Geraint Williams, Judge of the First Tier Tribunal, Tax Chamber

“I was appointed as a salaried judge in December 2019 after spending 20 years as a solicitor. My career path into the legal profession did not follow the traditional route. After leaving school I worked in the City for five years in a back-office role dealing with foreign currency investments. During that time, I started studying for an accountancy qualification but found the legal element of the course more interesting than the accountancy! Following that revelation, I moved on to study law at university as a mature student. After completion of my training contract with a mid-sized regional firm I specialised in commercial property and in 2001 joined the Inland Revenue (now HMRC) Solicitor’s Office conducting direct and indirect tax litigation.

The thought of applying for a judicial role had not even crossed my mind until a lawyer that I supervised asked me to provide a reference for their judicial application. It was only when I looked on the JAC website to find out what experience and qualities were required that I realised that I met the requirements. I was still unsure so volunteered to ‘road-test’ a JAC recruitment role-play exercise and found the experience of playing the part of a potential applicant positive and very encouraging. I then undertook some judicial shadowing in the First-tier Tribunal (Property Chamber) which proved invaluable. Although I subsequently applied for a role in a different jurisdiction, the experience of viewing proceedings from the bench and the discussions with the judge before and after the hearing gave a valuable insight into what a judicial role entails both during and outside hearings. The judge that I shadowed could not have been more welcoming and encouraged me to apply.

I found the JAC selection process to be challenging. The application does require you to devote time and thought to gather examples for the competence-based self-assessment and the interview. The time spent gathering competence-based examples at the application stage was not wasted as at the interview I was able to provide further examples to avoid having to repeatedly rely upon the examples included in my application. I found the online written test the most challenging part of the selection process due to the fact it is so time pressured, however, it is a good test of your ability to cope in such an environment as it replicates some of the time-pressured decisions made in Tribunals. Having successfully got through the online tests it was quite daunting to receive the documents to read through and prepare for the selection day. I had set aside time for reading and preparation as soon as I was notified of the interview date and prepared by reading as much as I could. I found that the interview panel were open and fair but were robust and probing in their questioning.

I was delighted to be appointed but, despite my litigation experience, unsure of what to expect as I had no previous judicial experience. On day one, I was allocated a salaried judge as judicial guide and it was made clear that I could ask as many questions as I wanted. I was surprised by how collegiate and supportive the atmosphere is amongst judges in the Tribunal. I was fortunate as another new salaried judge had been appointed the month before and we attended the induction course together providing us both with a wealth of useful information as well as being able to support each other as we began our judicial careers.

The biggest challenge that I faced at the start of my judicial career was the COVID-19 pandemic. All my courtroom experience consisted of in-person hearings and it took a little while for me to adjust to remote hearings. The adjustment to remote hearings was greatly aided by the Tax Tribunal being an earlier adopter of fully-online hearings, along with the provision of video-hearing clerks assisting with the inevitable initial technical glitches, and training that was provided to judges via mock online hearings. An unexpected benefit of the enforced adoption of new technology is the continued use of electronic hearing bundles for in-person hearings, despite being initially sceptical I found that it made hearings more efficient.

Since being appointed I have heard a wide range of disputes. There is a huge variety in the cases we deal with, and I have found that to be the most fulfilling part of my role. Some are purely questions of fact, where you have to make a forensic assessment and findings based upon the evidence before you. At the other end of the spectrum are hearings which are very narrowly focused on a specific point of law which require the ability to understand and quickly digest the opposing legal arguments. Then of course there are cases with every combination in between!

My advice to anyone considering becoming a judge would be, if you are ready, to apply and do not think about whether or not you have the ‘right’ sort of background or that you would not fit in. If you are unsuccessful when you first apply do not be deterred from applying again as the experience gained is invaluable for future applications. If you are not sure about a judicial role, try to do some judicial shadowing as you will gain a real sense of what the role entails.”