Eminent First Nations silk Lincoln Crowley created national legal history this morning as he was sworn-in as the first Indigenous judge appointed to the Supreme Court since it was established more than 160 years ago.
A who’s who of the law in Queensland turned out to witness history in the making as Supreme Court Chief Justice Helen Bowskill headed a ceremony in Brisbane’s QEII Courts of Law during which Justice Crowley QC took the oath of office to the highest judicial role ever held by an Indigenous Australian.
With the ink barely dry on his new commission, Justice Crowley delivered a rousing and inspirational address as the state’s inaugural First Nations Supreme Court judge during which he concluded: “Justice is what it is all about – always was, always will be.”
Justice Crowley today became the 133rd judge appointed to the Supreme Court of Queensland since it was founded on 7 August 1861.
Chief Justice Bowskill, in welcoming Justice Crowley to the bench, said his appointment was a landmark historical moment for Queensland.
“Today is a landmark moment in the history of our nation and an achievement of greater diversity within a Supreme Court,” she said. “Our new colleague Justice Lincoln Crowley is only the 133rd judge of this court in its 163-year (sic) history.
“So it is indeed a very special occasion, including because of the historical significance of Justice Crowley being the first Indigenous (Australian) to be appointed a judge of the Supreme Court.
“Thirty years ago, two significant things happened. In March 1992, Margaret White was the first woman appointed a judge of the Supreme Court of Queensland. In June 1992, the High Court (of Australia) handed down its decision in Mabo – another important landmark in our history – involving recognition, albeit belated, of Indigenous rights in land; an aspect of equality before the law.”
Chief Justice Bowskill said Justice Crowley was eminently qualified for role, considering his excellent legal skills and acumen developed over a legal career spanning 25 years.
Justice Crowley said he considered being appointed a Supreme Court judge as the highest honour that could be bestowed on a lawyer and one he thought he would never have achieved in his lifetime.
“This is … an historic and momentous occasion for First Nations people of this state and indeed this country,” Justice Crowley said.
“I am extremely proud and humbled to today be the first Indigenous person to be appointed a judge of this (Supreme) court.
“It is remarkable in so many ways. It’s remarkable for me that I am the first. It is remarkable for our community that it has taken so long for this occasion to arrive.
“It was surely more than pure serendipity that my appointment was approved on the 26th of May, National ‘Sorry Day’, and publicly announced on 27 May, the commencement of National Reconciliation Week.
“It’s been a humbling experience, but that’s not a bad way to commence a career on the bench. I think a touch of humility is a positive virtue for a judge. Particularly in the way famous childrens’ author C.S. Lewis put it: ‘Humility is not about thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less’.
“I am looking forward to undertaking the duties and responsibilities of this appointment. It is an honour to join this court (and) to now have the privilege of serving as a judge presiding over cases where I have been entrusted with the responsibility of deciding what is a just outcome.
“As I discharge my duties, I will strive to do justice in every case. That is the most objective aspect of the law and the one thing our community expects of judges of this court will deliver.
“In the end justice is what it is all about – always was, always will be.’’
Having announced the appointment on 27 May, Attorney-General Shannon Fentiman today said: “It is wonderful to be here to welcome the Honourable Justice Lincoln Crowley QC to the Supreme Court. It’s a credit to your Honour’s persistence, determination and unquestionable talent that you sit in this esteemed position today.
“We celebrate today as a landmark moment for First Nations people in the history of this state and the nation. Your Honour’s oath (of office) this morning presents a powerful and enduring image of our work towards equality for all Queenslanders.”
Queensland Law Society President Kara Thomson, speaking on behalf of the state’s almost 14,600 solicitors, said: “I think it is worthwhile reflecting that while your Honour’s appointment is historic, it is thoroughly deserved given your… long and diverse experience in the law and that your Honour has always demonstrated the most judicial of traits, doing justice to the poor and (under) resourced without fear, favour or affection.”
Ms Thomson said that, in preparation for today’s swearing-in ceremony, the Society spoke to First Nations solicitors to establish what Justice Crowley’s appointment meant to Indigenous practitioners.
“Justice Crowley, when we sought background from our colleagues for this speech, our inquiries were only met with sentiments that were only glowing – and a few mentions of its being ‘about time’.
“But, perhaps my words are not enough on this occasion, so I sought out the words of our First Nations solicitors about what your appointment means to them.
“Uncle Terry Stedman – the Chair of (QLS’s) First Nations Consulting Committee – said: ‘The elevation of Lincoln Crowley from QC to a judge of the Supreme Court of Queensland is well-deserved. Today we see the glass ceiling of the justice system in Queensland being broken. I am eternally hopeful he will provide a path for many First Nation practitioners.’
“Ms Kristen Hodge – co-chair of (QLS’s) First Nations Legal Policy Committee and President of the Indigenous Lawyers Association Queensland – said: ‘Congratulations to Justice Crowley. It is truly an inspiration for our young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal professionals to see our leaders receive well-deserved senior appointments on the judiciary’.
“And, with hope to the future, Renee Kyle – (the QLS) 2021 winner of the First Nations Student award – said: ‘I am certainly inspired by (Justice Crowley’s) appointment. It makes me so proud. I hope his appointment will encourage our people and communities to reach for the stars’.’’
The newly minted Justice Crowley is scheduled to hear his first case in the Supreme Court’s civil jurisdiction – in the case Attorney-General for the State of Queensland v Lewi – later today.