How to prepare for a JSC interview
The usual tips for a job interview are to get there on time, make sure your shoes are shined, and be polite. For an interview in front of the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) however, the Hunger Games might be a better reference. The panel of people interviewing you are 23 of the most ambitious, clever and argumentative people you might want to meet. They would, of course, argue with that description.
Surviving the interview intact is tough, and has reduced normally confident masters of rhetoric to waffling heaps.
Here are our tips on how to shine:
- Don’t worry about being on time. The Chief Justice never allocates the same amount of time for interviews, and they range from 2 hours to 20 minutes. Your interview could be at 11 at night. Rather call ahead, and see how the schedule is doing.
- In most sets of interviews members of the JSC will have a favourite question they ask. For example, the Deputy Minister of Justice, Michael “Chicken Little” Masutha, recently asked all of the candidates if justice should be done even though the heavens fall. This is in Latin, Fiat iustitia, ruatcaelum, and is something you are taught at law school as being true. (If it is in Latin, must be true, right?) All the judges replied, well, yes.
Top tip: You can get a heads up on the questions being asked by looking at the transcripts of interviews [link to transcripts], to see what questions are the flavour of the month.
- You won’t get a set of questions which talk to what your judicial philosophy is. Often, the interviews are questions which allow the Chief Justice to see why his rules about court practice are being implemented. Or they are an opportunity for politicians to have a go at judges, or each other. The question, “what do you think of the separation of powers?” is a good one, beloved of the politicians. The answer is, “Next to chocolate, it is my favourite thing.” The politicians fondly imagine that this means that you will be a deferential judge, and not keep telling the executive what to do.
- You will be asked, “where are the women?” In recent months, women judges have talked in Judicial Service Commission (JSC) interviews about the difficulties they face, and faced as lawyers, with their role as primary caregivers forcing them to make hard parenting decisions like putting children in boarding school. Women have talked about how difficult it is when they have a judge president (the leader of the judges in that division, known as the JP) who doesn’t accommodate their need for flexibility, and how much easier it is when they have a JP who does. They have also talked about briefing patterns, and the perception that when it really counts, you need the best, and the best is a white man. – These are all good answers.
Top tip: Don’t say that women are needed at the Bar to bring a soft feminine touch, or you’ll get your head bitten off.
- Don’t be alarmed by people wandering in and out. The politicians are accustomed to long meetings, and to going off to get coffee or go for a bathroom break. They treat this interview like a meeting, and don’t all attend all the time.
We wish all the prospective candidates of the next round of interviews good luck!