Nick Wikeley is a Salaried Judge of the Upper Tribunal, Administrative Appeals Chamber, appointed in 2008. He was previously a fee-paid Deputy Social Security Commissioner, a part-time Chairman of Social Security Appeal Tribunals, Professor of Law at Southampton University, law lecturer at Birmingham University and President of the Society of Legal Scholars (2009/10)
"You could say we are the specialist court of appeal for our jurisdiction. For the cases we deal with, which are mainly to do with welfare, we are usually 'the end of the road'.
"You are dealing with big issues that have a huge impact on people's lives. Often your decisions not only affect the case in front of you, but also a number of other cases.
"I was appointed to my current role by the JAC. The advertised post was as a Social Security Commissioner but changed three days after my appointment to being a Upper Tribunal Judge under the restructuring of the tribunal system following the Leggatt Report.
The focus on the law is what attracted me to the role. I do far more pure law now than I did as a professor - I had a large management role at the university.
"After my law degree, I qualified as a barrister and did pupillage but I could not get a tenancy, and I decided to teach rather than practise. It first occurred to me that I could be a judge when I was doing some empirical research on social security tribunals in the late 1980s. I was talking to a Regional Chairman, as they were then called, and he said to me 'if you reckon you know how to do this, why don't you apply?'. I did, but was told to go away because in those days they did not appoint anyone under 35 - this was not set down in statute but was a convention everyone knew about. I applied again when I was 34, and by the time the appointment came through I was 35.
"The Upper Tribunal deals with both applications for permission to appeal and appeals. Around 80 per cent of the work is to do with social security, but we also cover other areas, such mental health, special educational needs, care standards, and cases barring individuals from working with children and vulnerable adults. We also have some regulatory cases, for example on freedom of information and consumer credit.
"We are deciding appeals on points of law, apart from the 'barring' cases which can also involve errors of fact. The vast majority of our work is on paper. I might do oral hearings three to four times a month at most. In an average week you are dealing with 20-30 applications and appeals, all at different stages. Some may take five minutes, others all day.
"Whether you sit alone or as a panel depends on the jurisdiction and complexity of the case. For the 'barring' cases you sit with expert lay members and sometimes this also happens in freedom of information appeals. Otherwise, you sit alone, unless the Chamber President decides there is an especially difficult point of law to determine which requires a panel. We are based in the new Rolls Building in London. The oral hearings are held in Field House across the road and we also hear cases in Manchester, Leeds, Cardiff and Doncaster.
"It is a very collegiate organisation - there is a lot of exchanging of ideas. We also have specialised legal support - registrars - who do research and deal with some interlocutory questions. They are a huge help, particularly when you are dealing with people with no representation, as they ensure the judges see the full picture. The standard policy is to reserve judgements in all cases.
"Arguably I had a head start when applying for the role as I had sat on so many university appointments panels recruiting for my faculty and others. I sat down with the job description and person specification and worked out in a very systematic way what personal examples I could draw on to show the right experience. I suggest candidates think about what they did in particular situations, not what you should do in general terms - focus on specifics, not the hypothetical. Also, try to see how the work is done in this jurisdiction and the jurisdiction below - after all, the hearings are held in public (in almost all cases)."