The range and volume of regulatory bodies and tribunals is enormous, encompassing a wide variety of human endeavour. Education, environment, finance, health, social care, transport, law… the list is endless. In order to exercise their judicial and quasi-judicial functions, these bodies establish panels to adjudicate on disputes, disciplinary matters, professional conduct, administrative appeals and many more matters. Chairs, panel members and legal assessors are usually a mix of legally qualified and non-legal appointees. Many appointments are ideally suited to the skills, experience, knowledge and interests of members of the Bar.

One of the main challenges is knowing who is recruiting, for which appointments, and when. The best way round this is to narrow down your field of interest, choose the type of activity which interests you most and then keep a close eye on the relevant websites. Get your name onto the relevant organisation’s newsletter or vacancies email list, so that you are one of the first to spot opportunities.

A good example is the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), which is the statutory regulator of almost 300,000 professionals for 15 different health and care professions. It operates its own tribunal service, HCPTS. Hearings include a relevant professional, a lay panel member and a legal assessor, who offers advice on law and procedure. The legal assessor is independent from the panel – but assists in drafting decisions.

A key feature of the appointment process for legal assessors is successful demonstration by candidates of compliance with HCPC’s own ‘Competence Framework’. In addition to ‘Advising effectively’, there are five other required competencies: ‘Working with others’; ‘Exercising judgement’; ‘Demonstrating and building knowledge’; ‘Managing work efficiently’; and ‘Communicating effectively’. If you have ever applied for a judicial appointment, this ‘competence framework’ will sound familiar. It is based on the ‘Judicial Skills and Abilities Framework’ for the Courts and Tribunals Judiciary – and adapted specifically to the role of HCPC legal assessor. Similar arrangements are in place in the appointment processes for other regulatory roles.

The Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) itself is responsible for the appointment of chairs, adjudicators, panel members and others to a variety of tribunals, including: ‘Appeal Tribunal, Trade Marks, Registered and Unregistered Design’; ‘Agricultural Land Tribunal, Wales’; ‘Upper Tribunal [Tax]’; ‘Special Educational Needs Tribunal’; ‘Road User Charging Adjudicators’; and the ‘Plants Varieties and Seeds Tribunal’. This last one is particularly exotic – and perhaps unique – in not having deliberated since 1984. But I hope that didn’t put you off from applying for the recently advertised position of Chair!

There is no single, uniform process applicable to appointments to regulatory roles. You will need to check carefully the precise process applicable to any role you are considering. The JAC’s appointment procedures for chairs and panel members are on similar lines to those used in recruiting judges.

Some preliminaries: before applying for any role, consider carefully whether you are ready. Do you meet the general eligibility requirements, for example, the ‘reasonable length of service’ provision, usually requiring you to expect to be able to serve for at least five years. Note that once the draft legislation on raising the mandatory retirement age for judicial office holders, currently before Parliament, becomes law, there will be more opportunities for older members of the profession. Another general eligibility requirement relates to ‘good character’. Do you satisfy the JAC’s guidance on good character and on suitability? Consider whether there is anything in your past conduct or current circumstances which could affect your application. There are also specific eligibility criteria relating to each post. Make sure you are able to comply with these too.

Self-assessment against the relevant competency framework is at the heart of every role or appointment for which you might apply. Successful completion of the self-assessment is key. The selection panel will be assessing the information in your self-assessment against the competency framework to help them decide whether you are appointable. Each competency comprises several descriptive bullet points. Read them carefully so that you know exactly what skills and experience you are being asked to demonstrate. You will need to provide specific examples. They are your evidence. How does your experience relate to each competency? How can you demonstrate competency compliance through past tasks, challenges, situations? Choose specific examples to match the competency areas. The JAC has said that the strongest self-assessments provide between one and three examples within each broad competency. Show clearly how you approached each situation and how you achieved a successful outcome.

Be concise. You are normally limited to about 250 words per competency. Be clear and explicit. Explain how your action(s) made a difference. Carefully select your strongest examples and keep a few others in reserve. Selection day panels are likely to ask you to expand on evidence in your self-assessment and you may have an opportunity to refer to additional examples – perhaps ones which have arisen since you submitted your written application. The JAC’s own website provides excellent guidance and prompts to help candidates decide which examples from the candidate’s own experience will be relevant to self-assessment under each heading. Don’t be too modest.

Demonstrating skills and abilities necessary for judicial appointment or suitability for regulatory roles does not always come easily to members of the Bar. Don’t misunderstand the process. You are not being asked for your opinion of yourself – but rather to show how you do, what you do. Articulating a challenging experience may involve recalling detail and nuance, enabling you to explain what you did, why and how.

Further suggestions to maximise your chances

  • Plan ahead. Build up your portfolio of evidence as you go along. Take a look at a current competency framework so that you know what to make a note of as your practice develops. Then make notes of good examples before they are forgotten. Include non-court examples, particularly useful in relation to competencies which focus on inter-personal skills.
  • Read and re-read your self-assessment before appearing before a selection day interview panel (actual/in person or virtual/remote). You must be totally familiar with every aspect of your written application, which will have been submitted several months earlier.
  • At interview, remember who you are talking to. The panel are not all lawyers. Forget legal jargon and avoid acronyms with which lay panel members may not be familiar. Remember that judicial office holders, tribunal chairs, adjudicators and legal assessors are frequently reaching their decisions with the assistance of lay and/or non-legal professionals. They are also dealing with litigants in person. Explain legal issues in ways which non-lawyers will readily understand.
  • Get someone you trust to review your application and provide you with critical feedback.
  • Consider being a volunteer mock candidate for the JAC, so that you can experience the selection process, including online qualifying tests, roleplays and selection interviews, when new materials are being tested. Valuable feedback may be provided to help improve your skills for ‘the real thing’.
  • Read reports of previous selection exercises which indicate what candidates did to help them succeed.
  • While panel interviews have historically been face-to-face, in person, during the past year and still currently, many interviews are taking place remotely. Concentration and focus may be harder to achieve in the home environment than in the more formal surroundings of the interview room. In advance of your interview, try things out and take steps to help you get into the right mindset. Consider what will work best for you.
  • And finally, if you are not successful in your quest for a regulatory role first time, don’t give up. Ask for written feedback and have another go. Competition is often very tough and many candidates who are not selected at their first attempt, succeed subsequently.