Queensland’s longest serving Supreme Court judge was welcomed this morning as the fourth President of the Court of Appeal (COA).
COA President Debra Mullins AO, who was first appointed to the bench 22-years ago, was proudly welcomed to the top job by her former barristers chambers’ secretary – Queensland’s newly minted Chief Justice Helen Bowskill QC.
Chief Justice Bowskill paid tribute to Justice Mullins during a significant day in Queensland judicial history as fellow Supreme Court Justice Jean Dalton was elevated to the role of COA judge and eminent silk Melanie Hindman QC was sworn in as a Supreme Court judge.
A who’s who of the legal profession turned out to congratulate the trio and hear their professional achievements acknowledged by leaders of the profession during a ceremony at QEII Courts of Law’s Banco Court in Brisbane.
Solicitor-General Sandy Thompson, who appeared on behalf of absent Attorney-General Shannon Fentiman, said he believed it was the first time the court had sat to welcome the appointment of three members to the judiciary at a single sitting – all of whom were women.
“Today I have the privilege of speaking on behalf of the Honourable Attorney-General … Shannon Fentiman … who has extended her apologies for being unable to attend the sitting of this court where we acknowledge the elevation of three eminent lawyers to high judicial office,” Mr Thompson said.
Among the crowd of judicial luminaries were High Court of Australia Chief Justice Susan Kiefel AC, recently retired Queensland Chief Justice Catherine Holmes AC, all but two of the judges of the Supreme Court and outgoing COA President Walter Sofronoff QC.
Chief Justice Bowskill, in her opening address, said: “This ceremony is a significant moment in the history of the Supreme Court.
“Justice Mullins is presently the longest serving judge on this court having been appointed to the court in March 2000.
“I first met Justice Mullins in 1990 when I went to work in her chambers as a junior secretary. She was a junior-ish barrister having come to the Bar in 1984.
“My enduring memory of Justice Mullins from that time is her incredible work ethic, her energy and the fact she brought the baby capsule (containing one of her three now adult children) … who I think was (her son) Martin, a very new baby into work with her.
“She was an inspiring role model for any young woman thinking about studying law. Despite her busy practice and life, Justice Mullins always found time to proactively and generously support her colleagues, especially junior women barristers.
“In her now 22-years on the court … Justice Mullins has continued to demonstrate her prodigious work ethic, wisdom, compassion and enthusiasm, which is as remarkably fresh now (as the day she was sworn in).”
Justice Mullins takes the role of President after the departure of Justice Sofronoff QC, who unexpectedly resigned his commission on 19 May.
Established in 1991, the Queensland COA has had four presidents – the inaugural judge being the Honourable Tony Fitzgerald QC, followed in July 1998 by the Honourable Margaret McMurdo to become the first woman to be elevated to any Australian appellate court, then Justice Sofronoff in April 2017.
Chief Justice Bowskill today took time to speak to Mr Sofronoff’s unexpected recent departure and his decision not to receive a valedictory – ceremonies frequently held for retiring judicial officers as a farewell from office and an acknowledgement of their years of service to the community and profession.
“As we welcome Justice Mullins to the role of President, we farewell the Honourable Walter Sofronoff QC,” she said.
“Although he did not want a public valedictory ceremony, we cannot let this moment pass without acknowledging the enormous contribution Walter Sofronoff made to the administration of justice and the development of the law in Queensland.
“We thank him for the energy, enthusiasm, creativity and authenticity he brought to the role and wish him well on the adventures ahead.”
Chief Justice Bowskill also spoke glowingly of Justices Dalton and Hindman – saying they were both lawyers of incredible intellect.
Queensland Law Society President Kara Thomson, speaking on behalf of the state’s almost 14,600 solicitors, said she was honoured to be present to welcome three very fine and significant judicial appointments, continuing the Supreme Court’s season of change.
“As President of Queensland Law Society, it is a very happy duty of mine to speak at these days of celebration and welcome such wonderful people to new judicial roles,” Ms Thomson said.
“Queensland continues to be blessed with the finest of judiciaries and a seemingly never-ending deep pool of high talent.
“Queenslanders can all be proud of the fact that our legal profession can produce lawyers of the calibre welcomed today. I wish all Your Honours all the best in your new endeavours meeting superbly, as you will do, the challenges of your new roles.”