Kelyn Bacon, High Court Judge, Chancery Division

I was born in Mumbai and moved to England as a child, attending local state schools in Somerset. Before becoming a judge, I practised as a barrister at Brick Court Chambers, specialising in EU and competition law. I was instructed on cases in the domestic courts and tribunals (including in particular the Competition Appeal Tribunal) and took silk in 2014. Alongside my practice, I held various part-time academic posts and was the editor and main author of a practitioner textbook on State aid. In 2017 I was appointed as a Deputy High Court Judge (DHCJ) in the Chancery Division; and I was appointed as a full time High Court Judge in 2020. I have combined my professional practice with bringing up two children (now teenagers).


I had thought about applying to be a DHCJ for a while but hadn’t envisaged doing so quite so early in my career. Then in early 2016, after I had been in silk for two years, I saw an advertisement for a JAC outreach programme to encourage people from underrepresented groups to apply for s. 9(4) appointment. I applied for a place on the programme (seminars and workshops over the course of a weekend, followed by assignment to a mentor and work shadowing as part of that), and found it far less daunting than I thought it would be, so I then applied in the next s. 9(4) DHCJ competition.


At the time I anticipated that it would be some years before I would feel ready to apply for a full-time position. In the event I enjoyed the work as a DHCJ so much that I applied for the full-time job after two years and was delighted to be appointed to the Chancery Division in 2020. I am the youngest judge in my division, but I have never felt that my age made a difference, either in the selection process or in my experience of life as a full-time judge since appointment.


Both the DHCJ and full-time High Court Judge (HCJ) selection processes were very well run and I found the JAC staff to be helpful and accommodating throughout. As an example, the initial deadline for my DHCJ application fell during a school holiday period when I was away with my family, but the JAC agreed an extension to the following week after my return.


Many applicants find the role-play part of the DHCJ selection process quite challenging. The important thing is to be able to stay calm and not get thrown off course by unexpected events. There isn’t necessarily a single right approach; rather the purpose of the exercise is to test your ability to deal with whatever issues crop up during the scenario, and to reach decisions that are sensible and appropriately-reasoned. The interview for my full-time HCJ application happened just after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, so it was all done remotely, which felt strange at first but in the end was not very different to (say) a remote court hearing.


After spending the entirety of my practice at the commercial bar, with quite defined fields of specialisation, I have really enjoyed being thrown into a whole new range of work in areas of law that I had not touched since my undergraduate law course. Equally importantly, the sense of public service is enormously rewarding – the cases we hear make a real difference to people’s lives, so the human element is always very present and an important part of our role.


There is a perception that the role of a judge might be a rather lonely one. In fact, I have found the Chancery Division to be very collegiate and supportive. We all come from different backgrounds, so it is quite normal to ask colleagues for advice on issues that are unfamiliar, whether procedural or substantive – or even just to talk through a tricky issue in a case.