The newly minted president of the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal, Supreme Court Justice Kerri Mellifont QC, appears ready for the many challenges of heading up the very busy jurisdiction of QCAT.
On 22 November, Justice Mellifont was sworn in as the sixth President of Queensland’s ‘people’s court’ and the first woman to lead the organisation since its inception in December 2009.
The popular silk and former Queensland Woman Lawyer of the Year – who has almost three decades’ experience as a prominent barrister – was well received in legal circles after having been appointed in early October as a judge of the Queensland Supreme Court.
In her first interview since being appointed to both roles, Justice Mellifont told QLS Proctor about her motivation and commitment to the new role.
“It is an extraordinary jurisdiction, covering an incredible breadth of matters and at very high numbers,” Justice Mellifont said.
Justice Mellifont said she was still getting “her feet under the desk” and acclimatising to the position.
“In the very, very many meetings I have attended in the past few weeks, I am struck by the overwhelming sentiment from the staff and members, who all have very high workloads but also a deep-seated commitment to continuous improvement of the organisation.
“Every person I’ve met in my short period at QCAT seems motivated by a desire to improve the quality and accessibility of justice within Queensland, rather than what can sometimes be a human tendency to focus on themselves – on filling their own cup.
“I look forward to contributing as much as I possibly can to that process of continuous improvement so that QCAT can continue its work in seeking to achieve the objects of the QCAT Act, some of which include being an independent tribunal dealing with matters in a way that is accessible, fair and just.”
However, she did flag a personal interest in seeing an increase in the number of First Nations people appointed to sit on the tribunal and working at QCAT.
“Capacity building in our First Nations community, and the cultural competency and safety of QCAT, is important to me,” she said.
QCAT currently has some 131 registry staff (plus some contingent labour), 18 permanent members, nine adjudicators, and around 100 sessional members (including judicial members).
Justice Mellifont’s credentials as a future jurisprudential powerhouse were bolstered during a glowing speech by Queensland Chief Justice Catherine Holmes AC at her QCAT Presidential swearing-in.
“Her Honour is no stranger to the tribunal because as a practitioner she’s done so much administrative and regulatory work,” Chief Justice Holmes said.
“As I’m sure you all know, she’s been Queens Counsel since 2010 and immediately prior to appointment to the Supreme Court was counsel assisting the Disability Royal Commission.
“Her Honour by dint of her experience and knowledge is remarkably well prepared for this job.
“But I can tell you this too. She’s an extraordinarily hardworking person which is excellent for a tribunal with such a volume of work.
“She is a natural leader who supports and mentors the people she works with, which is excellent for a tribunal with such a wide ranging jurisdiction, and such a number of members.”
Queensland Attorney-General Shannon Fentiman was also generous for her praise, saying Justice Mellifont was most deserving of both roles.
“Justice Mellifont has 27 years’ experience in criminal and regulatory law, including more than five years at the Public Defender’s Office, similar time at the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, and almost two decades at the private bar,” Ms Fentiman said.
“Her Honour is eminently qualified to perform her new duties, which include overseeing the efficient operation of the Tribunal, maintaining a positive and cohesive culture, and hearing significant matters herself.”
Justice Mellifont with husband Peter Russo MP.
Last Friday, Justice Mellifont also announced the appointment of her new Deputy President District Court Judge Geraldine Dann.
Judge Dann was appointed to the District Court in 2020 after almost three decades’ experience in private legal practice, having practised as both a solicitor and barrister.
Justice Mellifont said Judge Dann was renowned for her formidable intellect, her work ethic, and her mature and wise judgment. “I am very much looking forward to working collaboratively with her Honour in discharging our functions under the QCAT Act.”