Eleri Rees has been appointed as the Recorder of Cardiff. Previously she was a Circuit Judge, Recorder, Assistant Recorder and District Judge (Magistrates' Courts)/Stipendiary Magistrate. She was also a Justices' Clerk and Senior Legal Adviser (Magistrates' Courts).

There is no doubt that my new job is a significant change. I am no longer just responsible for what I am doing and my own performance. I am responsible for the performance of three court centres – Cardiff, Newport and Merthyr – for the welfare of the judges and staff and how we manage the resources.   

“I am really enjoying working with people who are driving towards the same goals. It is very easy to become negative in a time of reducing resources when you have to do more for less. You have to change that into something more positive to stop people feeling beleaguered or taken advantage of. To succeed, you need support from everyone around, so we have regular meetings to listen to ideas and find solutions.

“I was in two minds about applying for the role having spent 10 years as a Circuit Judge and being very comfortable in that role. I was already the acting Resident Judge for one of the courts, Merthyr, so I had a taste of it. I thought there would be lots of other, more experienced or better qualified candidates. Then a senior colleague approached me and asked why I was not applying. It may be a particularly female trait to lack confidence in your abilities and achievements and not want to put your head above the parapet. That said, if you do decide you want to apply for a role, you need to think long and hard about it as you might get it! I was almost shocked when I did.

“I have had a fairly unusual career route from justices' clerk to the bench. Like many of my generation, I found it very difficult to get pupillage and so started working for the magistrates' courts service. I loved it and had a very happy 20 years there. The local Resident Judge in Croydon, who I had been working with on some judicial training, said I should apply for what was then called a stipendiary magistrate. Without her prompting I would not be here now. I started off as a part-time judge and then after a couple of years went full time. This was not an obvious career move for me. Judicial posts were seen to be the preserve of the Bar. There has now been a sea-change in attitude as to who is eligible to sit. Nowadays there is increasing diversity within the judiciary and people are taking different routes through their legal and judicial careers. I brought skills with me that are also of value – case management, running meetings and being able to work with other agencies.

“I welcome the greater transparency and openness of the selection process. It was all a bit mysterious and, going back some 10 years or more to my first appointment, it was very difficult to know where to seek advice. What I think people find most difficult is writing the self assessment of judicial skills in the application form. It is the most toe-curling aspect because it runs contrary to most people's natural instincts to be singing your own praises and achievements. You need to spend quite a lot of time analysing the guidance about having hard evidence of what you are asserting. You also need to get someone else to look at what you have written against the criteria being looked for. My husband made some suggestions and thought of some points I had not mentioned.

“Increasing judicial diversity is about confidence building and people thinking laterally about different routes through the judiciary. We need people to apply or they will never succeed. Some people may be discouraged by the process because they are not used to being interviewed or having to undergo a written exam.  Many, even experienced lawyers, do not succeed the first time, but they should not think 'that's it'. For more senior judicial roles, some women may be put off by the idea of the travel involved, having two homes or having to move away. However, there is a wide range of posts available and different ways of being a judge. It's important to keep an open mind.”