Anne Molyneux is a Circuit Judge at the Old Bailey (Central Criminal Court). She was appointed a Circuit Judge in 2007 and a Recorder in 2000. She is a former partner (property litigation) in a City law firm.
Circuit judges are appointed to one of seven regions of England and Wales, and sit in the crown and county courts within their particular region. Some circuit judges deal specifically with criminal or civil cases, while some are authorised to hear public and/or private law family cases.
“This is the best job in the world. You are a part of the criminal justice system and the work is about ensuring that cases are tried fairly and that people are treated with respect, no matter who they are and no matter what their role in the proceedings might be. There is never need to question what you are doing with your life. It is never boring. It is not about time recording, or billing or marketing – all the things that, for me, were the worst part of being a solicitor. Every day is worthwhile and has a purpose.
“It can also be very difficult. You have a responsibility for people’s lives and finding an appropriate sentence can be almost unbearably hard. It is a very intellectually and emotionally demanding role.
“A lot of the cases I deal with are to do with very serious crimes – rapes and shootings – and some of the cases are very long and complicated. An alleged fraud case I will be hearing soon is expected to last for two-and-a-half months. The shortest cases take a day.
“I knew I wanted to be a judge from when I was 5. I come from the North West and when I grew up it was not common to move to London, and if you did, you needed to have a job to pay your way. So there was no way I could have gone to the Bar where income was irregular and uncertain. I became a solicitor, and was fortunate to become involved in some amazing litigation with a very high profile organisation. Through this I met and worked with a range of people and became a ‘leader in my field’ which gave me the opportunity to become a Recorder.
“When I decided I wanted to go for full-time appointment, I realised that this did not fit with being the head of department in a City firm. I was responsible for a group of lawyers, a number of clients and had to report to the partnership. This was not compatible with pursuing a full-time appointment. Partnerships require annual budgets and quarterly, if not weekly reviews. Clients have to be nurtured and prioritised. This is not consistent with trying to get a job elsewhere.
“So a group of lawyers in my department got together and devised a plan. We moved to a smaller firm, SGH. I would pursue a full-time appointment and responsibility for the practice would pass over that time to the person who had been senior associate in our team. It was a three-year strategy and involved the cooperation and support of all members of our group, as well as the support and understanding of SGH partners. I continued to sit as a Recorder as often as possible and I also joined the Parole Board to learn more about serious crime and sentencing. As a Parole Board member I conducted a number of oral hearings in prisons across the UK which was invaluable experience. Through this work I met and worked with probation officers which did a great deal to increase my understanding of what is involved in custodial and non-custodial sentences.
“The selection process to become a Circuit Judge consisted of a form and an interview. You have to force yourself to fill the form in properly. It can be very challenging and difficult. My advice is to take a couple of days off. Go to a library or quiet place away from home or the office. Do one question. Then have a treat, be that a walk, coffee or cake. Go back to the library and complete another question. Repeat the process until you have finished the form. Do not send it in until you have asked a couple of trusted friends to look at it with you. You have to put as much energy and effort into it, as if it was your thesis and provide evidence of your abilities. You can’t just think ‘I really want this job’.
“I do not think of myself as a solicitor judge or a woman judge. I am a judge who is a woman and used to be a solicitor. These characteristics should not make a difference. I was the first solicitor in my firm to have a baby and come back to work. That was 23 years ago. Now it is the norm to combine child care and work. A few years ago the number of women judges was very small. It has increased considerably. There is no reason why it should not be the norm for solicitors to become circuit judges. Fill in that form.”