The autumn has brought an upswing in judicial recruitment. Competitions with a significant number of vacancies for Deputy High Court Judge and Circuit Judge have been ongoing since the late summer.

A little lower down the judicial pyramid, two major selection exercises have recently launched. Competitions for 100 new, fee-paid Deputy District Judges (DDJs) and 100 salaried District Judges (DJs) opened for applications in September. In both cases, the window for applying will have closed by the time this issue of Counsel went to press. But if you have already applied in either exercise – or are thinking of applying for DJ or DDJ next time round, read on. There have been important changes in appointment procedures during the past year or two, some of which were introduced as a result of COVID.

Selection processes and timelines vary – but at their heart, for appointment as a DDJ or DJ, you will need to demonstrate that you match up to the relevant ‘competency framework’. Key similarities and differences between these two competitions are indicated below. Full details of both selection exercises are published on the website of the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) together with phone numbers and email addresses of JAC staff who will helpfully deal with questions and concerns.

The first big difference is right at the start. Candidates for Deputy District Judge simply have to register, initially. But registration is the easy bit. You are then invited to complete qualifying tests (QTs). First, a QT with multiple choice questions covering ‘situational judgement’ and ‘critical analysis’. If you are successful in these, you will have the opportunity to sit a further test, this time involving a written scenario. Successful candidates are only then invited to submit a full application, including self-assessment, demonstrating competency compliance. At the same time, you will be invited to a remotely conducted selection day. And here there is good news! The JAC has just launched a practice qualifying test (PQT) designed to help you prepare for the real thing. Anyone can take the PQT. It will familiarise you with the multiple choice format and question style used. The PQT is shorter than actual tests and is of general application – ie not related to a particular appointment. Each question presents a situation which could occur and asks you to say which action would be the most/least appropriate, in the circumstances. The PQT also includes a critical analysis section where you are asked to answer questions based on a text provided. You will receive your score on completion of the test. You are the only person to see how you did. And you can take the test as many times as you like.

Both DDJ and DJ selection processes involve the provision of independent assessments. Make sure you read the JAC guidance on independent assessments and the appropriateness of the assessors you choose. Your overall assessment will be influenced by your independent assessments. Whether you already hold judicial office will determine the categories of assessors you will nominate: judicial/professional/personal. Keep firmly in mind that your independent assessments need to show – with evidence – that you have the abilities relevant to the appointment, as specified in the appropriate competency framework.

Competency based self-assessment is critical at written application stage and at interview, whether remote (DDJ) or in-person (DJ). Your own self-assessment is your big chance to outline how your experience and knowledge make you stand out as a strong candidate for appointment. You must be concise – you are word limited – and precise. You must provide evidence and examples of how and why your skills and experience make you suitable for appointment and how they will enable you to perform well and effectively in your role as a judge. To achieve success, try to be very selective in identifying only the strongest of examples – those which demonstrate your skills or experience and align with one or more of the framework competencies. Remember, experience does not speak for itself. Bring out particular detail as evidence of competence developed through your experience. In each example or case, try to remember detail and nuance, so that you can explain what you did, why and how you did it. Providing evidence of this from challenging circumstances rather than from a more usual, day-to-day experience, will be advantageous.

Demonstrating your compliance with competencies in the framework is absolutely key to the appointment process, at every stage, including situational questioning and judgement; critical analysis; role-play and the selection day interview itself. The JAC website contains very helpful guidance on choosing your best examples for self-assessment. Under the heading of each competency: ‘Exercising Judgement’; ‘Possessing and Building Knowledge’; ‘Assimilating and Clarifying Information’; ‘Working and Communicating with Others’; and ‘Managing Work Efficiently’; the JAC explains the meaning of the relevant competency and then offers a series of ‘prompts’ which may help you to identify from your own experience which examples will be relevant to your self-assessment under the particular heading. A prompt might encourage you to describe a situation followed by your decision or action; how you reached your decision or determined your action; its impact and consequences. Candidates often use up word count wastefully, in making general statements which do not adequately demonstrate a competency. So, for example, if you are showing how you possess and build your knowledge, don’t say: ‘I keep up to date on relevant developments in the law…’ Better would be to describe an action you took to deal with a gap in your knowledge. How was the gap identified and addressed? When you needed to, how did you develop your knowledge on a particular subject quickly or at short notice? Did you perhaps enhance your knowledge in an innovative way? What did you do and what was the outcome?

It is never too soon to think about cases and evidence to support an application. Competency frameworks do not change very much from year to year. Obviously, you must check carefully the required competencies of your chosen role, as and when you apply. In the meantime, check for yourself how you might match the current framework. Where are your gaps? What can you do to fill them? Difficult to make time in your schedule, I know, but when you have finished a case – and before you forget all about it – make notes of what you can draw from the experience which might support a future application. You will save yourself time at a later date and in doing so, you will be enhancing your chances of success. Also, record examples of (non-court) work and other activity, especially in the more inter-personal areas, like communicating with others – colleagues, staff, members of the public. And keep your notes up to date. More recent examples are generally stronger than older ones.

Whether your selection day interview is in-person or remote, review in detail the self-assessment you submitted, months earlier. Go through your application with a colleague who can interrogate your assessment and provide you with practice in anticipating and answering possible panel questions. And think about whether there been events, cases, examples which you can use to demonstrate further your suitability for appointment? Your relevant experience, learning and skills development did not stop at the time you submitted your application. Try to have a good example in reserve, which you may be able to feed in to your interview at an appropriate point. Careful preparation, thought and practice ahead of selection day will serve to boost your confidence.

Final tip: make full use of the resources and materials now available on the JAC website. They are much more extensive than previously. Also included are evaluation and feedback reports relating to earlier selection exercises. These provide candidates with examples, advice and guidance on what characterised stronger and weaker applications in the particular competition. Make sure you are on the JAC’s email list for their monthly ‘Judging Your Future’. This newsletter provides details of current and future competitions, enabling you to sign up for alerts relating to your interests – plus news and information on materials as they are added to the website. 

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Good news for potential DJs! The JAC has launched a practice qualifying test designed to help you prepare for the real thing: you can take it as many times as you like and you are the only person to see how you did. Pictured above: District Judges at the 2018 Judges’ Service at Westminster Abbey. Pictured top: The Annual Judges’ Service at Westminster Abbey marking the start of the legal year on 3 October 2022.