Judge Bilal Siddique – First-tier Tribunal, War Pensions and Armed Forces Compensation Chamber

“I was appointed as a salaried (full-time) Judge of the War Pensions and Armed Forces Compensation Chamber in 2021. I also sit as a Deputy High Court Judge in the King’s Bench Division and Administrative Court and as a Recorder in Crime.

Before taking up my full-time appointment, I retired as a Lieutenant Colonel from the British Army Legal Services after 22 years’ regular service and two years reserve service in the Royal Signals. When I commissioned from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in 1999, I was already a qualified barrister having been called to the Bar (Gray’s Inn) in 1996. I had practiced as a barrister from chambers at Inner Temple, London, followed by a year in Pakistan where I worked as a lawyer in energy and telecommunications law. My family were from Pakistan and I wanted to see the country and learn about its legal system, which has many similarities with our own.

I was born in Bradford and grew up in Birmingham and then Cardiff. I have been a keen martial artist since my teens and competed nationally and within the Armed Forces. I served worldwide with the Army and completed operational tours and deployments to Bosnia, Northern Ireland, Iraq and two tours of Afghanistan.

As an Army Legal Services officer, I also provided advice on criminal and disciplinary hearings, complaint hearings and statutory Service Inquiries (similar to Coroner’s Inquests). When serving at the Ministry of Defence in London, I drafted and negotiated international agreements with foreign states and provided overseas training in international humanitarian law and human rights law. I also spent many years prosecuting Court Martial cases including murder, rape and serious sexual offences.

Previously, I had gained sitting experience as a Deputy District Judge (Civil & Family) in 2019 and a Recorder in Crime in 2020.  Both were demanding appointments and helped prepare me for my application for my current salaried position. Firstly, I was able to draw upon professional and judicial examples that met the required competencies for the role. Secondly, as I had previously been through the selection process, I was more confident that I could deal with the situational questioning and role play exercises that candidates face.

My sitting experience demonstrated to me that I would be happy with a full-time judicial appointment, if it was one that I was interested in. When I saw that my Chamber was looking for a salaried Judge, I immediately knew that this was the perfect appointment for me. I loved being in the Armed Forces and this appointment allowed me to remain indirectly connected with them, although as an independent and impartial Judge resolving claims from the Armed Forces community against the Ministry of Defence.

Throughout the selection process, the more time and effort you invest in it, the more you get back. The JAC website, together with its reading material on the selection process and example situational judgement questions should be every candidate’s starting point for a selection exercise. From there, candidates must begin a journey to ready themselves for the selection process. This includes building up professional and judicial examples for the required competencies for the self-assessment part of the application, identifying current or future independent assessors and thinking about what work they have seen or might see (for ‘references’), keeping abreast of legal developments and topical issues facing the Judiciary, seeking opportunities to shadow and speak to Judges and perhaps even identifying potential mentors. Candidates should also be prepared to learn from unsuccessful applications by assessing areas of weakness that might be improved. Ultimately the process is fair as candidates are required to demonstrate evidentially why they are suitable for a judicial appointment.

Professionally I have found the role to be rewarding and enjoyable. There has been an excellent balance of making legal decisions and writing judgments on the one hand and dealing with wider judicial matters during hearings on the other.

My experience in this role is that there is as much support as you need – from colleagues, Training Judges and Supervising Judges. There is a strong network of experienced Judges that provide advice and support. All Judges have access to excellent online resources and most salaried Judges have very good IT equipment. With the concept of ‘One Judiciary’ there are growing opportunities to sit in other jurisdictions, teach through Judicial College training events, participate in the JAC selection process, engage internationally with overseas Judges and assist with diversity and community relations. These all help develop judicial skills and personal qualities.

The role of a Judge is ultimately to help parties obtain justice, both procedurally (for example, by ensuring a fair hearing) and substantively (for example, so that cases are decided based upon the evidence). Professional satisfaction can also be gained from deciding and resolving issues of law. If these matters appeal to you, I would urge you to apply.

Geographically, the role is based next to Gray’s Inn, London, and this is where I started my career as a student barrister at the Inns of Court School of Law. We have two large hearing rooms from where I can carry out many of my hearings, but with some occasional travel to HMCTS centres that are local for those appellants unable to travel. Our Chamber is unique as our appellants are usually either current or former members of the Armed Forces. Judges sit with a medical member (fully registered within the meaning of the Medical Act 1983, whether or not they hold a licence to practice) and a service member (anyone with substantial experience of service in the Armed Forces, some of whom are still serving).  Many of our Judicial Office Holders have served in the Armed Forces and understand, share and uphold the ethos, values and standards of the Armed Forces, which helps create a collegiate environment.”

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