Is it for me?
Do you have the experience and qualities needed to be a judge, would life on the bench suit you? In this section you can read about the experiences of some Sheriffs who have been through the judicial appointments process, you may find this information helpful if you are considering whether a judicial career is for you.
“My career in the law was as a criminal practitioner from 1977 to approximately 2000; I had been a partner in a firm for about 20 years and decided that I was not wishing to continue to be a criminal lawyer for the rest of my career. I resigned from the firm but continued for a number of years as a Consultant, which allowed me to seek other opportunities to do different things in the law. I obtained an appointment as a legal member of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Appeal panel. I also became a part-time Immigration Judge sitting mainly in Glasgow and London. I had previously been a temporary Sheriff from 1990 to 2000 and was re-appointed to that particular post as a part-time Sheriff in 2007. When I became a temporary Sheriff in 1990, the appointment was done on the basis of a recommendation. There was no formal application process. With the creation of the Judicial Appointments Board the process was radically different. It was clear from the application form that practical examples of situations I had encountered in practice was what was sought. The interview process was not as nerve racking as perhaps expected, mainly because I had gone through it when applying as a part timer. There was a written exercise in which you were questioned firstly by the legal members and then the whole panel. The questioning was robust but I never felt as though I was being cross-examined as a hostile witness! As a solicitor I had always viewed the shrieval bench as being for others. However over the years it became apparent that appointments were being made from all branches of the profession and with the creation of the Judicial Appointments Board, appointments were being made on the basis of merit and nothing else. I think that was a great encouragement, particularly to the solicitor branch of the profession to apply for shrieval posts. It also seemed to me, as a solicitor, that perhaps, if not a natural progression, it was an aspiration which could now be achieved. Now that I have been appointed I have seen at first hand what the job entails. As a part-time Sheriff you are generally channelled into one particular area of the law for the duration of your day at a Court. As a full timer, especially in a single Sheriff Court, you are exposed to a whole myriad of people and cases. Often you are working under pressure. The job is stimulating and interesting. Even in a small Court unusual cases crop up which require thought, care and attention. The job is as I expected it to be. In many ways you are your own boss. Decisions are yours and you require to be able to justify them. The beauty of the job is that no two days are ever the same! ”
“On qualifying as a solicitor in 1984, I moved to the court department of my then firm. I became a partner in 1986 and spent the next twenty four years involved in court work. Initially that included criminal work but I came to specialise in civil work. I continued to enjoy the work but with the passage of time it became less challenging. I obtained extended rights of audience in 2003 and did some Inner House work. Around 2006 I decided it was time to try and obtain a perspective of life from the other side of the bench. I wanted to become a Sheriff to develop and advance my career in the law. I wanted to involve myself in more challenging work. I was appointed a part–time Sheriff in 2008. I enjoyed the part time work. It was varied, interesting and demanding. I found it was taking increasing amounts of my time. I concluded around 2009 that I wanted to pursue a meaningful judicial career and applied for a full time post. The application form used by JABS has developed over the years. It is extensive and searching. Completion of the form is in itself a daunting task but in my experience it pays to take time and care in completing the form. I understand that the Board pay particular regard to the examples that are given. The material in the completed application form is the basis for some of the discussion at any interview. Everyone will approach interview with a certain level of trepidation. Being interviewed and assessed by a group of one’s peers will never be easy but it was not, for me at least, as traumatic as I had anticipated. The atmosphere at interview is moderately relaxed and the panel members do as much as they reasonably can to put candidates at ease. I was appointed as an All Scotland Floating Sheriff in 2010. The job is largely as I had expected it to be. Experience of the job will vary depending on whether one is a resident, a floating sheriff attached to a particular court or a floating sheriff sitting in a number of different courts. I sit in a number of different courts. I find the work is demanding but rewarding, and much more varied than I had anticipated even on the basis of my part time experience. ”
“I have followed a relatively unusual route to the Bench: the kind of route that might well not have brought me to this point in the days before the judicial appointments process was formalised. After starting out in a broad mix of court work in private practice, I moved into the Children’s Hearings System where I spent 10 years as a Reporter, followed by a further 10 years as the Principal Reporter. During that latter 10 years I was only in court twice, both times sitting behind Counsel in the Court of Session. Not perhaps the best preparation for judicial office. Nevertheless, I was encouraged by an experienced Sheriff to apply for a part-time post. I was far from sure that judicial office was for me, so the option of a part-time appointment seemed a good way to gain experience and test myself out. I quickly discovered, however, that I loved the variety of work. As a Sheriff, I find no end of human interest in the cases that come before me, mingled with the professional challenges involved in making fair and correct decisions and communicating them effectively, while still dealing efficiently with large volumes of work. The sense of fellowship among judges brings another unanticipated bonus. I have never asked the audience but on occasions I have felt the need to phone a friend. Invariably I have received helpful advice or guidance when doing so. I have twice been through the Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland process: in 2005, when I was appointed as a part-time Sheriff and in 2009, following which I was appointed to a full-time position. One benefit of my previous career is that I have extensive experience of public sector recruitment processes, from both sides of the interview table. In my experience the JABS process is among the best. Many recruitment processes fall short at the first hurdle by failing to specify what qualities candidates are being asked to demonstrate and how they should demonstrate them. JABS achieves this with exemplary clarity. Thereafter the process is certainly demanding, but designed to give candidates a fair chance to show their mettle. There is probably no better way to test the candidate’s capacity to analyse law and facts than by scrutinising his or her judgments or opinions; the prepared presentation is a golden opportunity for the candidate to demonstrate a grasp of wider issues of law and justice; and the interview questions drill down into the characteristics required to be an effective judge. With its focus on fair process and on justice for the vulnerable, my previous career has in fact proven to be a far better preparation for life on the Bench than I could have imagined. I would encourage anyone with a keen interest in justice and in people, and an ability to make decisions, to consider applying for judicial office. ”
Alan D Miller