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Alison Jackson is a former JAC lay panel member and chair. She was previously a selection panel member at Department of Constitutional Affairs, which was responsible for judicial selection before the JAC was created in 2006. Starting at a more junior level in 1983, she became a senior civil servant in 1996 working for the Welsh Office in Cardiff and on devolution spent 6 years as Director of the Wales Office in Whitehall. She is a member of national and local governance committees of the Methodist Church and is the Chair of Church Action on Poverty.
“When the JAC was ‘born’ in 2006 I was asked to continue working as a panellist for the JAC. After a year or so there was a competition to select panel members. I applied and was selected. I then reapplied once more. The selection process was rigorous – akin to what we ask potential judges to do.
“As a former senior civil servant, I have had experience of and training in selection and interviewing which has helped considerably. In the role of panel chair, leadership skills are particularly important when helping the panel reach a consensus.
“I learned a great deal about the judiciary in general, but even so, the cases and names that candidates sometimes ‘drop’ mean absolutely nothing to me! It was helpful when the judicial member explains that this case does show outstanding evidence of legal competence, but for me that does not – and should not - outweigh the other competences.
“Courtroom role plays are normally designed to test how the candidate deals with difficult people – litigants in person, counsel, fellow tribunal members – and whether they can control the situation sufficiently to reach a conclusion. Provided the conclusion is based on sensible reasons and a consideration of the evidence, the panel isn’t too concerned about whether it’s the conclusion the judicial member would have come to. Equally, they are not too concerned by details of procedure, provided the candidate has remained in control and managed to deal effectively with all the issues.
“Solicitors often have excellent people skills; they need good listening skills which are important for a judicial role.
“The judges with whom I worked on panels were very ready to listen to the lay members’ assessment of evidence on the competences, although we usually – but not always – defer to the judicial member on legal knowledge. And both judicial and lay members are always alert to the temptation to give too much weight to legal knowledge over the other judicial skills.
“The JAC gave a full day’s training when I was appointed and again when I was re-appointed. It also provides at least one training day a year for panel members which includes unconscious bias training. We are observed during each exercise and given feedback.
“The role is extremely enjoyable. I worked with some very interesting people, both judges and my colleagues on the panel as well as JAC staff and Commissioners. As a lay person with no previous contact with the judiciary, I learnt an enormous amount about our justice system which I have found fascinating.
“It is extremely rewarding to see candidates who will clearly do well in the roles for which they are applying and to be able to recommend them for appointment.”