Judge Tom Church, Upper Tribunal, Administration Appeals Chamber

I attended my local comprehensive and read English at university before converting to law. I qualified as a barrister but spent most of my career as a solicitor. For 20 years I worked in global law firms specialising in complex cross-border finance transactions.

Joining the judiciary

I ended up in law firm management by accident and felt that I needed a distraction that was a bit more ‘real world’, so I applied for a fee-paid appointment in the First-tier Tribunal and found I really enjoyed the role. After a few years, the Upper Tribunal competition popped up on the JAC website. Having always been interested in legal decision making and judgement I was attracted by the Upper Tribunal’s error of law jurisdiction, which promised an opportunity to shape the law. I also liked its broad spread of jurisdictions.

Readiness for the role

I had experience of sitting in a few of the jurisdictions from which an appeal lies to the Upper Tribunal, so I knew I would not be totally at sea. There were also plenty of jurisdictions that would be new to me, so it would provide a challenge. I have always enjoyed writing, and explaining my thinking, so I believed the role would suit me. I had enjoyed my fee-paid roles and felt ready to commit to a salaried role.

Selection process and experience

I am ok with exams but get hugely anxious in interviews and face-to-face assessments, so I was very nervous about my selection day. We were given unseen papers for a fictional appeal, including the decision under appeal, statutory materials, and grounds of appeal. I was impressed that the assessment used invented legislation so no-one would be disadvantaged because of their particular professional experience. I also liked that the exercise reflected what an Upper Tribunal judge would actually do. None of the questions were designed to ‘throw’ candidates and they were very much aimed at the core skills of an Upper Tribunal judge.

I struggle to make eye contact, so was worried I might not come across well, but the panel members did their best to put me at my ease. In the end, the selection day was actually quite enjoyable.

Support, training and development

All our induction and training is completely bespoke. We ascertain the experience of each new appointee (based on previous judicial experience and jurisdictions) and tailor training accordingly.

There is no being ‘pushed in the deep end’ in the Upper Tribunal Administrative Appeals Chamber (UTAAC). Each new judge is assigned a mentor to guide them and answer questions. New appointees usually start off shadowing their mentors on paper files, being given plenty of time to research the law and discuss with their mentor before being let loose on their own cases.

New judges will attend cross-jurisdictional training provided by the Judicial College to hone their judgecraft.

More about the role

Public law deals with the intersection between the actions of the State and the rights of the individual. Given that Upper Tribunal (UT) decisions establish binding precedent, our decisions can have far-reaching implications for society. It is satisfying being able to make decisions which not only do justice in a particular case, but also develop the law.

The Chamber President and the Senior President have both been supportive of judges broadening their experience by working in other jurisdictions. I sit regularly in the High Court, which adds to the variety of my working life and allows me to learn from different ways of doing things.

We are a small chamber and there is a friendly and informal atmosphere. Although the job can be rather solitary, we meet for coffee every morning where we bounce ideas off each other and discuss legal issues. We come from a diverse range of backgrounds (barristers, solicitors, GLD lawyers, the advice sector, academia), so there’s no feeling that one has to ‘fit in’.

I love it. It is all that I had hoped it would be and encourage those interested to apply.

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