Raising the Bar

His Honour Judge Jonathan Gosling was among one of the first intakes of law students at the University of Wolverhampton, and graduated in 1978.

He was called to the Bar in 1980 and was appointed as a Deputy District Judge (Magistrates’ Courts), then known as acting Provincial Stipendiary Magistrate, in 1997.

He was appointed as an Assistant Recorder in February 2000 and as a Recorder in July 2000. Judge Gosling was appointed as a Circuit Judge in July 2009 and was assigned to the Midland Circuit, presiding over courts in Wolverhampton and Derby.

What led you to choose a career in law?

It was unavoidable. My grandfather was a solicitor in Wolverhampton and so was my father. My mother was a magistrate and my uncle was a judge and had a career at the Bar. Both my brothers are practising solicitors. I never thought of any other career and have not regretted it.

What are your memories of studying at Wolverhampton?

They are all positive. The law school was small, there were about 150 students over the three years, but the staff were a wonderful mixture of old school and enthusiastic recently qualified lecturers. I am still in close contact with many of my fellow students and one of my lecturers, Peter Smith, who was only a few years older than a graduate himself. I have excellent memories.

How do you think your degree prepared you for your career?

The teaching standard was extremely high and the course itself was held in high regard by the local profession, even though the course was only a few years old then. It is still highly regarded now.

Many of the students joined local firms and are still there as senior partners. I remember taking part in a Mooting competition, which tests your advocacy skills. Our lecturer, Peter Smith, led a student called Bill Eaton and me to the semi-finals of the Observer Mooting Competition in 1978, against Manchester University. That was a very good grounding.

What are your memories of your early career as a magistrates’ clerk in Wolverhampton and a barrister in Birmingham?

I was let loose on my own as a court clerk at a very early age, and had quite a lot of responsibility. It was quite a buzz. As for the Bar, it is without question the most fun you can have while earning a living. You have a real effect on people’s lives and you are completely independent.

You enjoy a close friendship  and camaraderie that is an integral part of the profession. I practiced in crime and liquor licensing so there was plenty of interesting work around.

What is your greatest professional achievement?

It was as a prosecutor. I had a case where a taxi driver had raped a heroin-addicted prostitute. After he had dumped her penniless, she picked up another punter to earn more money to score a fix before reporting what had happened to the police.

Before the case, people said you cannot rape a prostitute but I think the jury saw her for the tragic victim that she was and the taxi driver was convicted.

I had lots of rewarding results but that was up there with the best of them.

As an advocate you want to win. As a prosecutor, your role is to present the case, but when you have a victim like that you want to achieve something for them.

What do you enjoy about your current role, or find most rewarding?

Being fair to people. Every trial will have a winner and a loser – either the victim or the defendant – but everyone, whichever side they are on, knows the risk of that before they start.

They know they may not succeed or be believed. People will accept defeat, even if it is a long prison sentence, as long as they know it has been a fair and impartial hearing. The judge is in control of that, and that is the most important part of the job and the most rewarding.

What characteristics make a good barrister?

You have got to be fearless. You also have to be incredibly hard working, because you cannot cut corners. Preparation is everything. You must also have complete integrity. If you say something, everybody has to be able to trust your word without questioning it or wondering if it is reliable.

For example, only you know the content of conversations between you and your client. It sometimes happens that a defendant is criticised for mentioning something in their evidence that they have not mentioned earlier. If the barrister gets to his feet and says the defendant did tell him, but he forgot to mention it, you have to be able to trust that. There is a strong tradition between advocates of integrity that is absolutely vital to the way we work.

What would you like to study if you were at university today?

Law, or possibly history as a close second. The law still fascinates me.

What advice would you offer to today’s law graduates?

Don’t be put off by the challenge. The market is competitive and not everyone is going to end up where they want, and think, they deserve to be.

I would also say think outside the box. We have an usher who is 21 and has a first in Criminology and Psychology, and wants to be a forensic psychologist – and she will be. She spotted the possibility for movement within the Ministry of Justice and knows exactly where she is going.

There is an example of someone who has thought outside the box.

Who do you admire?

My hero is my father and 17 years after his death that has not changed.

For many years the resident judge in Wolverhampton was Frank Chapman. He was a giant and as part of my training before I started sitting as a Judge, I was an Assistant Recorder. Before I was let loose on my own I spent the week with him. Whenever I have a problem and there is no-one to ask, I still pose the question, “what would Frank have done?”