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New chambers honours our first woman Chief Justice

Holmes Chambers barristers Sarah Farnden, Clare O’Connor, Allana Davie and Emily Cooper

Recently retired Queensland Chief Justice Catherine Holmes AC may have stepped away from the bench, but her legacy will live on with the recent opening of Bar chambers in her name.

Four of Queensland’s best and brightest young barristers – above, from left, Sarah Farnden, Clare O’Connor, Allana Davie and Emily Cooper – joined forces late last month to become the founding members of Brisbane-based Holmes Chambers.

Sarah Farnden told QLS Proctor she and her fellow founders were excited about the new venture and already considering expanding the operation.

“We are exceptionally grateful to the former Chief Justice for allowing us the honour of calling our group Holmes Chambers,” Ms Farnden said. “A formal launch is to come when we move into bigger space in the New Year.”

Ms Holmes list of staggering achievements – from striking out as a solicitor 1982, moving to the Bar in 1984 and on to 22-years as Supreme Court judge, seven of those as Queensland’s first woman Chief Justice – is the stuff of legend in the legal profession.

Equally important, former Justice Holmes remained a genuine role model in an era which saw women practitioners overtake their male counterparts to now make up 54% of the profession.

With an extraordinary shared depth of knowledge and experience in criminal law practice, the newly anointed Holmes Chamber four will ostensibly practise in their areas of speciality, but will also work in areas that complement each other’s skill sets.

Ms Farnden was first called to the Bar in 2001 and built an impeccable reputation during more than 20 years prosecuting some of the state’s most high-profile criminal cases for the Queensland Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).

In recent years, Ms Farnden has appeared in many very complex matters, including homicide-related cases, sexual offences and fraud. She has appeared in the Court of Appeal on over 100 matters and as lead counsel in High Court of Australia special leave applications and junior counsel in full hearings.

Ms Davie said her interests focused on criminal law and associated areas such as the Mental Health Court, Mental Health Review Tribunal, dangerous prisoner applications, coercive hearings, appeals and administrative reviews. She also practises in family law and domestic violence-related matters.

Ms Cooper’s practice focuses on government litigation as well as coronial and administrative law – in particular, matters for the Workers’ Compensation Prosecution Unit, the DPP, Queensland Building and Construction Commissions, Queensland Corrective Services and Queensland Police Service.

Ms O’Connor practises in employment, criminal and administrative law.

Before joining the Bar more than a decade ago, Ms O’Connor was employed as a Crown Prosecutor at the DPP from 2007 to 2018 and appeared in hundreds of trials, sentences, legal arguments, and bail applications in locations across Queensland. She continues to be regularly briefed in prosecution, defence and confiscation matters in the state and federal jurisdictions, including workplace health and safety matters.

Ms Farnden said there many reasons the four felt the need to create their own professional space, but they were all unified when it came to naming the chambers.

“The former Chief Justice has always been very generous with her time and support of the Bar in general and was encouraging in its growth,” Ms Farnden said.

“Emily Cooper remarked that when she called on her Honour at the end of her Bar practice course last year (2021), Chief Justice Holmes commented that some of us might have to start up our own chambers given the shortage of rooms in Brisbane at present.

“We were very honoured when the former Chief Justice agreed to my request to name our chambers Holmes Chambers.”

Ms Farnden said the motivation to hang out their own shingle came as a result of the current lack of space in established chambers and an increase in the amount of work available.

“Firstly, when I was deciding to go to the Bar it was very difficult to find a room,” Ms Farnden said. “Secondly, we also had two readers coming to the end of their readership looking for rooms and Clare O’Connor and I wanted to support them.

“Thirdly, it appears that currently there is an abundance of work and there is room for another group in Brisbane.”

Ms Farnden said Holmes Chambers was already making preparations to expand, with the announcement of two new arrivals next month.

“We are expanding to include new members and are looking forward to celebrating the arrival of experienced government barristers Peter O’Conner and Eddie Coker … who will join the private bar in August,” she said.

“We are also hoping to attract further new members with a diverse range of experience, practice and background.

“We are particularly interested in encouraging other young women to come into the profession – and stay in the profession – and will make readership space available.”

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