Sonia Proudman was appointed to High Court judge in the Chancery Division in 2008 and is now retired. Previously she was a Deputy High Court judge, Recorder, Assistant Recorder and barrister.

“My work covers property and contract matters, company law, intellectual property, tax appeals, pensions, competition law and general commercial litigation. In the current climate many cases relate to corporate insolvency. At the Bar I had a specialist trust practice only. But that shows that lack of particular experience should not deter applicants.  Intellectual capacity and stamina are more important than specialism. At my age many people have retired or feel they are heading towards the scrap heap. It is therefore a privilege to be a mover and shaker at the centre of things although I admit it was quite frightening to start with. My best day was when the Court of Appeal said something so stunningly nice about a judgment I had given that I went around with a smile on my face for some time.    

“The work of a High Court Judge is much harder and more consistently cerebral than I had expected. What has surprised me most is that virtually every case raises a new point of law. The public perception is that the hours are 10am to 4.30pm but court sittings are the tip of the iceberg. I would mention substantial pre-reading, reserved judgments, paper applications (for example for permission to appeal), committee work, approving orders, transcripts and law reports, giving lectures, writing references, responding to consultation papers, dealing with queries from lawyers and litigants and doing legal research. That is before one gets to assisting students and trainees and quasi-social functions. The compensation is the huge support system both in the judicial and administrative spheres.

“Taking an appointment is a very big step.  There is no going back. Typically people who become High Court judges have been earning significantly more in their previous careers. Therefore candidates have got to be very sure it is going to be something they really want to do and that they are ready to do it.

“My judicial colleagues in the Chancery Division are outstanding in terms of ability, intellect and humanity. Historically few women have reached the necessary level of seniority and expertise, but now there are many more and it is therefore a question of encouraging them to apply. I very much hope more women will come forward. They have a different experience of life and in consequence have something special to give.

“Some years ago I confessed to a senior judge that I had made a decision (as a Recorder) which was contrary to accepted principle. I will never forget his reply. He said that conscience and common sense are precisely the reasons why judges are human beings and not computers.”