The first woman Chief Justice since Queensland courts began more than 150 years ago was a genuine role model in an era which saw female practitioners outnumber their male counterparts to make up 54% of the profession, according to Queensland Law Society.
QLS President Kara Thomson on Friday joined a chorus of senior leaders of the legal profession at a valedictory ceremony honouring Chief Justice Catherine Holmes AC for her 40 years of dedicated and outstanding service.
Chief Justice Holmes was appointed Queensland’s chief woman judicial officer on 11 September 2015 and served more than 22 years on the Supreme Court before announcing her retirement shortly after her 65th birthday in October 2021.
As leaders of the Australian legal profession lined up to salute Chief Justice Holmes at the valedictory in Brisbane’s QEII Courts of Law ceremonial Banco Court, President Thomson spoke of the personal and practical way her Honour engaged and inspired the thousands of practitioners of the solicitors’ branch of the profession.
“Well, what can I possibly say about your Honour? What can I say that will do justice to such a well-respected and remarkable member and leader of our legal community and judiciary?” Ms Thomson asked.
“Your Honour will no doubt already recognise that (QLS) has a very special appreciation for your collaborative approach to the advancement and education of the profession.
“Your Honour has given freely of her time to the solicitors of Queensland and we are so very grateful for that generous spirit and the sharp wit and humour that often accompanies the occasions on which you have joined us!
“In particular, I would like to acknowledge your Honour’s engagement with (QLS), which includes being a headline speaker at our annual Symposium, our marquee educational event for solicitors, where your Honour continues to keep us updated on judicial insights and initiatives, and inviting our members to join you at the New Year Profession drinks in the court gallery, as a way for practitioners to come together at the start of each year and your welcoming remarks seeking to engage the profession for each year that is to be.
“You also attend our Specialist Accreditation Breakfast, assisting us in the awarding of our newly appointed accredited specialists and providing your frank and insightful comments – our members often comment that this event and your involvement in it, is a highlight of their career, and having been the recipient in the past, I can personally attest and vouch for this. Your Honour may also recall you launched our Modern Advocate Lecture series in 2016, a series which continues to educate and support our solicitors.”
Ms Thomson said Chief Justice Holmes’ main contributions to QLS and solicitors in general had been inclusive and far-reaching through her attendance at regional functions throughout Queensland.
“There can be no doubt that your Honour is a highly regarded and respected, leading legal mind in Queensland, indeed described by the then Attorney General on your appointment to the role of Chief Justice as a woman with ‘exceptional intellect’,” Ms Thomson said. “However it is readily apparent that your Honour is a very warm, compassionate and considerate woman who is mindful and respectful of others and genuinely interested in making connections.
“Many of our members leave their interactions with your Honour and remark on these qualities. Your Honour has always conducted yourself in a manner which can only be described as considered, poised, dignified, respectful and inquiring.
“These qualities, and many others, have held your Honour in good stead, steering this ship that is the judicial system in Queensland even through the rockiest of seas, particularly over the last couple of years as challenge after challenge has been presented to you and your colleagues.
“Indeed, when appointed to the role of Chief Justice, it was noted at the time that your appointment would be a ‘fresh start’ after what had been a period of turmoil and your Honour did ensure that the ‘reset’ button was pressed and shaped a judiciary that we see as collegiate, supportive and productive.
“Your Honour has embraced change and encouraged collaboration wherever possible to ensure the continuum of the administration of justice in this state. The solicitors of Queensland, and particularly the Queensland Law Society and its presidents in more recent years who have been witnesses to these rocky times, are very grateful for your inclusive leadership.
“In 1982 I am sure that your Honour did not envisage that your career would lead you here or that you would be the subject of a ceremony like this.
“In 1982 I am also sure that your Honour would not have anticipated that you would be regarded as one of our key role models in the legal profession. I am certain your school friends at Oxley and Darra, and possibly your siblings, also probably didn’t foresee that this is where you might be today.
“Your Honour was elevated to Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in 2015. It was the first time in the then 152-year history of the court that a woman had been appointed to that role, an incredible and well-deserved achievement.
“In 2022 approaching seven years since your Honour’s appointment as Chief Justice and 40 years since you were admitted, we now see that 54% of the solicitors in Queensland are women.
“27% of the overall solicitors of Queensland have a post-admission experience of five years or less, and 25% have a post-admission experience of between six and 12 years. In both those cohorts, there are 62% and 63% women respectively. That is significant.
“There is a significant proportion of our practising solicitors in Queensland who have only known your Honour as Chief Justice and the stability that has followed. They have looked to you and up to you in that role.
“Your Honour, the solicitors of Queensland genuinely and warmly wish you all the best as this door closes and the next one opens. We hope the next chapter affords you a brief reprieve to spend time with your family and friends, the time to read a good book or two, and to again press the reset button before you embark on yet another journey.
“We are very grateful for your service and leadership; you leave big shoes to fill and we are very confident your successor, the Honourable Justice Bowskill, will have your continued support and that of the judiciary and profession generally, in the way that you have generated and fostered such support through your own hard work and dedication.”
Chief Justice Bowskill is scheduled to be sworn-in as Queensland 20th Chief Justice during a ceremony in the QEII Courts of Law complex at 9.15am tomorrow, 22 March.