Solicitor who qualified in 2009 and made partner in 2014 becomes UK’s youngest female judge at just 31

Briony Clarke’s swift ascent into the history books

A fresh-faced criminal solicitor has bagged herself a place in the history books by becoming what is believed to be the country’s youngest female judge.

At the sprightly age of just 31, Briony Clarke was sworn in as a deputy district judge at Chelmsford Crown Court yesterday. She will now sit part-time at magistrates’ courts on the London and South East circuit.

Clarke’s ascendance up the legal ranks is quite remarkable. At just 15 she landed an administrative assistant role at Chelmsford law firm Taylor Haldane Barlex (THB). Juggling work and study, she went on to complete her law degree and Legal Practice Course (LPC) at Anglia Ruskin University. Admitted to the roll in 2009, Clarke became an accredited duty solicitor in 2010, an associate at THB in 2013, and a partner just one year later.

Helping Clarke take her judicial oath yesterday, Judge Charles Gratwicke — who notably once allowed a defendant to bring his pet cat into Chelmsford Crown Court for “emotional support” — said:

It’s nice to have someone from our own community, embarking on the same career that we have all at some stage had to launch ourselves into.

Commenting on Clarke’s compulsory retirement date of January 2056, he continued:

It’s a long time. It just goes to show how young you are and how long a career you have. Many congratulations. Enjoy it.

However, Clarke isn’t the first 30-something to put on judicial robes. Last year, Anna Midgley, a criminal barrister at Albion Chambers in Bristol, became a part-time Crown Court recorder at just 33. But the accolade for the youngest judge ever goes to Richard Wright QC. The Leeds-based silk became a deputy district judge at just 29 back in 2006.

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45 Comments

Not Amused

Congratulations – but I don’t want a German/French system of lifetime civil servant judges. So I’m afraid I think the system is broken.

I appreciate there is a problem which people are trying to fix. But there is a law of unintended consequences.

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Not Amused

Sorry, I thought I was clear, I have no desire to detract from the achievements of individuals. But personally I find the new appointment system to be broken.

If we are honest it is an alliance of two strong interests. Now I happen to both agree with these interests and *at the same time*, disagree that we should be led by them where the judiciary are concerned. So, what are these interests?
1) Saving money; and
2) Getting more women judges

Again – to be very clear – I approve of both. However I have concerns at the moment about how these two interests are eroding a third, primary interest:
3) that my country has the best justice system in the world.

At the moment we are saving money by appointing lots of part time judges. This is cheap and avoids pension liability (you’ll note HMG litigating over judges pensions). I am against the practice of this because it is to my mind a stupid cost saving. The better thing for my nation would be to reform HMCTS. It is by far the most useless part of government (and that is some achievement). HMCTS and the Courts in particular haven’t had substantive reform since the Victorians. The levels of waste are staggering. I want to get my money savings there and even go so far as to then spend the money I saved – on lots more full time judges. Many of whom might not even need Court buildings – they might just need an e-mail address (although technology is not a substitute for substantive reform).

On more women judges, I do not believe I know of a more staunch advocate. I am disgraced by the current President of the Supremes for his lack of action – and I do mention that a little. But taking on lots of part time, under qualified women is not the answer. It will produce bad judges. Germany and France produce lots of bad judges (career civil servant judges). That’s why no one uses their courts – they use ours. That’s why their retired judges don’t earn lots when they retire – ours do, as arbitrators.

Germany and France also have really really good stats on women judges. Just until that is, you check the detail. Loads of women judges on the lowest tiers. It is no offence to a DDJ to say – I would prefer 6 women appointed to the Supremes than 60 to DDJs. I expect them to agree with me.

I want full time, experienced judges, with an equal gender mix. We could do that now. It’d just require a little bit more effort than anyone seems willing to put in.

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Anonymous

Miss Clarke is not under qualified, she worked bloody hard to get where she has. If the other applicants couldn’t cut the mustard then that is down to them. No one gave her the answers to help her application, indeed you are not allowed to discuss the hoops you have to go through. Oh and the simple reason she will be ‘part time’ as you call it us because she still wants to practice and help those in need of a decent Solicitor. I have seen her in action so to speak and she is quite outstanding. I have also seen Solicitors who are so bad it makes you cringe. What better way to keep your finger on the pulse than to keep representing those who need you.

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Anonymous

Sorry, your argument is deeply flawed. Our system has always recognised the benefit of fee paid judges. For many years there has been an experience requirement depending on the role. 7 years is the minimum.

You seem to believe that the reason younger people are being appointed is a gender issue. Why do you say that? The competition is fierce. Hundreds of applicants of all ages, races and genders. Appointments are made on merit alone. Implicit in your reply is that you believe that this individual has been appointed on the basis of her age or gender. Both suggestions are offensive.

Your legal research into fee paid pensions is outdated. A fee paid pension scheme is about to come in and at least to a degree will be retrospective (much to the horror of the MOJ who are contesting just how many years should count).

I am not sure that there has been any increase in fee paid judges. If you disagree please give a source of your information.

Your comparissions with France and Germany are entirely spurious.

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Anonymous

It would be interesting for the other applicants who could not tee up such a headline to be able to see her answers to any test papers or interview questions, so that they could see why she was so much better than them in spite of having less experience.

Lol. I am joking of course. For this looks like the latest itineration of tapping someone on the shoulder and saying “it would be good to see your application for Deputy District Judge” this year.

One of the things I am alert to, is “what gave you the confidence to apply for a job when, objectively, you would look like such a long shot”. (Oh, Iwas so lucky – such a body suggested I apply !)

Being a Deputy District Judge is like falling off a log. Jammy Blighter ! I don’t know of single one who has made it in to heaven, mind you. A criminal DDJ is a role that is too parasitic upon the lost sheep, to open heaven’s gates 🙂

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Anonymous

Nobody tapped Miss Clarke on the shoulder. She knew very soon after her law degree where she was headed and it is due to her determination and hard work that she achieved this.

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Anonymous

Oh come on anonymous 3.53 pm. The LC article shows that she was an office junior at the firm she got partnership at from the age of 15. She is an attractive middle class woman in her photo, not someone who is care worn from attending the police station at all hours, and earning a pittance like many of the criminal solicitors and barristers who contribute to these comments. She may be hard working and good at her job, but so are 100% of paralegals and legal assistants who have all of the debt and none of the breaks. She has got the breaks here, and she has teed up a headline for someone. My guess is that she is scion of the local establishment rather than a scion of Not Amused’s mentoring scheme. It will have been the same for the QC chap who was two years younger than her on the youngest male DDJ side of the equation.

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A lawyer 2

Made your day 1.57.
I have appeared before a single female mag at Haringey mags who could not have been more than 18 yo. I have no complaints. She granted my app, but then she was granting everyone’s apps.

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Anonymous

We will have increased the compulsory retirement age by 2056 as by then we will all live longer, and the Tories will have cut the state so much that we’ll be forced to work until we drop.

FYI in 2056 Jeremy Corbyn will still be Labour leader, having won around 150 seats at each general election for the previous 40 years, but still enjoying huge support from his unthinking hoards.

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Michael Walsh

Congratulations to Briony. To her detractors, please provide evidence to back up your assertions. Otherwise keep a civil tongue in your mouth.

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Anonymous

Hi Michael, disclose the tests and response to interview questions for all the candidates and I’ll sift it and let’s see. Anonymise them and we will all choose whose was the best response.

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Northern Circuit barrister

There’s also Deputy DJ Murray on the Northern Circuit, who was 29 or possibly just turned 30 when appointed in 2016.

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