“My father was a merchant navy captain who died when I was eight, so I was brought up by my mother and grandmother who ran a small primary school. None of my family went to university. None were lawyers. I was the first on both counts. I read Classics at the University of Exeter and undertook a law conversion course in London post-graduation.
My pupillage was in a commercial London set but I took up a tenancy in Exeter in 1985 and practised in the South West for over 25 years, predominantly in crime. I was a Crown Court Recorder from 1998 and became a QC in 2002. Thereafter, I prosecuted and defended homicides and other high-profile and serious cases. In 2013 I joined the Sentencing Council, after which I was awarded a murder ticket. After six years as a judge, I wanted to use my murder ticket and advance my judicial career by way of promotion to Senior Circuit Judge at the Central Criminal Court.
By 2015, my CV was sufficiently strong to merit such an application, even though I had no experience of the London criminal courts and had never practised or sat in London. I felt I had the required experience to merit appointment to this role and was delighted when my application was successful. The selection process was appropriately bespoke for this unique role. I was one of six judges appointed, of whom three were female. Within a short time, there was complete gender parity and a cohort of judges from diverse backgrounds.
The biggest challenges I find in the role are managing juries in long trials; and ensuring cases are properly managed, with any attempt at derailment averted. The biggest surprise was the intensity of the involvement with the City, which is both required and expected from all judges here. This involves the need to work with the Sheriffs of the City of London and the Lord Mayor on projects and events that require us to be available before and after court very regularly. This aspect of the job is extremely rewarding and should be embraced by any successful applicant with vigour and enthusiasm. Other than during August, you can expect to be asked to participate in two to three events a week, as well as lunch with guests Monday to Thursday. A typical day might include greeting overseas guests at 9am and providing them with a tour of the building; conducting a multi-handed murder trial; acting as duty judge with esteemed guests; a city dinner.
The Old Bailey ‘family’ is just that. Under the leadership of the Recorder of London and the Common Serjeant, the judges all work together and support each other in their work and with any personal issues. All Old Bailey judges have murder tickets. The role of Senior Circuit Judge at the Old Bailey is unique. It is the perfect role for a criminal judge provided they are committed to more than the ‘day job’. The ‘day job’ is the trial of homicide: often young teenagers accused of knife murders of other teenagers with complex legal issues and vast amounts of material to be absorbed and summarised for the jury. Written rulings, directions and sentencing remarks are compulsory. Case management and maintaining momentum – as well as jury management – are vital skills. The key to getting it right is to take advantage of the other equally qualified and experienced judges and to seek their views.
The role also affords the opportunity to work with numerous educational establishments and charities in a bid to reduce homicide in Greater London, with a particular focus on knife crime. There are regular opportunities to speak at events, to welcome judges from overseas and to visit interesting venues as guests of honour. The successful applicant will find themselves in a new and exciting world, in which the role of trial judge in a multi-handed murder trial is balanced with the extra-curricular activities outlined above.
On a personal note, the decision to apply to sit at the CCC is the best one I have made in my professional life and I have loved every minute of my time here. I regard it as the pinnacle of the profession of a criminal practitioner or judge. But it is not for everyone!”