Nicola Braganza is a Fee-paid Employment Judge and a Fee-paid Judge of the First-tier Tribunal, Health, Education and Social Care Chamber (Special Educational Needs and Disability). She also practices as a barrister, specialising in discrimination, asylum, immigration and public law.
It did not really cross my mind to apply to sit as a judge until a few years ago. I have always loved my work as a barrister and representing my clients. It is only in more recent years that I noticed a change in there being many more tribunal judges from diverse backgrounds. That prompted me to think about it more seriously. I had colleagues who enjoyed sitting and I considered that the experience I had built up over the years, particularly with vulnerable clients, would help me as a judge.
I shadowed two different judges in the County Court and then also spent time with the Employment Judges in Bristol through the Judicial Shadowing scheme. It was completely different from what I had expected and I was really grateful for the experience. That decided it for me. All the judges I spent time with were incredibly supportive and encouraging. I got a real insight into life on the other side of the “bench”.
I knew that I was unlikely to get it the first time. I had strong examples of the competencies but I had not sat a test since I was at Bar School and my last interview was many years ago when I joined chambers. I also knew that if I did sit, I wanted to sit as an Employment Judge, and so decided to apply for whatever came up to improve my chances of being appointed as an Employment Judge. I had considered sitting in the Mental Health Tribunal but because of my background in discrimination was much more drawn to employment. As expected, I ended up applying several times in different exercises. I improved at sitting the tests and would make it through to the interview but the role play let me down. I think that is because I have always been better at the real thing, rather than ‘pretend’ scenarios.
Eventually, there was a combined recruitment exercise for a Fee-paid Employment Judge and First-tier Tribunal Judge. Again, to increase my chances and also because I have always been interested in Health, Education and Social Care, I ticked both.
I got through to the interview and was thrilled. But shortly after that the date of my interview coincided with one of the most difficult personal times for me. I had reached the point when I had decided that if I did not get through, I would not apply again. I think, as a result, I was more relaxed and myself in the role play and the interview. I remember that my interview panel was all female, which I found really encouraging. I also remember that they were very supportive in how they asked their questions.
When I found out that I had been appointed to both the Employment Tribunal and SEND, I was over the moon and could not quite believe it. I have now been sitting for about 10 months. It has been the steepest learning curve that I could have imagined but also the most rewarding. I have been very fortunate in having the most supportive, responsive and wise women as my mentors in each jurisdiction. The most recent training has been exceptional and the focus on developing judges who apply the law with humanity and awareness of the vulnerabilities of parties and, particularly, litigants in person, has given me much more hope for the judiciary. I have also met so many other new judges from completely different backgrounds, all of whom I am sure will be brilliant judges.
I would say that if you are thinking of applying, definitely start by shadowing, if you can, and definitely go for it. Think of your examples for your form and spend time identifying the strongest. If you do not succeed the first time, do not be put off. And if you come from a non-traditional background, that is even more reason to apply. I think it is crucial that our judiciary reflects our society and who we are. The more diverse and inclusive our judges, the better the administration of justice will be served.