Judge Neil Downey, District Judge

I was a civil barrister for over 20 years. After about 50 sittings as a civil Deputy District Judge (DDJ), I felt ready to apply to become a salaried District Judge. I believed that I had a reasonably good idea of what the job involved and realised that I found making decisions far more rewarding and satisfying than being an advocate. I also spoke to salaried judges who encouraged me to apply. I recommend speaking to judges and, if possible, arranging shadowing to get a feel for the life of a salaried judge.

I attended a JAC candidate seminar where I heard talks from judges and a JAC representative, who explained the recruitment process and the importance of the application form and self-assessment. The selection process is lengthy and rigorous, but don’t let that put you off. There is very helpful guidance available on the JAC website (which I used to prepare for the selection process), and each stage is clearly explained. I had already started to prepare my application before the exercise started – I had been given some excellent advice to start making a note of any situations that cropped up in work or in other roles that could be worked into examples within the self-assessment competency areas. Again, the JAC website gives very good guidance about choosing the best examples. I have a long-term health condition, and the JAC ensured that I could participate fully in the process.

You will already know, or have read about, how varied the role is; despite my civil background, I am still looking up parts of the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR) that I had never previously seen. The work is rewarding, because of the variety and the fact that the decisions you make – about housing, debt, children – are hugely important to the people who appear before you. My appointment was 50% civil, 50% family. Working in an entirely new jurisdiction (private family law) has been challenging and involves a different way of working from civil hearings. The Judicial College training is excellent, and I have been hugely supported by my new colleagues. Moving out of (in my case self-employed) practice was a bigger change than I expected, but I have been welcomed into a very friendly and collegiate workplace and am pleased that I made the move.

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