Perspectives on diversity in the judiciary and family life

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Sean and Andrew are husbands who are both judicial office holders. They talk about their shared experiences and how they weave their roles into their lives.

Sean and Andrew, who live near Hexham in Northumberland, are both judicial office holders albeit in very different roles. Sean is a magistrate on the North Northumbria bench, having joined the judiciary in 2007. Andrew is a specialist member of the First-tier Tribunal (Health, Education and Social Care Chamber), sitting in the Mental Health Tribunal both in the North East and on online hearings, nationally.

Sean explains, “I grew up in a deprived area of Tyneside where either being gay or being a magistrate was viewed as something quite unusual. I came out at 17 and felt that I had to leave the family home, something I’ve no regrets about. I found myself working in a range of public sector roles, then working in the ambulance service. Some years later, a friend told me about her experience of being a magistrate in Manchester. What she told me really whet my appetite; I applied and here I am.”

Andrew had held a number of decision-making roles in healthcare regulation and, similarly, a friend talked to him about becoming a ‘hospital manager’. Hospital managers are, in effect, another route by which treatment and detention under ‘section’ can be reviewed. That led him to apply to be a member of the First-tier Tribunal in 2020, a role which he says is very rewarding. Andrew says, “My professional background is in communications and leadership, so really quite different. Each of our tribunal panels, just like a magistrates’ bench, is made up of three people often with very different backgrounds which is part of the joy of the role. I learn something from my fellow tribunal members each time that I sit.”

Balancing their judicial responsibilities, other work and family life needs a great deal of planning, according to Sean. “In my early 30s I retrained as a primary school teacher, so now confine most sittings to either Saturday morning remand courts or school holidays. As well as his Tribunal and healthcare regulation roles, Andrew is a non-executive director. I think the flexibility of fee-paid Tribunal work suits him well, given the other work that he does”, says Sean.

In 2020, Sean and Andrew became grandads; they now have three grandchildren, so that flexibility gets tested to the limit, particularly as they live some distance away. That experience, they say, is just something else that adds a different perspective to their judicial roles.

In all of this, both Andrew and Sean are clear that the fact that they are gay is not the challenge that it once was for judicial office holders. Andrew says, “Very occasionally a colleague might, for example, assume that my spouse is female. It’s only ever an inadvertent mistake; if I point it out (which I’ll try to do in a thoughtful way), colleagues are always apologetic, although I really don’t expect them to have to be. I hope it also serves to help them see that gay men and women are no different in the concerns and pleasures of everyday life”.

Sean points out that there is still more to do on diversity and inclusion. “When it comes to judicial diversity, we would both say that those who hold judicial roles should, quite simply, reflect the make-up of modern British society. Equally, both of our roles see us making decisions about some of the most vulnerable people in society. For those people, issues of diversity and inclusion still impact on their everyday life and it’s important that those in judicial roles like ours reflect on that.”

Andrew adds, “We both get a great deal out of our judicial roles. We can support each other, appreciate some of the pressures and encourage each other in our work. The rewards are great, and we are both proud to work in an environment which is one of the most inclusive that we know”.

Sean JP & Tribunal Member Andrew