Justice Anthe Philippides – 20+ years of supreme judicial service

In the field of artistic endeavour the term ‘triple threat’ is usually bandied about when referencing unique and proficient performers who are supremely talented in the areas of dance, acting and song.

The term isn’t reserved for artistic performers – a ‘triple threat’ can be a unique individual in a particular field who exhibits and possesses three skills that are necessary to excel.

One such individual – who has devoted the past 35 years of her talent, leadership and good humour to the Queensland legal profession – last month marked full-stop on a stellar law career that saw her rise to a judge of the state’s highest court.

Indeed, to us a Latin phrase – which, let’s face it are very common in the legal profession and oft bandied around courtrooms – Queensland’s Court of Appeal Justice Anthe Philippides is sui generis (unique or of her kind and in a class of her own).

Having spent more than 20 years on the bench as one of Queensland’s leading jurists, her Honour generously gave an hour of her time to talk to QLS Proctor during her last day in her Brisbane QEII Courts of Law chambers.

Her Honour’s chambers are like a shrine to artistic endeavour and a beautifully curated space containing a myriad of ethnically and culturally rich artworks – including many compelling pieces by First Nations’ artists. Her Honour has so many Indigenous artworks that her gallery spills out of her chambers and adorns the corridors of the floor she shares with fellow judicial officers.

As she spoke lovingly about individual pieces and her creative endeavours away from the court, it was not difficult to imagine that her Honour was simply setting off to embark on a ‘triple threat’ career in creative arts.

Not only does Justice Philippides have a passion for Australian Indigenous art, she also has a passion for its music – in particular Mt Isa-born composer, performer and didgeridoo virtuoso William Barton – and a champion of, and mentor to, an ever-growing number of First Nations lawyers.

Justice Philippides’ elevation to the judiciary – as a judge of the Supreme Court in December 2000 – came at time when ensuring a culturally and gender diverse bench was not considered as essential to reflect the community it served as it does in 2021.

Her Honour became the first woman of Hellenic heritage to be admitted as a barrister in Queensland in 1984, attain silk in Australia in 1999, and be appointed a Supreme Court judge a year later.

“Being a judge of the Supreme Court has been the most extraordinary privilege and honour for someone who has a love of the law and the system as a principled, rational and fair way of resolving disputes and overseeing legislative, executive and administrative power,” her Honour said. “There isn’t a greater honour you could have.”

Her Honour is a longstanding advocate for diversity and inclusion in the law. She is the Queensland Patron of the Hellenic Australian Lawyers Association. In 2017 she founded the Music and Arts Circle, providing access to the arts and social support to Indigenous law students and young professionals. She is patron of Law Orchestra Queensland, a supporter of Queensland Law Society’s inaugural Reconciliation Action Plan and a champion of Pride in Law – a legal networking association for the LGBTIQ+ community and its allies.

“When you look at judicial officers and you look at a bench of judges and you don’t see cultural diversity, I think the question asked is ‘why?’,” Justice Philippides said.

“It is important for the credibility of an institution that people see a broad reflection of the community because it expressly and implicitly indicates that this is an institution open to all.

“Where you don’t see that, perhaps people ask why isn’t this institution reflecting the sort of openness we expect in a modern-day democracy. Diversity reinforces the credibility of an institution because it exemplifies that it is open to all.”

Her Honour’s commitment to propagating a truly diverse legal sector in Queensland is demonstrated by her engagement with various young would-be lawyers and members from Australian, First Nations, Asian and LGBTIQ+ organisations.

During a speech at Queensland’s Pride in Law Annual Address – entitled ‘The Power of Inclusion’ in 2019 – Justice Philippides said: “All those who aspire to be lawyers and those who practise in the law are inspired by concepts of equality, fairness and equity.

“The issue of diversity and inclusion goes to the very heart of why many lawyers commence a career in law, even if they might lose sight of that later in their career.

“Although the legal system is premised on a fundamental concept of equality, equal treatment has not been a value that has defined the experience of all who work within the legal profession.

“However, there has been a growing and strong movement towards diversity and inclusion across the legal profession that is part of a wider diversity revolution.

“That diversity revolution is probably the most important revolution occurring in the workplace in recent times. In this context, diversity is much more than gender. The narrative around diversity extends to all aspects of difference between people and how they identify, including, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, age, race, religion, disability, and socio-economic status. There can be no priority lane when it comes to diversity.”

A further indication of how far attitudes in the profession have changed in recent times came as her Honour paused, mid interview, to reflect excitedly on how much she has learned from mentoring people of diverse backgrounds and engaging with young aspiring lawyers.

“I think we (as a society) tend to forget that when we include people (from diverse backgrounds) we gain so much,” she said. “When we exclude them we miss out on a lot of insights that, if we had made the effort and overcome prejudice, we’d realise there is a lot for us to learn and that we’re the ones missing out.

“If you are prepared to be open-minded and realise that you are always learning something new, it’s a fantastic two-way street.

“I genuinely feel that I’ve actually been very fortunate to have had the benefit of engaging with so many young people who have actually taught me things. You know, most people would think it is the judges who are always imparting the knowledge.

 “I have learned a lot from my young Indigenous mentees and associates. I’ve learned a lot about resilience, about the strength that comes from inner knowledge, and to me that is very exciting.

“Over the last five years in Brisbane-based courts – across the District Court to the Federal and High Courts – we’ve had around 15 First Nations associates. That’s just an extraordinary and exciting number and something I hope will continue over many years to come.”

Among her many firsts as a lawyer, her Honour has also served as President of the Land Appeal Court of Queensland and as a judge and inaugural President of the Queensland Mental Health Court.

Justice Philippides received special praise from Queensland Law Society during a valedictory to celebrate her career in Brisbane’s ceremonial Banco Court last month.

QLS President Elizabeth Shearer, in her speech, acknowledged Justice Philippides’ decades of dedication to “promote diversity and bring true equality of opportunity” to the legal profession.

“There are many … who are called role models and influencers in society today,” Ms Shearer said. “But your Honour is set apart as a true role model for the next generation of legal practitioners in its full traditional meaning.

“I wish to acknowledge … (Justice Philippides for your) work to promote diversity and bring true equality of opportunity to the legal profession.”

As Justice Philippides steps down from the bench – which should be noted is far, far short of the mandated retirement age of judges of 70 – she says 20 years as a judge was a significant “milestone” for her and now is the appropriate time to pursue other interests.

“I started on the bench at quite a young age for the times,” she said. “It’s an appropriate time to let someone else have an opportunity to exercise judicial power.

“I very firmly believe that there is a time when you should be able to step away from power and the exercise of power. And I’d like to see, in due course, a very diverse judiciary.

“We still have a long way to go in terms of cultural diversity and particularly of seeing First Nations lawyers appointed to the Supreme Court.”

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