Queensland Court of Appeal President Walter Sofronoff – one of the nation’s most respected and best legal minds – will end a stellar career spanning 45 years tomorrow.
Justice Sofronoff will be replaced by fellow Court of Appeal Justice Debra Mullins AO, who has been elevated to the second highest judicial office in Queensland after more than 22 years on the bench, on Monday.
In one of the worst kept secrets in the legal profession, it was left to Queensland Attorney-General Shannon Fentiman to announce Justice Sofronoff’s departure after five years as President of the court.
QLS Proctor has been told Justice Sofronoff had opted against announcing his retirement publicly until today and declined a valedictory ceremony – which are usually held for retiring judicial officers as a farewell from office and an acknowledgement of their years of service to the community and profession.
Ms Fentiman, in a statement released this afternoon, said: “The Honourable Justice Walter Sofronoff will be retiring from his position as President of the Court of Appeal and as a Judge of the Supreme Court of Queensland at the end of this week following a career in the legal profession spanning decades.
“A brilliant legal mind and a person of exceptional character and integrity, Justice Sofronoff has demonstrated his dedication to maintaining a strong and independent judiciary in our State.
“I would like to thank His Honour for his service to the people of Queensland, through his outstanding contribution to our Courts and in his former role as Solicitor-General.”
Ms Fentiman said Justice Mullins – who has been a judge of Queensland’s Supreme Court since 2000 and COA since early 2020 – would replace Justice Sofronoff.
She also announced that long-time Supreme Court judges Jean Dalton and Peter Flanagan had also been elevated to the Court of Appeal.
“Justice Mullins has been regularly awarded and lauded for her outstanding work over a long period of time and richly deserves her appointment as President of the Court Of Appeal,” Ms Fentiman said.
“Justice Mullins has been a Supreme Court judge for 20 years before being appointed to the Court of Appeal in January 2020.
“Her Honour will also be joined by Justice Jean Dalton and Justice Peter Flanagan, who have been elevated to the Court of Appeal.”
Justice Dalton was a barrister for 20 years before being appointed to the Supreme Court in 2011. She served on the state’s Anti-Discrimination Tribunal for seven years, including two years as President and six years on the Mental Health Court.
“Earlier in (Justice Dalton’s) career she provided pro bono support to one of the first claims for stolen wages on behalf of a First Nations woman, which eventually led the State Government to offer ex-gratia compensation to workers,” Ms Fentiman said.
“Justice Flanagan too has enormous experience, having been admitted as a barrister in 1982, before being appointed Queen’s Counsel in 2002, and a Supreme Court judge in 2014.
“His Honour was the counsel assisting at three different commissions of inquiry and has been the President of the Mental Health Court for the past three years.”
Queensland Law Society President Kara Thomson congratulated Justice Sofronoff on his more than four-and-a-decades of service to the community and legal profession.
Ms Thomson, on behalf of the 13,000 solicitors across Queensland, also welcomed the appointment of Justice Mullins as COA President.
“In 2017, Justice Sofronoff was sworn in as President of the Queensland Court of Appeal.’’
“His Honour has been an outstanding President and has very generously given of his time to the solicitors of Queensland and the Queensland Law Society.
“He recently presented at our Modern Advocate Lecture Series, educating members about the skill of advocacy and its importance. His leadership has been outstanding and he will be sorely missed.”
Ms Thomson congratulated Justice Mullins on her appointment to the state’s highest court, saying Her Honour was well known to the Society and had always been generous with her time and her support for the solicitors branch of the profession.
“Justice Mullins has been an extremely generous contributor to our profession,’’ she said.
“We are thrilled with her appointment and very much looking forward to working with Her Honour in her new role.’’
Justice Mullins will start her role as President of the Court of Appeal on Monday (21 May).
Justice Dalton will begin in the court on the same day, with Justice Flanagan expected to replace Court of Appeal judge Hugh Fraser following his retirement on 16 July 2022.