Tribunal judge Samina Majid was appointed as a fee-paid judge of the First-tier Tribunal, Social Entitlement Chamber, in 2019. Previously, she had been a Valuation Tribunal member and a magistrate, after working for several years as a solicitor.
In this Q&A, in partnership between the Law Society’s Solicitor Judges Division and the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC), Samina tells us about her current judicial role, her experience as a magistrate and how her career as a solicitor prepared her for the bench.
Tell us about your current role, your previous judicial roles and your professional background
I was appointed a fee-paid judge of the First-tier Tribunal, Social Entitlement Chamber in the North West in January 2019. Prior to that, I was a:
- Valuation Tribunal member
- magistrate for the adult criminal court, and
- magistrate for the family court
I qualified as a solicitor in 2002 (with Olliers Solicitors) and worked as an associate solicitor until 2006 (at JMW Solicitors). My main practice areas were criminal litigation, civil litigation, compliance and regulation. I left to open my own private practice, a high-street law firm (Amicus Solicitors), where I was a partner and head of criminal and civil litigation, and compliance and regulation.
By 2014, I decided I needed a new challenge and left my practice but continued doing legal consultancy work and other projects. I joined the bench as a magistrate and was subsequently appointed to the Valuation Tribunal for England before being appointed to my present role in the Social Entitlement Chamber.
Why did you want to become a judge?
I was contacted as part of the JAC’s outreach programme and encouraged to apply. I had never thought that a judicial position was attainable for someone like me, but the idea of a new challenge caught my interest. After doing some work-shadowing, I found the role interesting and thought I would enjoy it.
I attended a judicial shadowing scheme (run by the Ministry of Justice) where I shadowed a tribunal judge. I shadowed in two jurisdictions and ultimately chose one. The judges I shadowed were very accommodating and really encouraged me to apply. One of the district tribunal judges allowed me to come and shadow him again and mentored me through the application process. I will always be grateful for this.
I also attended a selection day workshop at the Royal Courts of Justice, for judicial mentoring participants. The workshop was run by the JAC and hosted by a High Court judge and JAC member. The level of support, encouragement and guidance they provided was brilliant and helped me to understand just how far the appointments process has come in its efforts to ensure diversity on the bench.
Are there barriers facing solicitors entering the judiciary?
The JAC is an independent commission and is constantly striving to improve the diversity of the bench. The days of the ‘golden handshake’ are long gone. More solicitors are now being appointed than in previous times and things are still improving. Appointments are based solely on merit and only the best-qualified candidates are appointed.
Since my appointment, I have voluntarily mentored people in the application process and will to continue to do so in order to help increase diversity in the judicial system.
What skills from your solicitor practice did you bring to the bench?
Most of the skills acquired as a solicitor should be transferable to the bench, although there are so many more skills you will develop. Communication, impartiality, drafting and advocacy were skills I found useful when sitting – tribunals are inquisitorial so being an advocate was especially helpful.
How did your experience as a lay magistrate help you in your application and in your current role as a judge?
My experience as a magistrate provided me with numerous evidence-based examples I was able to use in my application to the JAC.
I decided to apply to become a magistrate some years ago. I was grateful for all the opportunities I had been given in my career and felt I wanted to give back something to the community. What better way than offering my skills in volunteering to administer justice?
The role was really fulfilling. I sat in both criminal and family jurisdictions and gained valuable insight in sitting as a judicial member. The position also helped enhance my legal skills.
I learnt how to deal with people from a different perspective and how to balance evidence impartially to achieve justice. As a solicitor advocate, you act for one party and put forward arguments for your client to win the case. Whilst you still consider the opponent’s case, you have a duty to act in the best interests of your client. As a magistrate, you are completely impartial and weigh the evidence fairly. You learn ‘judgecraft’.
You also learn to manage busy court lists efficiently, work closely and effectively with other judicial members, and deal with a diverse range of people.
How did your personal background impact your desire to become a judge (if at all)?
I had never given any thought to a judicial career previously as I simply did not think female, ethnic minority solicitors would be appointable.
I also thought, like many others, that you had to be a barrister and QC before applying. Having realised that a judicial position was not out of reach for someone of my personal background, it motivated me to set my goal and work towards becoming a judge – perhaps more than it would have done otherwise.
What are your tips for solicitors thinking about joining the judiciary?
Preparation is key. The process is not like anything I had ever experienced before. Research the roles you are interested in, thoroughly. Study the application process and the required criteria on the JAC website.
Apply for some work-shadowing as early as possible. There are waiting lists for the judicial shadowing scheme.
Attend a JAC workshop or course. It will give you invaluable insight into the application process and what to expect if you are invited to attend a selection day.
Most exercises have a two-week application window so try to be prepared (as far as possible) in advance. Use your professional experiences to think of evidence-based examples. Start preparing these in good time before the exercise you’re interested in is advertised.
Use your professional drafting skills to draft a concise application. Competition is fierce and there are no short-cuts.
Similarly, think carefully about your referees. Don’t just name-drop. They must be able to give actual, practical examples to show how you have demonstrated some of the qualities and abilities necessary to become a judge.
I didn’t realise how much I would absolutely love my role, but it makes the whole process worthwhile! Don’t believe it’s not for you and don’t give up trying.