Faridah Eden is a Fee-paid Judge of the First-tier Tribunal, Health, Education and Social Care Chamber (Mental Health). She is a solicitor working in the Government Legal Service (GLS) and is currently Head of the Academies and Free Schools team advising the Department for Education.
“A few years ago a colleague at the Ministry of Justice was appointed as a Deputy District Judge and that got me thinking about the possibility of a judicial career in the future. I took the opportunity to attend a talk given by a JAC Commissioner and signed up for the JAC newsletter ‘Judging Your Future’ to find out about upcoming roles. I undertook judicial work shadowing at Wandsworth County Court, arranged by Judicial Office, and applied for a Deputy District Judge role. However, I didn’t get through the qualifying test as I ran out of time – so I knew I needed to practise to get my exam technique right.
“Next I looked at other options, and spotted that the Mental Health Tribunal needed fee-paid judges. As I had worked on a Mental Health Bill at the Home Office and I had previously given advice on restricted patients, I was familiar with the legal background. So I arranged to do shadowing at the Mental Health Tribunal and actually I much preferred it. Since I qualified as a solicitor, I have always worked in Government and done public law so the County Court felt rather alien to me. The Mental Health Tribunal felt much more familiar. In a previous role at the Home Office I was advising people taking important decisions on immigration and asylum cases, so I was used to taking public law based decisions which had serious consequences for people’s lives and I understood how important it was to get those decisions right.
“I also liked the fact that the Mental Health Tribunal consists of a judge sitting with two other people – in Government you are often part of a team making a decision or advising. Everyone on both sides of the table was trying to come to the ‘right’ decision, working in the interests of the patient and trying to make sure this was a fair process. So it worked out much better – I am much happier that I’ve ended up with this role.
“If I were to offer advice to someone about to go through the JAC selection process I would say to spend some time thinking about your experience and how it fits. Think widely and look at the competencies. For example, it is fair to assume you will be asked about treating people equally and about awareness of community diversity. In the interview I included some examples from outside of work covering my role on my local Parish Church Council, on which I’ve worked with all sorts of people from across the local community.
“To prepare for the interview I also spoke to people I know who are sitting as deputy district judges. This was very useful in finding out what the selection process was like for them, what they enjoy about their job and what the challenges are. From those conversations, I understood that there were some key things I needed to get across in the situational questioning, like demonstrating fairness to both parties and giving everyone a chance to speak, while being aware that you need to get through your list in time as other cases are waiting to be heard.
“The selection day itself was well organised and professional. The JAC staff were very helpful and the panel interview was fair and balanced, with a clear emphasis on the job description and competency framework. I thought the balance of the interview panel worked well. I’m used to doing interviews as that is how we progress in the GLS but the lay member asked me some rigorous questions of the type I wouldn’t normally be asked in a GLS interview.
“I would really recommend shadowing. I came away from my day at the Mental Health Tribunal really enthused about it. By pure coincidence, the patient and her solicitor, social worker and doctor were all black or Asian and then on the other side of the table you had this panel of a judge, consultant psychiatrist and lay person who were all white and several decades older than the patient. It’s not about tokenism but about the patient feeling she was heard and the experience she was going through – having had someone closer to her own background on the panel would have been good.
“I am yet to start sitting but intend to continue my current working pattern of four days a week for the GLS and sit for the Mental Health Tribunal on my fifth day. I sit for at least 30 days per year and there will be flexibility as to when I do that on both sides. The GLS sees this as a positive thing to do; they are keen to support the JAC and they see the read-across benefits to the work we are doing.”
This case study also features in the JAC Annual Report 2013-14.