Michael Fordham was appointed as a Recorder (Civil) in the autumn of 2010. He is a QC, and continues to practise at Blackstone Chambers specialising in judicial review, human rights and immigration/asylum.
Recorders may sit in both Crown and County Courts, but most start by sitting in the Crown Court. Their jurisdiction is broadly similar to that of a circuit judge, but they will generally handle less complex or serious matters coming before the court. Recorders are expected to sit for at least 15 days a year but not normally for more than 30 days a year. Recordership is often the first step on the judicial ladder to appointment to the circuit bench."For me, becoming a judge is more about vocation than ambition. It is a new way in which to contribute to the law. If you think a full-time judicial post might be for you, the fee-paid Recorder option is a great way to sit part-time to see if it is right for you and you for it. If you are contemplating what could some day be a turn down a big one-way street for your career, it is good if you can get out for a stroll to see what it is like down there.
I went to a state grammar school in Lincolnshire, but got a big break to get into Oxford and, thanks to Gray's Inn scholarship money, was able to go to the Bar. Now after 20 years - four years of interlocutory banking, and the rest in judicial review and human rights - I have also become a Recorder and will start sitting in June.
In terms of experience which I feel prepared me for the role, I've frequently found myself on steep learning curves and trying to look at other people's sectoral niches of law as an outsider. That helps with counteracting the fear of adjudicating on something new and unknown. Balancing a conscientious desire for thoroughness with the need to try and analyse papers at top speed is also an everyday preparation for this new role. The ideas in the back of your mind, that law is bigger than lawyers, and that the law has a heart as well as a head, also helps.
The JAC selection process is extremely well-intentioned. It is borne out of ideas of fairness and transparency. It takes out the 'who you know'. I did feel I had to sell myself for a judicial job and found the process rigidly criterion-led. It nearly squeezed the vocational life out of me. I got rejected, twice, for Criminal Recorder, but what kept me going was the idea that I was applying to do a job in which I really felt I had something to offer.
To prepare for the selection process, I bought lots of books on general practice, and did not get time to read any of them. But I made sure I had some clear time before the test and selection days. I also put in quite a lot of time doing the application form because the JAC want detailed illustration and the form needs careful thought.
I feel future candidates should go for it and not give up if you think you have the skills. If you find a 'hard-sell' of yourself rather uncomfortable that is good. In my mind you are precisely what the system really needs."