Rachael Vasmer is a Salaried Judge of the First-tier Tribunal, Social Entitlement Chamber. She was appointed in November 2011 and sits in Shrewsbury. She was a Fee-paid Social Entitlement Judge from 2002 (pre-JAC) and a solicitor, and has been a partner in three firms.

Judicial appointment. What happened next?

Rachael updates us on her career developments since 2011.

“Since starting work as a salaried District Tribunal Judge I have gained experience in dealing with all sorts of benefit appeals. I have also been lucky enough to be appointed to do Criminal Injury Compensation Appeals and War Pension appeals. This has been a rewarding and challenging experience as I have found that the way in which Tribunals are run can be very different. Both, however, involve looking at the issue of injury and disability as well as other issues and give an added area of interest to my work. I cannot complain that my work is not varied and interesting, although there is a lot of it at times!

“I have also recently been appointed as one of the representatives to represent the First-tier Tribunal’s judiciary on the Diversity Committee of the Judges’ Council. This committee has representatives across the judiciary who are responsible for and committed to diversity. I am very much looking forward to attending my first meeting.

“One of the enjoyable elements of my job is helping with training. Recently this has meant having the chance to play an appellant at a Tribunal hearing. I have been able to go into a mock hearing with my purple crutches and to treat part-time Judges to many of my experiences during Tribunal hearings.

With all the changes in private practice I do not regret applying for Judicial Office and becoming a Tribunal Judge. Private practice appears to have become more and more challenging to be part of. Being a Tribunal Judge is not a 9-5 job but offers me flexibility and the chance to develop my experience and knowledge in other areas of Tribunal work.

“HMCTS has continued to be supportive in dealing with the problems arising from my disability. In December 2014 I went down to four days per week in view of my significant problems with fatigue. It can be challenging at times to carry out my role in view of my physical problems. However, every attempt is made to facilitate my ability to take part in training and to deal with hearings around the country.”

We spoke to Rachael Vasmer about her experience of working in the judiciary with a disability and the JAC selection process.

“Joining the judiciary has been a very positive experience and I would encourage anyone with a disability to consider it.   

“I have found there is much more help, in terms of equipment and adjustments, than there was in private practice.

“In 2008, one of my legs was amputated above the knee. I also have a spinal fusion and therefore have problems sitting, standing and walking. I use two crutches and have ongoing difficulties with pain and associated fatigue.

“This is much easier to deal with, working a judicial sitting pattern, due to the flexibility they offer. We start sitting at 10am, and I tend to get up really early and work from home. If I also want to work from home in the evenings and/or weekends, I have the flexibility to do that. You have to be at the tribunal to do your sittings, but there is usually flexibility to do paperwork out of the office unless I need to be at my venue for some other reason.

“I also found the JAC extremely helpful at making sure I was not disadvantaged during the selection process. They made arrangements for me to sit the test on my own so I could get up as I needed to.

“I applied to be a Salaried Social Entitlement Judge before, in 2009, and was also going through a DJ (Civil) exercise when I heard I got my current role. So in total, I have sat a qualifying test three times and been interviewed twice.

“I found it invaluable to have been through the process before and I would recommend doing one of the dry-runs the JAC advertises. The test can be a shock for some. It is designed to be high pressure – you have a lot to do in a short period of time. Look at the website beforehand. You need to prepare properly as you will not have time for lots of flicking through statutes once you get into the test. I also found it very helpful to have been through the interview before. You have got to be able to give examples to demonstrate how specifically you have met the criteria and that was my downfall in my first attempt.

“I am very pleased to have got away from some aspects of private practice – the focus on profits and targets – although I miss my colleagues and clinical negligence work. Holidays are easier too and I am certainly working more regular hours than before – my family say there has been a massive improvement. I enjoy the variety of work, the legal challenge and being much more in control of what work I do and when.”