Judith Ellery is a Deputy District Judge (Civil). She was appointed in 2010 and sits in the Thames Valley area. She is also an equity partner at Metcalfes in Bristol and specialises in insurance litigation and employment law.
Deputy District Judges (Civil) sit on a fee-paid (part-time) basis in the County Courts and District Registries of the High Court between 15 and 50 days a year. In general their jurisdiction is the same as that of a District Judge (Civil) and can involve a very wide spectrum of cases from small claims to multi million pound claims for damages, injunctions, possession proceedings against mortgage borrowers and tenants, insolvency proceedings and some family proceedings, including divorce and financial matters.
I do not understand why more solicitors are not applying for judicial roles. Maybe it is because they think judges are barristers, but I believe it is also to do with confidence, and this may be even more the case for women.
For confidence you need preparation. There are many ways in which you can prepare.
I feel that you need to get familiar with the role and court processes. A few years ago, I did some judicial shadowing, which was very useful to find out if I was suited to and would enjoy a judicial post. I saw a wide range of matters and learned how they are dealt with.
I also went to a talk held by the Association of Women Solicitors (AWS), with speakers from the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC). This was very useful for understanding how to match my skills to the competencies sought. You need to find examples to use in the application form, and the interview if you get through to the selection day. I had been in the same firm for 20 years, so had not been through an interview for a long time and was quite nervous about the prospect. At the AWS event, I talked to people who had applied to be judges and the process seemed achievable.
The good thing about the qualifying test is you are told what to expect beforehand. Family law came up in my test, and as I do not practice that, the prior notice gave me a chance to look up the area. I also found it helpful to study the Civil Procedure Rules, and the past papers on the JAC website.
The role play was really quite interesting but challenging. I had seen the video on the JAC website, which was useful. You need to think about what the panel is looking for. I thought the panel were looking for you to make decisions, particularly as many hearings have a very short time available for them. From what some people said they may have come across as being very officious and may have forgotten to listen to the people involved in the case scenario.
I was pretty amazed I got through. It was the first time I had applied for the role, so it was a nice surprise to be selected, particularly when somebody later told me there had been a large number of applicants.
I can't emphasise enough the need to prepare and I understand that there are now courses prospective judges can attend to help them practise going through the interview process, which some may find useful.
I am tending to sit odd days to fit in the judging with private practice. As a Deputy District Judge I am dealing with lots of different areas of law, which is a new challenge. When you have been in practice for a while, you often do not get a huge range of work, so you do not see the depth and breadth of the law. As a judge, I am also dealing with lots of different individuals - barristers, solicitors and litigants in person - so every day is different and you learn so much.
When I first started at my firm, there was somebody who had become a Deputy District Judge a long time before, so I knew from them it was possible. Some large firms do not seem to encourage their solicitors to become judges, and some discourage it, but there are still lots of small and medium firms that I think are more open to it.
I believe my firm is pleased to have someone with judicial experience because of the extra knowledge and understanding I have gained and can bring to my practice. I can now advise on a wider range of matters. There is also the prestige of having a judge in the firm.