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Judith Gleeson says of her role as a Senior Immigration Judge: 'It is a fascinating, wonderful job.'
Before her judicial career, Judith Gleeson was a salaried partner specialising in employment law and general litigation with Surrey law firm Hedleys. Her regional chair of the Employment Tribunal for London South told her it was time she did her bit for the employment law community. She applied to sit part time and was appointed as a Chairman of Employment Tribunals in 1993.
This coincided with her becoming pregnant so she only sat for a short time before going on maternity leave. As soon as she returned to her practice, she resumed sitting with the support of her firm who saw the training and knowledge which she was gaining as very good for business.
Judge Gleeson was soon offered the opportunity to add another part-time judicial role, as a part-time Immigration Adjudicator.
She combined the two posts with her solicitors' practice for 18 months. "I soon found that, on the days I was sitting, I was bouncing out of bed because I was finally doing what I had been trained to do which was to sit down and work out the right answer legally rather than being on one side or the other of the argument."
Wanting more time with her son, Judge Gleeson left practice in 1995 and, for the next four years, sat for about 100 days a year, as well as doing some writing and lecturing. She became a full-time Immigration Adjudicator when her son started school.
In 2002 Judge Gleeson was promoted as a Vice President of the Immigration Appeal Tribunal. Later, in 2005, the two tiers were merged into one and she became a Senior Immigration Judge. She says the Tribunals Service is now attracting people at an earlier age including women with children, who are ambitious and want to progress within the judicial system.
Judge Gleeson points out that the Tribunals Service is very much more family friendly than private practice. "You don't have to phone the office while you are on holiday and, if you are ill, someone will pick up your list."
Another advantage of the Tribunals Service, says Judge Gleeson, is that it is "remarkably modern and refreshingly egalitarian. You are expected to be IT literate and self-motivated – you don't have a clerk and you write up your own work and keep your own diary. But there is little jostling for position or promotion, or tension about pay and conditions, and none of the job insecurity that you find in private practice nowadays."
Judge Gleeson's daily life is both varied and flexible. She sits two or three days a week hearing first stage reconsideration applications to see whether a case should be re-opened because the judge made a material error of law.
About once a month, she sits in one of the 12 hearing centres around the country, hearing some of the more complicated cases and mentoring the local judges. When she is not sitting, she is responsible for deciding whether to allow or reject applications for reconsideration hearings or for permission to go to the Court of Appeal.
Judge Gleeson has a message for those who may feel, as she did initially, that a judicial career isn't open to them. "Any appointment system has its strengths and weaknesses. But if we – as solicitors, as women or as members of an ethnic minority – don't apply, then we have nobody but ourselves to blame if the judiciary remains unrepresentative."