Female solicitor, 32, who started her training contract in 2007 becomes judge

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Baby-faced bench

Ita Farrelly

A spate of young female lawyers have been appointed to the judiciary this year, including a 32-year-old who only qualified in 2008.

Ita Farrelly is a partner at a small criminal firm, THB Solicitors, having joined as a trainee there in 2007. Farrelly had recently graduated with a law degree from the University of Essex, before completing the Bar Professional Training Course and then deciding to cross-qualify.

Farrelly is now beginning a new chapter in her legal career, as a judge in the first-tier tribunal. She has been assigned to the social entitlement chamber, and will be based in Southend.

Female lawyers (typically barristers) being appointed as judges in their 30s, though hardly widespread, seems to be becoming more common.

Also made up this year was a 37-year-old lawyer and mother who is believed to be the youngest circuit judge in the country. Hannah Duncan, who is still technically a tenant at 2 Harcourt Buildings but did her last case in December, will be based at Isleworth Crown Court in Hounslow. She will be sitting on a close-to full-time basis, taking about 10% of the year off to look after her children.

Other young judges recently appointed include Siew Ying Loke, a government barrister who is now an immigration judge in the first-tier tribunal. She is just 37 (and a martial arts teacher, but that’s beside the point).

Siew Ying Loke. Image credit: Tang Sou Dao website

As for the early 40-somethings, Sarah Venn, like Duncan, has been appointed as a circuit judge on the South Eastern circuit. She is 41-years-old. As is Sophie Toms, who will soon be sitting in the magistrates’ courts. While Joanna Brownhill, aged 42, has been appointed to the first-tier tribunal’s social entitlement chamber.

Women reaching judicial status perhaps earlier than expected is a trend Legal Cheek has traced over the past few years. In 2017, 31-year-old Briony Clarke was sworn in as a deputy district judge, making her the country’s youngest female judge. Interestingly, she’s also a partner at THB, where Farrelly works.

And, the year before that, 33-year-old Anna Midgley hit the headlines when she was made a recorder (then the youngest in recent history).

The latest comments from across Legal Cheek

But there are some fresh-faced men joining the judiciary’s ranks too.

Also made up this year are Stephen Smith, 36, Joseph Neville, 37, and Gordon Newall, 39, who are all off to the first-tier tribunal. James Hatton, 37, will be a district judge in the magistrates.

The recent swathe of younger judges donning robes and gracing the bench seems to be a result of the judiciary’s push for younger candidates (the High Court has even adopted YouTube as a recruitment tool). Indeed, in a recent interview with Legal Cheek, a barrister at Hardwicke Chambers and a part-time judge, Charlie Bagot, said:

“There’s a really important myth to dispel that you have to be old and grey to be a part-time judge. You really don’t.”

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this is an insanely impressive achievement. anyone else think it’s kind of strange both these young judges come from the same, tiny firm of solicitors though? especially when judges are mainly taken from the bar anyway



I concur…

However, had it been a man at THB Solicitors, one wonders whether he would have been afforded the same passage to the bench at such an early age as his female counterpart.



Quite. And to appoint people from a hopeless High Street firm to the Bench is very worrying indeed.



Insanely impressive? You may be correct…


Henry mostyn

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.


Alex’s Prissy Asshole

Yet is she as autistic as Alex?


Alex’s concerned mummy

Who knows? Very few things are as autistic as Alex, the middle aged momma’s boy, or as prissy as his asshole that’s constantly getting breached


Gavin from XXL

I’m surprised by all of this talk of alex’s Mummy, when I thought ‘daddy’ was more his ‘issue’! 🍼


Rupert who knows Gavin and Alex -wink wink-

Eww don’t pay him so much attention, his shit-pussy might explode 🍼



Just shows how far along the gravy train common law hackery can get you.



Credit where it’s due. Big achievement in light of her age. Must have been fast tracked.



You need to look at the website which explains the recruitment process from advertisement o appointment. Really stiff competition with a large number of applicants for each post. There is no fast-tracking, the recruitment process is rigorous involving online tests and sifting before attending at an assessment centre for a tough panel interview, role-play exercises and more.
Well done to her. She must have excelled to get through and she will go further up the judicial ladder if she fulfills her potential.


Private Solicitor

Tribunal judge. LOL. No-one wants those jobs except the woefully underpaid.



Especially in Southend.

CJ appointment impressive though.



The pay, @ 107k and a good pension, is many times higher than the average barrister or solicitor.



She was a partner, not merely the average solicitor. I would be incredibly surprised if she is not now making less.



Yes, but in an obscure high st practice. I doubt she’d get a paralegal job at a proper firm.


True. It’s a very embarrassing position to have. The best of the profession – City solicitors and barristers – enter the judicial world as Recorders at a minimum. In a way, though, it makes sense, as people find their level. Which is a good thing for the administration of justice.



…but for how long? The trick in your late 20s / early 30s is to see what the next big thing is, and be part of it. The appointment of a whole bunch of 30-something full time salaried judges is part and parcel of the judiciary’s long term strategy. The LCJ in his annual report this year said:

“The long-term aim is for the merger of the courts and tribunals and the creation of one justice system. This was set out in the joint statement that the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Chief Justice and Senior President of Tribunals issued in September 2016 – the plan “to create one system and one judiciary”

Ryder LJ, who runs the tribunals, is also very keen. Note his selection of the new president of the UT(IAC), Peter Lane, who is made a High Court judge to boot. He entered the judiciary as an asylum adjudicator. It is a deliberate message as to changing times. Future judicial vacancies, eg for recorder, will start to be run first among full time judiciary – “expressions of interest” – and only opened up to lawyers if they don’t fill the spaces. So the judge in this article may well be a recorder in just a few short years, if she fancies it, because she’ll be at the front of the queue well ahead of your city colleagues. She has made a very canny move IMO.

In any event there may be no distinction. Employment tribunal judges have been sitting in the county court recently to make up the numbers. Some FtT judges in West London have been ticketed into the Family Court. That’s what the LCJ means by ‘one judiciary’. They want to involve the staffing crises they’ve had in the ET, FtT, and are currently having the Family Court. The judiciary is being turned into a complete career path.



Katie you shouldn’t be praising these women, they’re not aspiring high enough to become Slaughter & May partners, and therefore are contributing to the gender gap



At one time decisions were made by elders. I’m not against youth, but there was good reason for that. It’s true to say too that the young are more easily programmed by their political masters than many who have enjoyed life in less reactionary times. Oh for a return to an independent judiciary.



O tempora o mores



Quite agree. It’s ludicrous that such obviously inadequate people are being appointed as part of a pernicious equality drive.



I wonder who her referee was……….?



Mike Dean?



Was she advanced several years at school? Ordinarily you’d finish a degree at 21. Bar school at 22 (in this particular case). Cross qualify as a solicitor – surely you’d need a 2 year training contract (?), so 24. The article says she qualified in 2008 so ten years later and, by now, 34 – so how is she 32? I don’t really care actually.



If you undertook the BVC before a certain date you simply had to sit the QLTT to become a qualified solicitor – no training contract required. I am an employed barrister within a law firm and have to say that the 2 solicitors in my firm who did this are exceptional – ditch the SQE.



Correct. QLTT had a former of D-I-Y training contract built into it. It just required an accounts and ethics exam to be completed and evidence of 2 years of legal experience akin to a traineeship. Her time line seems consistent with the QLTT.



I was in front of a DDJ who I remembered as a trainee not being particularly bright, but knowing who’s backside to kiss. My suspicions about his ability were vindicated when i successfully appealed his finding in a Newton Hearing. Just saying.


Not an English Lawyer.

“judge in the first tier tribunal” – can anyone explain to me where this position ranks? Is it above a District Court and below the High Court or what?



Same as a District Judge. I.E. lowest appointment that isn’t fee paid.


Not an English Lawyer.

Thank you!



It’s a sinecure to which the appointments commission can assign hopeless people to fulfill a political agenda.


Retired Queen's Counsel

After a while one becomes less surprised by such PC absurdities. Pity the competent male applicants of more experience who were overlooked. But being allocated Southend – what a fate!

I am so glad to have left the In-justice System behind.


Henry mostyn

A greater injustice is how alex’s (A middle aged man) prissy asshole is constantly breached by rough commentators on legalcheek



Benefits judge. What an achievement!



Yup. Beyond a joke.



The comments which denigrate both women and suggest that they are less able than partners in City firms are rubbish. A significant number of the applicants for the Tribunal and DDJ trawls are both experienced and respected barristers and partners in City firms. I know that because I have attended at assessment centres for final selection and met the other candidates who got through to the final stage. To suggest that they were given appointments in preference to other, more able, candidates because of their age, or because they were women, is nonsense: such ignorance demonstrates a complete lack of understanding in the recruitment and assessment process and says much about the trolls who make the comments.



Actually, the social security claims and payments Regulations are surprisingly complex. At least as intellectually challenging as an HMRC taxation issue, although not nearly as lucrative for the lawyers involved.



What some of you have written is a disgrace. You sound smug, condescending and jealous. Having worked there it’s not a “hopeless” firm. It’s a leading criminal and regulatory firm – check the legal 500. I know both girls and though we don’t speak now they are hugely talented. It’s a shame you can’t be pleased for them – I can only assume you are as bitter as you sound.



Very well said. Clearly many jealous idiots commenting here…
The young lady should be very proud of herself, as should all of the others mentioned in the article.
If you can’t say anything nice and all that….



The mediocre will always promote their own.



It’s a totally irrelevant high street firm and nobody from it should be appointed to the judiciary – even to some pointless role as has happened here.



Yeah, really jealous not to be working in a firm headquartered above a kebab shop in Southend and being a part-time benefits judge.


Old Male Barrister

I did a S18 trial before Recorder Hannah Duncan (she becomes a Judge on Monday) last week. Although it makes you feel old when the Judges start looking young, she is brilliant, spot on the law, courteous to Counsel, witnesses and defendants. As an experience criminal practitioner she is exactly the sort of person who we need as Judges in the Criminal Courts (rather than some ex-city solicitor or civil bod who has to rise every five minutes to run to another Judge to ask what to do as they’ve never practised criminal law). Having appeared before her, this was an appointment made on pure merit. We need more like her.



Good to hear. But you don’t need to have practised criminal law to be a criminal judge. There is actually very little law in it and what there is is straightforward. And civil practitioners are much brighter than those doing crime, so the system should encourage them to be appointed.


Old Male Barrister

Not at all. The CPR extend to over 1,000 pages and there is more legislation in crime than any other field. Sentencing is vastly complex with all the overlapping provisions and politicians love creating new crimes and amending existing ones. The record must go to the Powers of Criminal Courts Act, parts being in force for 3 days before being reformed.

That’s the problem when Judges with no experience are appointed. In a pretty straightforward 3 day, 4 Count trial the written directions to the jury were 10 pages long. That’s pretty much usual even in a short trial. As disclosure in criminal trials tends to be ongoing, matters arise where you really have to know what you are doing. Not sure many civil boys and girls would have realised that a single symbol on the blade of a knife, produced only on the second day of the trial reversed the burden of proof and converted a non per-se item into a prohibited weapon.

Arguing over who has responsibility to fix a fence is a lot less complex than a joint enterprise murder or a Carousel fraud. I have done trials before civil recorders and they take twice as long as those before criminal recorders as they stop and ask for Counsel’s assistance on every point and need to be led by the nose through the simplest principles and case law.


Lauren Bond

I am astounded by the majority of these comments (presumably jealousy?). Becoming a judge any any age and in any field is an incredible achievement. Well done to all.



The comments above are outrageous. Most of you above should be ashamed of yourselves.

What happened to celebrating young, talented, hardworking individuals? This day and age is far more concerned with tearing people down and shaming people through jealously.

This is an incredible achievement and an extremely difficult application process and we should be celebrating this young lady and her achievement.

All of these women have done extremely well and priaee indeed to all of you.

Shame on the keyboard warriors and their jealously.



Most of the negative comments are coming from self-entitled city rats with whom I have a displeasure of working on a daily basis. They are unhappy, angry and judgmental. No wonder.



Agreed. The negative comments are clearly from people who haven’t got to where they’d like to be and couldn’t get through the process themselves!!

Well done to all in this article- very impressive!


Counsel of Imperfection

The authors of these comments either have never been through the JAC process and realised just how tough it is, or they HAVE been through it and have failed.

What would they prefer? The days when the existing judges tapped their mates on the shoulder and invited them in?

The thing about objective assessment and selection is that it picks the people who best meet the criteria, rather than the people who best fit the stereotype, and sometimes that leads to appointments which might look surprising, but only because our perception is wrong.

Well done to the Judge in question for rising above the rest, and for believing that it was her knowledge and ability and character that would matter, rather than how old she is, what gender she is and who her Dad once played cricket with. And well done to the JAC for faithfully applying proper and rigorous criteria.

To say that any individual lawyer should not be appointed to an individual post based on a snobbish, ill-informed voew of the firm she worked for signifies everything that was once wrong with these professions. Thankfully we are moving on.

She deserves our admiration and respect, and she has both from me.

Only the mediocre need fear a meritocracy.



It can hardly be a rigorous appointments process when an early 30s high street solicitor from Southend gets appointed. That’s the point. Thankfully, she is in a non job, but still.


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