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Louise Brandon is a Circuit Judge. She was appointed a Recorder 2016 and worked as a specialist criminal and regulatory barrister at 9 St John Street Chambers, Manchester. Louise answers some questions about how she balanced her practice with her previous role as a Recorder on the Northern circuit.
What have your learnt from being a Recorder and how has it helped you in your practice?
I’ve discovered that I know more about criminal law than I thought I did! Also, the importance of good communication skills. Those who appear in court, whether it be as a defendant or a witness, must feel that they’re being listened to and can participate fully.
I’ve discovered just how much work the full-time judges undertake ‘behind the scenes’ to facilitate the smooth running of the court. I will never again become frustrated if a judge needs time before passing a sentence that I am involved in as a practitioner!
What makes the Northern circuit a great place to sit?
As a Lancashire lass, who has worked and lived on the Northern circuit throughout my career, I did not want to sit anywhere else. It’s always been important to me to try and contribute to the legal system in the North, as I have been assisted and supported throughout my career by members of the Northern circuit. The size of the circuit means that I can sit at many different courts and gain experience of how they operate and the particular challenges they face. The court staff are wonderful and can’t do enough to ensure that you are supported and have everything that you need. The full-time judges are always available if you have a query and are keen to support Recorders.
What have you most enjoyed about being a Recorder?
I genuinely enjoy each day that I sit and look forward to going to work. I benefited enormously from the extensive training when I was appointed and continue to receive at regular intervals. This has given me the confidence and skills to take on the role and deal with challenges that arise in court. It’s very satisfying to know that you have resolved a problem and managed to keep a case on track. Recorders are provided with a judicial mentor and mine has been an invaluable source of guidance and support. I have been made to feel part of a team and when I sit I feel that I am contributing to society.
How did you know you were ready to apply and what preparation did you do?
To be honest, I wasn’t sure that I was ready to apply when I did. I was 36 and having been educated at comprehensive schools with no connections to the law prior to embarking upon my career, I was of the view that the judiciary was out of reach for somebody of my age with my background. Fortunately, others did not share my view. I was encouraged by judges who I had been in front of in practice to apply, along with colleagues who sat as Recorders. I spoke to other Recorders and full-time judges about the role and what it entailed, and I slowly changed my view.
I began to keep a record of cases that I had undertaken. I’m glad I did as I would’ve struggled to complete the self-assessment application form if I had not taken the time in advance to recall the cases that best satisfied the competencies.
How do you balance sitting as a Recorder with your practice?
I’m fortunate to have a busy criminal practice which can make finding the time to complete the sitting requirements tricky. However, as many criminal practitioners find, trials do have a habit of suddenly vanishing from lists so I can take vacancies at short notice. I generally get a few months’ notice of the sitting vacancies. Booking 2-week blocks of sitting is very helpful to me and to the courts. You can take on longer cases that are more complex and enable you to develop your skills and gain experience, which is undoubtedly beneficial if you’re considering applying for a full-time appointment.