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The Hon Mr Justice Hickinbottom is only the second solicitor to be appointed to the Court of Appeal. Prior to this he was a Queen's Bench Liaison Judge in the High Court with special responsibility for the Administrative Court out of London. And he is even more of a rarity – having chosen to start his judicial career as a Parking Adjudicator.
Judicial appointment. What happened next?
Gary Hickinbottom updates us on his career and shares his views on judicial appointments
"I was appointed to the Circuit Bench in 2000, and the High Court Bench in 2009. For the last 4 years, I have been the Queen’s Bench Division Liaison Judge. I am also one of the 2 Senior Liaison Judges for Diversity appointed by the Lord Chief Justice to encourage all legal practitioners, including solicitors, to apply for judicial posts.
"In terms of judicial appointments, while there is still much to do, the JAC has made a positive difference over the last 10 years. It continually updates its processes and challenges itself to improve. It is much better, for instance, at accepting non-court related evidence from candidates that shows they meet the competencies to be a judge.
"I have written quite a lot of references. It takes time to do it properly and sometimes that is because you have to try remember the applicants’ performances as I see a lot of cases. However, references are important. Many more judges are now prepared to be honest if someone is not up to the job. This can be as helpful as a positive comment.
"One of the roles of the JAC is to extend the pool from which judicial appointments are made. The JAC website is increasingly important in this regard. I was initially somewhat sceptical about the efficacy of case studies getting people to apply for judicial posts. However, over the last couple of years 3 people have said that my case study on the JAC website helped persuade them that they should apply. Two of them have now been appointed as judges."
Gary Hickinbottom case study
Determined to be a judge, he felt he needed 'flying time'. He explains: "As a litigation partner with a City law firm, my clients were mainly companies. Parking adjudication was a deliberate choice because it involved no representation, short hearings, immediate decisions – it was part of the justice system that involved dealing regularly with different members of the public face-to-face."
He was later appointed a Recorder, sitting part-time in the court system as well as continuing as an Adjudicator.
Looking back, he says: "I enjoyed my job as a solicitor, but I had been doing it for 20 years and I didn't want to do it for another 25 years. Further, even then the tide was turning and we didn't have any 'old' partners – very few were over their mid-50s."
"Having given advice for 20 years, I wanted a different role making the decisions. But I didn't want to be made a judge in the autumn of my professional life, as a sort of semi-retirement. If able, I wanted to have good run as a judge – a second career."
He was appointed to his first 2 part-time judicial posts in 1994 when he was 38. "One difficulty for solicitors is that law firms tend to be, at best, unenthusiastic, and, at worst, downright hostile to solicitors in their full earning years going off to sit part-time."
For several years, he did not take holidays. He would work 13 day fortnights when it was busy, and then go and sit in Wales for 2 or 3 weeks. On top of that, he sat as a Parking Adjudicator one evening a week from 5pm to 8pm, later taking on test cases which raised legal issues.
"I wanted to gain as much sitting experience as I could," he explains. "As a solicitor, you are not in court as much as a busy silk, even though I had higher rights of audience and appeared in some major product liability interlocutory hearings. So I sat for the maximum 10 weeks a year while doing as many billable hours as anyone else in my firm – so no one could complain."
In 2000, he was appointed a full-time Circuit Judge, ending up as Designated Civil Judge for Wales. "I continued to sit in both the court and tribunal systems, and in 2008 returned to London as Deputy Senior President of Tribunals to work on the tribunal reform programme."
In January 2009 he was appointed to the High Court bench, aged 53, and moved back full-time to the court system. In September 2016 he was appointed to the Court of Appeal.
He is keen to encourage more solicitors to consider the judiciary as a career. "You have to be a sound lawyer, not necessarily a brilliant one. Just as important are integrity and fairness, an understanding of people and the ability to make decisions."
He says there are frustrations with the job, often to do with financial constraints, "and you have to make and relay difficult decisions, such as sending a mother to prison or depriving a parent of his or her child. But judges can and do make a real difference to people's lives positively and quickly, sometimes instantly. That is what justice is all about."
Overall, he says: "Judging is a job you either love or hate. I love it. Given that the time is past for me to be a professional footballer or singer, there is no job I would rather do."