Karen Hammond is a District Judge (Magistrates’ Courts). For 10 years she was a Deputy District Judge (Magistrates’ Courts) while also teaching law – most recently as Head of Advocacy and Criminal Litigation for BPP Professional Education – and was a Legal Assessor for the Nursing and Midwifery Council. Previously she was a criminal barrister for 13 years.
“Being called an ‘academic’ can seem a rather grand term, particularly if you do not conduct research, but I was teaching law before I applied to be a District Judge (Magistrates’ Courts). I have been sitting since April 2013, based in Croydon, and gave up teaching at the point I became a full-time judge. I was predominantly teaching advocacy and in the last couple of years doing some project work – working with a consultant psychiatrist on rape and sexual assault cases which come to court.
“I did not return to chambers after the birth of my eldest daughter, so I left practice in 1998. The original plan was to return after a couple of years but I realised it was not going to be possible to work part time and there have also been all the trials and tribulations of the criminal bar. I enjoyed being a barrister and taking silk may have been my ambition at the time, but other avenues opened up.
“I am not sure I always intended to be a judge, but as soon as I started to sit as a deputy I loved it. I was qualified to apply to be a District Judge (Magistrates’ Courts) because I was a former barrister and a deputy. Many of the examples I gave of my experience related to being a deputy, but there were also plenty from teaching and from activities outside of work.
“Working for an international provider of education meant I had some very good equality and diversity examples – working with people from different backgrounds and cultures. Also, working in a non-law practice environment meant I was mixing with people from different disciplines – accountants, surveyors, HR and training – and I realised that not everyone thinks like a lawyer does. I have also been a legal assessor for the Nursing and Midwifery Council, which involved working with medics and nurses. Combined, this experience gave me a better understanding of people – what motivates them and how they differ – and also a broader perspective, which changed how I would approach certain problems. So, there are other ways of demonstrating the competencies needed for a judicial role if you are not a practising lawyer.
“The selection process consisted of being shortlisted through a sift of application forms and references. The next stage involved being asked questions about a particular scenario and being interviewed by three panellists. The system enabled me to demonstrate my skills in practice. I would recommend studying the required competencies and thinking carefully about the evidence you can provide in relation to them. This will be much more difficult if you are not familiar with the particular judicial role, so consider doing some shadowing.
“It is a fabulous career – you should go for it and certainly do not rule yourself out.”