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Marion Rickman has experienced both the old and the new way of appointing judges. She became a Fee-paid Legal Member of the Mental Health Tribunal back in 1995, a time when you applied for appointment having been given the nod. In 2008 she went through the JAC processes to become one of the first salaried judges of the new First-tier Tribunal of the Health, Education and Social Care Chamber, exercising the mental health jurisdiction.
Judge Rickman, who qualified as a solicitor in 1989, began her professional life as a family law specialist in Oxford, but started to move into mental health work after one of her clients was sectioned. She frequently appeared before the Mental Health Review Tribunal – which heard applications and references for people detained under the 1983 Mental Health Act – and was encouraged to apply for a part-time appointment. After an interview with the senior judge for the tribunal, she was appointed.
A part-time role allowed her to continue practising as well. "I undoubtedly became a much better practitioner and a much better judge as a result," she says. The essence of being a judge, Marion believes, is "being able to make a reasoned decision fairly and appropriately, and for everyone to feel that, whether they like it or not, it's a fair decision and they've had their say".
It is also important to resist the temptation to do the lawyers' job for them. "The danger is that it's very easy to slip back into thinking they should have asked this question or that, so you ask it for them. You have to stop yourself jumping in and let the representative conduct their case the way they want to."
The essence of the tribunal hearing is to determine whether the patient should be discharged from hospital and, if so, when and in some cases on what conditions. She says sometimes the cases can be "emotionally tough". But as a judge "you have to feel you have made the right decision. You need to go away and forget about it".
With the creation of the First-tier Tribunal she faced the choice of whether to continue as a part-time member or apply for a full-time post. "A full-time appointment is something I've always wanted to do," she says. "It's a natural progression." The main downside is having to give up her involvement in other activities.
The application form took a long time to complete but was not at all scary. "I've applied for quite a lot of things over the years, and so I wasn't fazed by it." When it came to demonstrating the required competencies, she drew on experiences beyond her work in mental health. "You need to think creatively," she says.
Judge Rickman was then called for the assessment over two days, including an interview conducted by a senior tribunal judge, a JAC representative and lay member. "It was a tough, rigorous interview," she recalls. "You needed to have thought quite carefully beforehand about how you could show you met the competencies."
Once in post, she says the work is "hard but very interesting". As a full-time judge she will be allocated the more difficult cases. She also has administrative responsibilities, and has a role to play in raising standards among other tribunal members by conducting appraisals and offering feedback.
While she misses the other work she was able to combine with being a part-time tribunal judge, Marion says it is an exciting time to be involved in tribunal work. She adds: "Being involved as a judge full-time, improving standards and promulgating best practice, is very rewarding."