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A View from the Bench: Helen Cankett Update

As I approach the first anniversary of being appointed as a Deputy District Judge, I have been reflecting on the experience so far. The time has passed incredibly quickly which I think is a good sign!

I have “sat” as a judge over 20 times and made decisions in dozens of cases, ranging from family law matters to civil cases involving personal injury claims, housing possessions and consumer claims.

Many of the cases have involved individuals coming to court without a legal representative. For those cases, it’s always important to ensure that those involved in the case understand what is happening and why, and what the next steps are. The skills I have acquired as a Family Mediator have proved to be very helpful in dealing with these cases and assisted me in communicating complex legal points to individuals in a neutral and balanced way.

There have been some stand out moments over the last year, which started on my very first day sitting as a Judge when I was asked to meet the Master of the Rolls! Sir Geoffrey Vos is one of the most senior civil judges in the country and was visiting Gloucester Court as part of his tour of the south-west courts. He had been told it was my first day and made some encouraging comments before I headed back to my court room to get to grips with my first ever cases!

I’ve also experienced my first appraisal as a Judge which took place on my 6th sitting day. Whilst it was a day I approached with some trepidation, it was an incredibly supportive and helpful exercise. It was also a great confidence-booster with my appraisal judge providing me with positive feedback and some brilliant tips to put into practice on future sitting days.

It has also been great to get to know the local full-time Judges and to meet fellow Deputy District Judges. They have all be universally supportive, helpful and willing to answer my myriad of questions! The camaraderie has been brilliant. This has added to the positive experience of each sitting day, with the court staff also very willing to help.

I have learned that you need to be able to adapt quickly, as there have often been last minute changes to my list of cases and new issues to get to grips with, in a limited amount of time. I have also dealt with emergency applications to protect someone from domestic abuse which have often needed to be slotted in, in between existing cases. Efficient time management is certainly a key skill to have as a judge!

All of this has benefitted and complimented my ongoing work as a solicitor and added value to the team and firm, who have been incredibly supportive of my dual role. Overall, as I look back over my first year, I feel a sense of accomplishment and I am looking forward to seeing what the next year brings!

These notes have been prepared for the purpose of articles only. They should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice.

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