Legal 500 firms in cases involving serious fraud and terrorism offences. I am also an international arbitrator.
When I left partnership, it was to pursue new intellectual challenges and to have increased flexibility. Becoming a judge was never part of my career plan, however, a judge sent me a video in which The Rt Hon. Baroness Heather Hallett spoke about a new initiative (Diversity Support Initiative) to attract more lawyers from non-traditional backgrounds to sit as a Deputy High Court Judge. High Court work (save for judicial review) was not within my sphere of knowledge and so I looked into it. I was surprised to discover the huge variety of work undertaken by the High Court and I thought it sounded like an opportunity to take on a new intellectual challenge. I applied for the support programme, and I was accepted. As part of the programme, I attended a workshop and shadowed a High Court Judge, which provided invaluable insight into the breadth of the work and the pace of the High Court. I then applied to be a deputy and was appointed.
Most of the areas of law within the Queen’s Bench Division were completely new to me. However, international experience develops the ability to provide advice in unfamiliar legal contexts and make difficult decisions in high profile and extremely pressured situations, which is good preparation for the role of a Deputy High Court Judge. Pragmatism, hands on experience of dealing with clients throughout the life cycle of a case and experience in senior management is also good preparation for working constructively with court staff and colleagues, establishing and maintaining authority in the courtroom, prioritising workloads and effective case management.
Sitting as a Deputy High Court Judge has exceeded my expectations. It is a real privilege to be a fee-paid judge and the work is varied and intellectually stimulating.