Upper Tribunal Judge Rebecca Owens, Immigration and Asylum Chamber

“I attended comprehensive school on the outskirts of Reading, going on to be the first student from my school to get into Oxford University where I studied Modern History. I had no idea about where I wanted to go in my career and after I left university I did various stints in bookshops, the Housing Benefit Office and teaching English in Barcelona for a year.

I volunteered in the Refugee Studies Programme whilst at Oxford which piqued my interest in immigration and migration in general. After I returned from Spain, I found a job working for Refugee Action in a refugee hostel for Vietnamese refugees in Derby. This involved completing benefit applications and driving a minibus of people to London. Following this, I decided I would like to be an immigration lawyer so I could represent refugees. I completed the ‘Law Conversion Course’ and ‘Law Society Finals’, at Nottingham Polytechnic (now Nottingham Trent University). There was a scarcity of firms offering immigration services at that time and I was invited to complete my ‘law articles’ at an East London criminal firm where I later started doing immigration work. At that time the legislation consisted of the Immigration Act 1971. Who knew what was to follow!

I moved on to join the specialist and excellent immigration team at Hackney Law Centre working with some highly respected solicitors and counsel, going on to set up my own small immigration firm. In the meantime, I had successfully applied for my first judicial role of Asylum Support Adjudicator. From there, I swiftly obtained a ticket for the Social Security and Child Support Tribunal, hearing ESA, PIP and Housing Benefit appeals. I applied through the JAC to be a fee-paid immigration judge and started sitting at Hatton Cross. I then had to decide whether to pursue my judicial career or my firm and I chose the former. I loved the diversity of the work and the defined hours.

After many years of having sat in three jurisdictions, I started applying for a salaried role. I had been on fantastic judicial training and had built-up experience and felt ready to take the next step. I also wanted the security. I’m not afraid to admit that the recruitment process can feel brutal, and I (like many others) did not always get through. But as they say ‘if at first you don’t succeed...’

My top tip for the selection process is to take your time with the application form, be very thorough, really think about the competencies and examples of when you have demonstrated them. Carry around a notebook (if you prefer hand-writing details) or digitally note down scenarios where you think that you demonstrated a skill, situations you handled well or upon reflection, you could have done something differently. Read the equal treatment bench book. Talk to colleagues about their experiences. You have to be 100% committed and it’s tough. Not getting through can feel like a terrible rejection but always remember that there are lots of very senior judges who have also had to try more than once.

I was absolutely delighted to be appointed to the Upper Tribunal of the Immigration Chamber. For me being an immigration judge is easier because of my experience working in this area prior to becoming a judge but at the Upper Tribunal we have judges who have come from very different backgrounds – public law, government lawyers, employment law etc.

The job is undoubtedly challenging. It is very hard work and intellectually demanding. Having said that, it is interesting work, contributes to the democratic process in the UK and is really important. My colleagues are incredible and supportive both professionally and personally. There is always someone to discuss a case with. We are a truly collegiate Tribunal with great leadership judges. Newly selected judges are trained comprehensively, have mentors and sit on panels to help navigate the way through. There really is a lot of support in place. We have a welfare committee, support from Judicial HR and receptive leadership judges. It is possible to continue with other judicial duties and there are opportunities to get involved with diversity issues, training, practice rules, appraisals, pensions – you name it. One of my cohort has already been appointed to the High Court as a Deputy.

If you are up for a challenge and are willing to work hard, please apply to join us. It is interesting, you will have to think hard about and puzzle over tricky substantive and procedural questions against the background of constantly evolving law.

Undoubtedly for me the best thing about my job is my wonderful colleagues who are all kind, supportive and very clever! I also love working in central London just off Chancery Lane and feeling as if I am a tiny part of our British legal history.”

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