Judge shows that hard work pays off

Sophie Tomes

Sophie Toms, Deputy District Judge

“It doesn’t matter what your background is, and it doesn’t matter whether your parents went to university or not. Anybody can make it.”

That’s the advice of Sophie Toms – University of South Wales alumna, Criminal Law solicitor, and Wales’s youngest Deputy District Judge (M.C.).

Born and bred in Usk, Sophie’s rise to her position in the Judiciary came through what might be seen as an unusual route.

After completing secondary school she studied for A-levels at Pontypool College, before then going on to the University of Glamorgan to do a HND in Legal Studies. Continuing her learning at Glamorgan, she went on to do a top-up degree to full LLB in the mid-1990s before doing a Legal Practice Course.

From there, Sophie secured a training contract– which she said is ‘essentially an apprenticeship’ - went on to work for an agricultural law firm, and eventually progressed to specialise in criminal law.

Sophie’s studying and on-the-job-training gave her the necessary expertise to give expert representation to clients during criminal trials.

And this experience and knowledge led to a wider role, her appointment as a Deputy District Judge – through which she is now the one overseeing trials in Magistrates’ Courts.

“Normally there are two or three lay Magistrates who oversee trials in the court, making the decision over guilt or innocence, and either handing out punishment or referring the cases to the Crown Court for a verdict by the Judge there,” she said.

“As a District Judge, however, I hear cases on my own – which are often more complex – and then make a decision on the evidence presented.

“I’ve sat in Pontypridd, Swansea, Merthyr and also in the Midlands. Obviously I can’t oversee a trial involving people I may know or have represented in court as a solicitor, so I tend to hear cases away from the part of Wales I live in.”  

So, does the fact that she is far from the stereotype of a typical Judge mean that Sophie thinks she’s unique, rather than a role model?

“I think it’s important that people realise that it’s confidence in yourself, and the willingness to put in the hard work, that’s going to make it happen,” she said.

“The Judicial Appointments Commission – which makes the assessment on your suitability after exams and a selection day - treats everyone the same.

“Female Judges are on the increase - but it doesn’t matter where you come from, or your background - appointment is made solely on merit.

“So your gender or background really aren’t that important. What really matters is that you put in the hours, the study, the hard graft, and the commitment – and you can achieve anything you want.”

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