A Harrogate barrister has been announced as the youngest ever black and minority ethnic crown court judge in the UK.
Sri Lankan origin Ayesha Smart, 34, can now sit as a Recorder in crown courts across the north east of England.
As well as being the youngest non-white person to take up the role, she will be the third youngest person from any background to be selected.
The process of becoming a judge is complex, involving two sets of exams, a role play exercise and an interview – and the final approval has to be given by the King.
Ayesha told the Stray Ferret:
“Everybody says it takes several goes at the process to get through, so I thought I would give it a go and at least I know what it’s like.
“I anticipated I might be one of the youngest ones in the exams, so I assumed I wouldn’t get anywhere. It was a bit of a nice surprise when I got it!”
Ayesha, who lives near Killinghall, attended Ashville College when she moved to Nidderdale with her family in 2014.
She went on to study A levels in biology, chemistry and maths, as well as music which she sat early, at St Aidan’s and St John Fisher Associated Sixth Form, before completing an undergraduate degree in medical sciences at the University of Leeds.
Her first professional job was as a pathologist at Harrogate District Hospital, but she decided to turn to the law and completed a conversion course in Leeds.
Quickly securing a pupilage place to complete her training, she was called to the bar in 2014, and has since been working in crown courts around Yorkshire.
Her appointment as Recorder, confirmed on Wednesday this week, means she will undertake an induction before sitting in the role for at least 30 days a year.
Ayesha says she is not nervous about the appointment, adding:
“I come from a science background before I went into law. For me, analysing things and coming to a decision is the bit I find easier.
“For the induction course, we get packed up in a group of other Recorders. Having to do it all in front of them will be slightly nerve-wracking!
“I’m kind of excited – I just want to get going.”
To begin with, Ayesha will continue to work as a barrister part-time. She can then decide whether to continue the dual role or move to be a full-time judge.
She hopes she will help the justice service to tackle a huge backlog of cases that has built up in recent years. She added:
“One of the two-day trials I’m working on, the earliest date we could get for the trial was next October. That’s how backlogged everything is at the moment.
“If one of my trials [as a barrister] collapses and I end up with a bunch of dates free, they may say, ‘we’ve got some cases you can hear’.”
And that is not the only way in which Ayesha hopes to make a difference.
As a pioneering BAME woman, she is aware that her presence will be noticed by the people in front of her.
“The bar, as a profession, is all old, white, posh people. At least with people like me coming through, it’s a bit more representative of society.
“So many defendants aren’t white. If they see people more like them, it just helps in giving a better perception of fairness.
“Having somebody slightly younger probably helps as well – a more modern way of thinking rather than an old-fashioned approach to everything.
“The drug sentencing guidelines, they’ve had to put a reminder to judges that Blacks and Asians typically get a harsher sentence and ask them to remember that.
“Having someone who appreciates cultural differences and biases, you are a bit more alive to making sure people are treated equally.”(The Stray Ferret)