Q&A with tribunal judge Thaira Bibi

Thaira Bibi was appointed as a salaried immigration judge in July 2018 and is currently based at Taylor House, London. She was recently nominated a diversity and community relations judge. Before her salaried appointment, Thaira was a solicitor specialising in conveyancing and criminal defence, and was the lead solicitor on the National Welfare and Benefits advice line across the UK.

Thaira BibiIn this Q&A with the Solicitors Judges Division she tells us about her career as a solicitor and a judge, why she wanted to become a judge, the barriers facing solicitors who want to become judges and what skills solicitors bring to the bench. She also shares her tips for solicitors considering a judicial application.

Describe your current judicial role and your legal career before you were appointed to the bench

Whilst practising criminal law I represented clients in offences such as murder, robbery, grievous bodily harm, actual bodily harm, assault, sexual offences, drugs, firearms, offensive weapons and gang related violence. I have represented youths and have also prosecuted for the probation services.

I was also the lead solicitor responsible for managing and setting up the National Welfare Benefits Specialist Telephone Advice Line funded by the Legal Aid Agency across the UK. I have challenged government legislation and have been involved in test/precedent cases. I have worked a for a charity advising on disability law.

As a conveyancer, I have represented high profile and high net worth clients in their purchases and sales. I was also on the Law Society’s conveyancing specialist list where I advised other lawyers on complex legal issues. During this period, I was a trainer on property law for Legal Network Television for the College of Law. My DVD recordings were circulated to solicitors and students for CPD training across the UK.

Throughout my career I have trained lawyers and external professional bodies on various areas of law.

I was appointed as a salaried full time immigration judge in July 2018. I hear cases involving human rights, asylum, EU law, deportation, and bail applications. I often hear appeals involving vulnerable appellants who have been subjected to inhumane or degrading treatment. Each case will be different and presents a new set of challenges and the court will be adjusted to meet the needs of each individual.

In my judicial capacity I have attended the workshop for International Protection in Malta, a conference organised by the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) last year, where I represented the UK.

I am a judicial mentor; I have successfully trained and mentored five newly appointed judges. I also carry out judicial appraisals of other judges.

In my role as a diversity and community relations judge I often host talks with the Judicial Office.

I will also be assisting the Judicial Appointments Commission to interview fee paid judges early next year.

Why did you want to become a judge?

I spent most of my career appearing before judges and putting forward legal arguments on behalf of my clients. Having practised as a solicitor in a variety of areas of law, I reached a point in my career when I needed a new challenge. I was inspired by the judges I appeared before and shadowed which helped in my decision to become a judge.

I felt that I had transferable skills to become a judge.

Are there barriers facing solicitors considering entering the judiciary?

The judiciary has been working incredibly hard to increase diversity and has done a tremendous amount of outreach work to encourage those from a non-traditional background to make an application. This is an ongoing process and a vast amount of work has been and is being done to increase diversity across the board.

A number of diversity and community relations judges are spending their time speaking to the public and attending events encouraging those from underrepresented backgrounds to consider a judicial career. I am incredibly proud of our diversity achievements thus far.

There are solicitors who have been appointed as judges who have not represented clients in court.

What skills acquired in your solicitor practice did you bring to the bench?

My legal background was essential as it provided me with a strong foundation for becoming a judge.

A judge needs to have good communication skills, integrity and apply independence of mind to make incisive, fair and legally sound decisions.

As a criminal defence lawyer whilst on duty at the magistrates court where I would represent up to eight clients a day, I learnt that it is important to effectively analyse and process complex information from multiple sources at short notice and apply appropriate weight to it.

It is imperative that a judge keeps an open mind and does not reach premature conclusions. Being aware of diversity and ensuring all parties are on equal footing is essential to our role.

We always keep abreast of changes in the law, processes and procedures so that we can apply this.

It is essential to manage your own time and prioritise your work to carry out the role effectively.

I started off my career promoting justice and equality and this ethos still stands as a judge.

What are your tips for a solicitor thinking about joining the judiciary?

I attended a talk and training events with the Law Society BAME Solicitors for aspiring judges. I spoke to the panel who were incredibly helpful. They provided guidance and tips on how to complete the application form and negotiate the interview process.

I then started doing the mock exams for the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) before the judges sat them and provided feedback to the JAC. I did this in my spare time and on a voluntary basis.

l then shadowed a judge who encouraged me to make an application and join the judiciary.

To succeed one must prepare thoroughly for the intensely competitive selection process. This would include understanding the demands of the application form itself and the qualifying tests. 

Preparation is key as the process is very competitive. Hard work and determination were key to my appointment.

How did your personal background impact your desire to become a judge?

I came from a background where there were no lawyers in my family when I qualified and being a female Asian lawyer was challenging. I then started wearing a hijab three years ago. I was the first salaried hijab wearing judge appointed in July 2018, so this had its own challenges, but I have had an incredible amount of support from the judiciary.

My role is to apply the law and procedure. I use my background in a positive manner to promote diversity. I see myself as a role model to anyone in society who is inspired by me as a judge.