Solicitor judges

Reflecting and serving society as a judge

Judicial office is difficult and demanding, but delivering justice is a real privilege, explains Judge Carol Taylor, an experienced tribunal judge in the London East Employment Tribunal.

Judge Carol Taylor is a Black-Caribbean woman, wearing glasses and a pale grey suit. She has a neutral expression and is looking left away from the camera.

Having started her long career on the bench as a solicitor, Judge Carol Taylor has led several Pre-Application Judicial Education (PAJE) courses since the programme was launched in 2019.

She recaps her career, why she became a PAJE facilitator and tips for anyone considering a judicial application.

From law centre volunteer to employment judge

I may have been one of the first solicitors to complete their ‘articles’ while employed in a law centre.

I was interested in finding ways of improving access to justice, which led me to volunteering with community groups and eventually working for a law centre.

The work was tremendously interesting, varied and demanding. There was always more work to do than we had the resources for.

There was a great community spirit and collegiality, which made the work worthwhile and enjoyable, despite the challenges.

I completed my training at the law centre and was admitted as a solicitor in 1983.

The demand for employment law advice grew at about this time. To meet the need, I trained volunteers and started and ran what was then the law centre’s employment advice session from 1984.

The session continued for many years, providing advice and representation to the community and providing valuable experience for future employment lawyers.

I became a full-time, salaried employment judge in 1996.

Delivering justice is a real privilege. I enjoy being a judge and hearing cases that are so important to both sides – whether employees earn the minimum wage or million-pound bonuses.

In 2011, I became a regional employment judge, which is a full-time leadership position in the employment tribunals. After a year working in the Southampton region, I transferred to the London East Employment Tribunal in 2012.

Employment law is fast paced, reflecting the different pressures and changes in the world of work. The variety of cases brought to the tribunal provides endless interest and challenges.

Courts need to reflect and respect employees

Employment tribunals deal with claims brought against employers by employees. The tribunals mainly decide claims of unfair dismissal, discrimination, equal pay and wage deductions.

In my role as a lawyer, I had noticed the lack of respect sometimes experienced by claimants who were Black and from minority groups.

I considered that the lack of diversity in the employment tribunal judiciary may have been contributing to this. I thought it was important for lawyers from different backgrounds to become judges and decided to apply.

At the time, there were no other judges from my background (Black Caribbean) in the employment tribunals.

Even though I was a very experienced employment solicitor, I had no expectation of being appointed. I thought being Black and working class would count against me.

Even now, I think talented lawyers from under-represented groups do not feel confident to apply for judicial roles because they wrongly assume there is no place for them in the judiciary.

Leading PAJE courses

I got involved in the PAJE programme because I wanted to be part of a well-thought-out project that was encouraging greater diversity in the judiciary.

It has been a pleasure to meet PAJE participants from all backgrounds and to give them an insight into the role, skills, resilience, dedication to duty and hard work required of a judge.

It has also been a pleasure to meet other judges who are delivering the workshop from similar, unconventional backgrounds.

Boosting people’s confidence in our justice system

Public confidence is enhanced by a judiciary that broadly reflects society.

A diverse judiciary improves how we serve the public by being aware of a wider range of experiences and perspectives.

Solicitors generally have experience of helping their clients navigate the legal process and should be able to transfer those skills to helping parties navigate the court or tribunal process.

Lawyers from non-traditional backgrounds who are at the point in their career where they are ready to serve and take up judicial office should apply for a place on PAJE.

Judicial office is difficult and demanding. The application procedure reflects this and high standards are applied.

Candidates for judicial positions should be confident that they are ready to put in the time, work and effort required to become a judge and succeed in that role.

If accepted onto the scheme, you can expect to gain insights into the application process and a better understanding of the daily life of a judge.

Carol’s tips for aspiring judges

The key is to be resilient.

  • Review all of the material from the JAC and sign up for their monthly newsletter
  • Visit or observe court or tribunal hearings
  • Consider what type of judicial role you would like to apply for
  • Solicitors often assume that they are at a disadvantage when applying for a judicial role, but they are wrong about this – do not be put off by thinking you do not have advocacy experience, for example
  • Read court or tribunal judgments from the jurisdictions you might be interested in, if different from your current area of practice
  • Sign up for shadowing opportunities
  • Attend any outreach events that are organised by the JAC and different jurisdictions
  • If you know any judges, speak to them about a day in the life of a judge
  • Start collecting and writing up experiences that may make suitable material for the independent assessments
  • Do not give up if you are not successful initially, the experience is an opportunity to reflect on what areas of development you need to focus on for next time
  • Take advantage of volunteering as a mock-candidate; the JAC offers opportunities to take part in tests, role plays and interviews

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