Janet Harries, Fee-paid Judge and Deputy President of the Mental Health Review Tribunal for Wales (Retired)

“After qualifying as a barrister, I completed pupillage in a leading set of chambers in Cardiff in 1979. There was only one female member of those chambers with very few other women practising anywhere in Wales, a level of representation reflected throughout the judiciary at that time. My longer career followed in employment in the Magistrates’ Court as a senior legal adviser with responsibility for all aspects of the Youth Court and Panel. In 2002 I was appointed through the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) process as a fee-paid First-tier Tribunal Judge in the Immigration and Asylum jurisdiction, followed by an appointment in 2007 to the Mental Health Review Tribunal for Wales (MHRTW) as a fee-paid legal member.

In 2010 I was appointed to sit in the Upper Tribunal, in the Immigration and Asylum Chamber and in 2014 I was appointed as a Deputy President of the MHRTW. In 2018 I was appointed to the Restricted Patients Panel of the MHRTW, dealing with patients detained after being accused or convicted of criminal offences.

After holding this range of judicial appointments simultaneously over a number of years whilst still employed, I chose to change course to work solely for the MHRTW for many more years. I have recently retired entirely from the MHRTW but my time there fully met my priority of working in a jurisdiction with people at its heart. The liberty of detained patients is central to the jurisdiction and the significant powers of the MHRTW provide an independent and essential safeguard for those people.

The work can be challenging at times with a need to read and understand a large amount of information in a short space of time. It is not unusual to preside over two hearings in a day, travelling between different hospitals in the past and more recently presiding over remote hearings in order to reach a final decision in each case. Great flexibility has been required with work practices to deal with the restrictions caused by the pandemic and there was a steep learning curve for all of us in the judiciary in gaining a high level of IT skills to meet those challenges. Time-management skills and punctuality are essential. The work can be emotionally demanding but is equally satisfying in that the decisions you make take immediate effect on almost all occasions.

Team work is essential to the process of sitting as a panel with a medical and a lay colleague to make joint decisions. Together you will share the responsibility of conducting a balancing exercise between the liberty of the individual and the protection of the public. Team work was equally important in my role as Deputy President of the MHRTW. It is the combination of these roles which will become the work of the salaried tribunal judges (STJs). These posts are being newly created through this JAC selection exercise, at the conclusion of which the deputy role will be phased out.  The two STJ posts will therefore replace the current support structure for the President. There is no requirement to be able to speak Welsh.

In addition to sitting, the successful applicants for the STJ posts will be supporting and assisting the President in all aspects of her judicial management of the MHRTW. I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge and variety in this role of making interlocutory decisions, providing advice on law and procedure to the administration and to members, sometimes urgently. Case management is a continuous task, often requiring speedy decisions and clear directions to be made. Pre-hearing applications and issues often need to be promptly considered, sometimes involving practical matters as well as law.

Dealing with applications for permission to appeal requires a high level of legal knowledge and robust decision-making skills in order to identify errors of law. Other matters delegated by the President require a wider set of skills in order, for example, to deal with complaints and grievances, to oversee judicial deployment and performance. I assisted with the pastoral care of members; I acted as a mentor and as an appraiser to all categories of member.

I played a significant role in developing and delivering training, as well as deputising for the President when necessary in her wider roles involving policy, contribution to consultations and liaison with external agencies. Good drafting skills are essential in assisting with the development and publication of Practice Directions, guidance on best practice and procedure.

I am probably typical in not having succeeded in the JAC process on the first occasion. Persevering with it allowed me not only to gain judicial appointments, but to move into completely new areas of law, transferring skills from one jurisdiction to another. Further success in the process also enabled me to be promoted within each jurisdiction. It is particularly satisfying to have travelled full circle at the end of my career by assisting in recent years with JAC recruitment exercises, making a contribution at all levels to an increasingly modern and diverse judiciary.

There is now a great deal of help available on the JAC website with guidance on each stage of the application process. It is a time-consuming but very worthwhile process in opening doors to a new career and making the best use of legal ability. It took me time to get to grips with the process and it is easy to underestimate the time needed. My advice is to start with your application as soon as possible to take up this exciting opportunity.”