Ini Udom was appointed as a fee-paid Tribunal Judge in the First-tier Tribunal, Social Entitlement Chamber (Social Security and Child Support) in May 2019. She is also a self-employed Barrister, specialising in white-collar crime and regulatory law.
I considered whether to apply for a judicial position for some time. I had concerns as to whether I could possibly be good enough, would I be able to make it work with my practice, was I experienced enough and whether this was a good path for me to take. It is important to carefully consider whether a judicial role is right for you – are you ready to make the commitment and assume the responsibility that the role will entail? I found that speaking to others who sit was an invaluable way to gain insight into what is required.
I also undertook judicial shadowing, in a Magistrates Court, for three days which was instructive. Although I applied for appointment to a different jurisdiction, the experience of viewing proceedings from the Bench gave a completely new perspective and further insight into what a judicial role entails. It is challenging, demanding, interesting, and, most importantly, meaningful work.
The JAC offers seminars on the application process. I attended one prior to making my application. The advice I received was useful and to the point. The seminar also provided the opportunity to meet and share with others who were also considering applying for roles. The attendees were diverse in terms of background (personal and professional), ethnicity and age. This was encouraging and motivating. The Bar Council also runs a Judicial Mentoring Scheme which is an excellent programme.
I find sitting in the Tribunal richly rewarding. It has afforded me an opportunity to work in a different way – as a part of a panel in an inquisitorial setting. I have worked with many insightful, formidable colleagues as a panel and I enjoy this aspect of the work immensely. Each panel member brings their own specialist knowledge and is relied upon by the other members where necessary. It is true collaborative working. There is also a good support network amongst the Tribunal Judges. Once appointed I was allocated a ‘family’ salaried Judge, who can be contacted for guidance and advice. Each day there is a duty Judge who is available to assist with matters that might arise in the course of a hearing. You are not alone!
The Tribunal work sits well alongside my practice in chambers. All this must be balanced with my family life. My clerks have been encouraging and accommodating which has been invaluable. In a similar vein I have nothing but praise for the Allocations team at the Tribunal. Of course, communication and careful forward planning is absolutely essential if practice and a judicial role are to be combined.
It has been a steep and difficult learning curve as this was a completely new area of law for me. Through the work I am developing a new skill set which would not have been readily accessible to me in practice. I have also found that many skills that I regularly use in practice have transferred well over to the role, such as working with interpreters, vulnerable witnesses and analysis of voluminous material.
Of course, the selection process is rigorous and something of a shock to the system when you have not sat an exam or test for decades. But the process can be prepared for. Read the previous papers / reviews published on the JAC website, study the competencies, take on board what is required, and spend time reflecting on your own work and experiences. I would advise that an applicant look beyond professional experiences for examples as to how you satisfy the competencies – other commitments and activities may be rich with examples.
Again, I would urge any applicant to speak to others and especially those who have been through the process before. If you can, arrange mock interviews.
The JAC is approachable and the website is an incredible source of information. I have found it to be receptive and accommodating – if you have questions ask them.
Lastly, I would encourage you, if you are ready, to prepare and apply! Do not be deterred by querying whether you are a face that fits or undermining your own abilities. Why not you?! See what happens.
And, if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.