In 2022, the Western Circuit Women’s Forum (WCWF) hosted its first ‘Ask A Judge’ panel event focused on careers in the judiciary and applications. The event was chaired by Her Honour Judge Richardson. Guest speakers included The Rt Hon Dame Victoria Sharp DBE, The Hon Mrs Justice Johanna Cutts, HHJ Cronin, HHJ Richardson, Miss Recorder Martin KC, DDJ Mashembo and Kate Blackburn.

Emma Cross: a view from the Bar

I do not come from a family of lawyers or judges. My original idea of becoming a barrister in the first place was incredibly daunting and it did not occur to me at all to think about what might be next after the Bar. By the time you become a new junior barrister, you have generally gone through years of studying, training and pushing to get a pupillage and then a tenancy or employed role. It is easy to lose sight of the fact that becoming a qualified barrister is not the end of your career progression, rather, it is the beginning.

Everyone’s career path is different and I know that there are barristers who are perfectly happy being junior or senior barristers who are continuing to advance their respective (and undoubtedly formidable or heading towards formidable) practices. There are also barristers who are very set on becoming silks or judges. Then there are those like me, who, perhaps through a degree of self-doubt, would not have seriously thought about a judicial career at all but for events like ‘Ask A Judge’ where women who have become judges tell you it is entirely possible to become a judge and, in my case, that being a young woman in the early stages of life at the Bar should not put me off from applying.

The ‘Ask a Judge’ evening was particularly inspirational for me. It was the first time I had seen a panel of women judges in person at varying stages of their judicial and Tribunal careers. I found their personal accounts of how they became judges in the first place invaluable as it demonstrated that there is no ‘one size fits all’ route. The panel speakers came from all different walks of life and career routes. It was clear from their accounts of the applications and interview process that attitudes towards women aspiring and applying to become judges have shifted in a positive direction.

The panel made it clear to me that I need not feel deterred in my own judicial aspirations. The panel boosted my confidence to apply once I have the requisite post-qualification experience. I would highly recommend events like this across the country and very much hope the WCWF can make this an annual fixture here on the Western Circuit.

HHJ Richardson: a view from the Bench

You can’t be what you can’t see… and at the western fringe of the Western Circuit, we have been very short of women judges in the criminal jurisdiction in particular. In an effort to increase diversity and so strengthen the judiciary, this event was organised to ensure that those who may be considering a judicial application had an opportunity to ask questions, and to hear about the process, from women who have applied successfully in various jurisdictions and courts.

What struck me about our panel, who gave their time so generously, was the breadth of their life experiences, and their very different but equally valuable ‘top tips’, which made the evening both interesting and useful. It was noteworthy that many of the attendees were still in the process of qualifying for legal practice; it is engagement with people at this stage and even earlier which will have the greatest impact on diversity, ultimately. I very much hope other similar events will be run in future, and I would encourage those who have been practising for a while to come, and see who or what resonates with you, and what encouragement and motivation you find. As Joanna Martin KC, Leader of the Western Circuit said, you do not have to choose between practice at the Bar or life on the Bench. As a panel we were keen to emphasise the flexibility afforded by judicial roles. Be curious, and have confidence that there is a role for you.