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Justice Peter Flanagan sworn-in as COA judge

Long-serving Supreme Court Justice Peter Flanagan was today sworn-in as a judge of the state’s highest court.

Justice Flanagan was elevated to the roll to fill the spot left vacant with last week’s retirement of Queensland’s second longest-serving Court of Appeal (COA) Justice Hugh Fraser.

Queensland’s Chief Justice Helen Bowskill swore-in Justice Flanagan before a considerable audience in Brisbane’s Queen Elizabeth II Courts of Law’s ceremonial Banco Court at 9.15am.

Today’s ceremony was attended by numerous members of the Queensland judiciary, including many members of the Supreme Court, COA and other heads of jurisdiction as well as High Court of Australia Justice James Edelman and former COA President Walter Sofronoff.

Justice Flanagan’s elevation to the COA brings the number of permanent appointees to six – including recently elevated President Debra Mullins AO and fellow Justices Philip Morrison, Philip McMurdo, John Bond and Jean Dalton.

Chief Justice Bowskill, in her welcoming comments, said: “Justice Flanagan was appointed to the trial division of the Supreme Court just over eight years ago on 27 June 2014.”

“His Honour has brought enormous experience to the court having practiced as a barrister for 32 years prior to his appointment – 12 of those as Queen’s Counsel.

“As a judge of the trial division, Justice Flanagan has worked incredibly hard hearing and determining some of the most difficult commercial cases as well as presiding over complex criminal trials.

“His Honour is rightly held in the highest regard by all of his colleagues and the (legal) profession as a person of great wisdom, learning and integrity; as well as unfailing courtesy and very good humour.

“His Honour has a remarkable work ethic and level of industry, having the ability to produce erudite judgments with remarkable speed and efficiency – even in the biggest of cases in a way that almost seems effortless.”

In response, Justice Flanagan said: “I will be very brief. The most important aspect of today’s ceremony is the oaths which I have just taken.”

“Chief Justice (Bowskill) – at your swearing-in earlier this year, the then (COA) president Walter Sofronoff, who is here today, referred to these oaths as the living roots of the rule of law. His Honour also noted that the work of a judge, to fulfil these promises, can be hard. This is true.

“At my welcome ceremony (to the Supreme Court) almost eight years ago I remarked that in my 30 years of appearance before this court as a barrister, I had been continually impressed with the judges’ dedication in striving to dispense justice according to law.

“The people of Queensland have been and continue to be well served by this court.”

Solicitor-General Sandy Thompson QC, who spoke in place of an absent Attorney-General Shannon Fentiman, said Justice Flanagan was eminently qualified to take the role in the state’s highest court.

“Ms Fentiman is unable to attend this ceremony and asked me to convey her apology,” Mr Thompson said.

“As it happens, this is my last official appearance as Solicitor-General for Queensland. It is therefore a great pleasure for me to be asked to represent the Attorney-General to attend this celebration … having known your Honour for a very long period of time.”

The State Government two weeks ago announced Mr Thompson would be replaced as Queensland’s second highest law officer by silk Gim Del Villar as Solicitor-General on 25 July.

Mr Thompson said Justice Flanagan’s high intellect, ability to identify essential issues, cut through complexity and acute reasoning more than qualified him for the role.

“That ability is manifest in the judgments your Honour has delivered, including high-profile decisions involving defamation,” he said.

Justice Flanagan presided in the civil defamation suit brought by Toowoomba’s prominent Wagner family against then Macquarie Radio broadcaster and high-profile national media identity Alan Jones and the publishers of Nine network’s television program ‘60 Minutes’.

In September 2018, Justice Flanagan awarded the Wagner family $3.75 million in damages caused by Alan Jones during broadcasts on Brisbane’s 4BC and Sydney’s 2GB radio stations between 2014-15.

Mr Jones had alleged the Wagner family were responsible for the deaths of 12 people, including two children, in the 2011 Grantham floods when a quarry wall owned by the family collapsed.

Queensland Law Society President Kara Thomson, speaking on behalf of the state’s almost 14,600 solicitors, said: “It is a great honour for me to be here today to congratulate and welcome your Honour with respect to your appointment to the (COA).”

“My congratulations are personal and on behalf of the solicitors of Queensland who consider you to be an excellent and deserving appointment.

“This year I have attended, as president of (QLS), 14 court ceremonies to welcome new judicial officers, congratulate others on elevation (to higher office) and farewell some. These being some of the finest legal minds Queensland has to offer.

“Today is no exception. Whilst there may have been many ceremonies, this is no less special and your appointment to the COA deserves this recognition amongst your family, friends, your peers and colleagues.”

Ms Thomson also made special mention of the public display of judicial collegiality demonstrated by the turn up of so many at Justice Flanagan’s swearing-in.

“The spirit of collegiality is on display today and it is delightful to witness the camaraderie displayed by the bench. You can be assured it does influence the rest of the profession.”

When Justice Flanagan was sworn in as a Supreme Court judge in 2014, his welcoming ceremony was the subject of controversy as it was held alongside then newly-minted Chief Justice Tim Carmody.

The appointment of Chief Justice Carmody by the then Campbell Newman-led LNP Queensland Government caused significant disharmony within the judiciary – with all 25 Supreme Court judges being absent at the joint welcome ceremony for Justices Carmody and Flanagan.

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