Peggy Ray talks about the challenges and benefits of being a judicial recorder.
My work as a judicial recorder
I'm one of a few recorders working exclusively in family law who joined the south-eastern circuit in 2007. I deal primarily with children cases.
I run my own practice as a solicitor where I'm also a specialist in family law.
Becoming a judge meant that I had to revisit a few areas of law that I had not been acquainted with since early in my practice but otherwise I'm in a realm in which I have a great deal of experience.
I’ve not been a recorder long but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the work. I've dealt with litigants in person, cases involving private law, domestic violence and public law.
The challenges of being a judicial recorder
It’s a completely different world being on the judge's side of the court. You have a different approach to witnesses, for example. You’re trying to elicit information to throw light on the case, not to strengthen your own case.
The most unexpected aspect of the role initially is your position of complete authority over the court, and that takes some getting used to. Being in charge gives you a broader perspective. You see parents, social workers, advocates and witnesses involved in the case in a different way.
The cases themselves may be complicated but I’m used to that in my practice as a solicitor. More to the point, it’s your responsibility as a judge to thread your way through all the evidence and legal complexities to make what are sometimes hard decisions.
My approach to the work of a judicial recorder
I start making assessments early in the case and give myself time at the end to prepare a judgment. This is demanding work. You have to set out your interpretation of the evidence, both oral and written, and the legal framework for your decisions.
Your decisions are likely to affect a family for a very long time. It’s a major decision to remove a child from its parents for its own safety and wellbeing. When I'm making these decisions, I always try to weigh the evidence from the perspective of the child.
The benefits of being a judicial recorder
The work has enhanced my practice and changed my view as an advocate. I tend to feel more sympathetic towards the judge now, knowing what their role involves and realising how much detail they have to absorb in comparatively little time and the difficult decision-making involved.