Rowena Collins Rice, High Court Judge

Rowena Collins Rice spent many years in central government, including as a government lawyer. Educated at a girls’ school in Glasgow, Rowena studied and taught law at Oxford University before joining the civil service fast stream in 1985. Having gained policy, legislation and private office experience in the Home Office, Rowena applied for the Government Legal Service’s legal trainee scheme, qualifying as a solicitor in 1995 and becoming the first lawyer in her family.

Following a number of legal advisory roles in the Home Office and the former Department for Constitutional Affairs, she was appointed a Legal Director at HM Revenue & Customs in 2005 and became Legal Adviser to the Ministry of Justice in 2007, before joining the Ministry’s Executive Board the following year as Director-General (Democracy, Constitution and Law) and Chief Legal Officer.

In 2010 she became Director-General, Constitution to the then Deputy Prime Minister, and in 2011 she was appointed Secretary to the Leveson Inquiry (into the culture, practices and ethics of the press). She was Director-General of the Attorney General’s Office and Legal Secretary to the Law Officers from 2013 until moving to the full-time judiciary in 2020.

She was appointed a Deputy High Court Judge in 2017, and a High Court Judge in 2020.

“Apart from legal knowledge in a number of QBD areas (including public law and more specialist areas – in my case media & communications), a career in government legal work develops expertise in statutory interpretation and in the constitutional context in which law is made and administered.  It also develops resilience in operating in unfamiliar legal contexts, confidence in dealing with a range of exceptionally complex and novel legal issues, practice in making difficult judgment calls balancing competing interests, and familiarity in operating within the disciplines of impartiality, candour and confidentiality.  It is a good preparation for the ethos of service to a diverse public and careful stewardship of public resources which are now expected of judges.  Senior management experience is also excellent preparation for the demands of maintaining authority in court, case management more generally, working effectively with court staff and colleagues, and the prioritisation and time/workload management needed to handle a busy judicial practice.

The combination of law, constitution and public service has always been my principal career motivation.  It brings together a high-level interest in where law comes from and how it works, and a focus on how and why it impacts the lives and fortunes of people in real life.  Having spent many years in the behind-the-scenes world of the civil service – helping to make and apply law and policy, and advising on and supporting ministerial decision-making – prepared me to be ready for more front-line public service in the law, and to make and be publicly accountable for my own decisions.  Although not yet a well-worn path, the progression from a government career to the judiciary has felt in some ways a very natural as well as a privileged one, combining developed career experience with the stimulation of fresh practice, in a new form of contribution to public life.”

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