Simon Barker was appointed as a Specialist Senior Circuit Judge (Chancery), based in Birmingham, in October 2010. He was a QC, Assistant Recorder and Recorder.
Circuit judges are appointed to one of seven regions of England and Wales and sit in the Crown and County Courts within their particular region. Senior circuit judges take on additional responsibilities, for example the running of the largest court centres, and/or hearing particularly demanding or specialist cases.
"When I applied to be a Recorder, before the JAC was created, the selection process was quite different. An initial expression of interest was followed by a silence of 18 months to two years, and then a short interview.
For my current role, I was required to complete a detailed application form and to undergo an in-depth interview.
When completing the application form, an applicant has to be fairly shameless about his/her strengths. This does not come easily to many; but it is necessary to put oneself forward in the best light in order to get through the paper sift.
The interview is challenging. The questions are probing. However, the style and atmosphere is designed to put the candidate at ease. It is important to be as relaxed as possible and, in particular, to be oneself. The panel will discover whether the candidate has the right qualities. The interview-based system works very well.
I have been a judge since 1995, and I have always been interested in the decision making aspect of dispute resolution. When I applied to be a Chancery Senior Circuit Judge, I had been in practice as a barrister for 30 years, and a Recorder for 15 years. I was approaching 60, and wanted to commit to a full-time judicial role for the final 10 years of my working life.
The most valuable preparation for the new role was to have been a Recorder. From the outset as a Recorder, I found myself working in unfamiliar territory (initially crime and then family law) and regularly dealing with litigants in person, who were often daunted by and hostile to the legal process. This was an excellent introduction to the role of being a judge.
I started sitting in Birmingham the day after my appointment as a Chancery Senior Circuit Judge. Some of the areas of law were unfamiliar and had not formed part of my practice, at least not in the past two decades. This was part of the interest. Somewhat to my surprise, the majority of the cases here fight rather than settle. Even in the Chancery field, there is an increase in the number of cases where parties appear as litigants in person. Humanity and patience are important qualities in a judge, particularly when the litigant fixes only on the issue that matters to that individual and fails to adapt to or follow the case as it progresses and unfolds.
I am one of three Chancery Circuit Judges based in Birmingham. We are 'ticketed' to deal with a range of other High Court work. The judges and court staff are very friendly, and there is a tremendous spirit at the Birmingham Civil Justice Centre."