'Real-life experience' is vital to the making of a good judge, the president of the Supreme Court said last night as he welcomed a solicitor judge to the Court of Appeal. Lord Neuberger was speaking at an event in Chancery Lane to acknowledge Sir Gary Hickinbottom's appointment as only the second solicitor judge ever to sit in the court.

He follows in the footsteps of solicitor Lawrence Collins (Baron Collins of Mapesbury). Collins, who left Herbert Smith in 2000, was appointed to the Court of Appeal in 2007 and to the Supreme Court in 2009.

Neuberger extolled the benefits of what he called a  mixed economy in the judiciary - 'the benefit of real-life experience, people have worked their way up'. 

Law Society president Robert Bourns said Hickinbottom's elevation reflects the benefits of 'real-life experience', noting that he had qualified in 1981 and shown a 'willingness to have a crack at anything'. After a career in the City, he entered the judiciary as a parking adjudicator and went on to become only the fourth solicitor judge to be appointed to the High Court. His experiences have included sitting in the Falkland Islands and hearing a case in South Georgia. 

'His appointment is both a testimony to the great skill he brings to the bench, and an example of the huge contribution solicitors can make to the judiciary,' said Bourns. 'The profession has no shortage of talented solicitors who could and should consider judicial appointment and I hope that this event encourages many of you to follow this route.'

Hickinbottom also stressed that 'a diverse judiciary is a strong judiciary'. While proud to be one of the first solicitors to make the High Court and then the Court of Appeal,  'I long for the day when this is routine', he said. 

He recalled starting out in a West Bromwich solicitor's office on a wage of £1 a day. ‘I remember my first task well:  it was to take the paste jewellery of a deceased client, hawk it round jewellers in the high street to get the best price, and then buy a gravestone with the cash. The start to my legal career was not auspicious. I failed to obtain a good enough price for the jewellery to buy a headstone; but my principal, after the gentlest of disapprobation, told me to take the balance out of petty cash. It was a first lesson in public service which is the hallmark of our profession.’

The event was also addressed by first-tier tribunal judge Tim Smith, Her Honour Judge Lynch and district judge Sunita Mason.

The Judicial Appointments Commission is currently inviting applications for 100 recorder posts. The closing date is 8 February. https://jac.judiciary.gov.uk/vacancies/042