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Queensland welcomes 34th Chief Magistrate

Queensland’s newly minted Chief Magistrate Janelle Brassington was this morning welcomed as the state’s 34th head of the lower court jurisdiction – and only the second woman appointed since the court was established more than 165 years ago.

The welcome ceremony – led by Deputy Magistrate Anthony Gett – was attended by a myriad of senior legal practitioners and judicial officers this morning in Court 17 of Brisbane’s George Street Magistrates Court complex.

Sworn-in to the new role by District Court Chief Judge Brian Devereaux SC on Friday, Chief Magistrate Brassington has become the first woman to accept the dual role as both Chief Magistrate and a judge of the District Court.

In Queensland, the Chief Magistrate is the only magistrate to carry the additional commission of District Court judge – a tradition that commenced with the appointment of now-retired judge Marshall Irwin in 2003.

Former judicial officers to hold dual roles include Judge Brendan Butler AM, Tim Carmody AM, outgoing Chief Magistrate Terry Gardiner and former Queensland Law Society President Judge Orazio ‘Ray’ Rinaudo AM.

Mr Gett, in his welcoming address, said Judge Brassington was eminently qualified to lead the 101 magistrates who constitute the court in Queensland.

“She is a woman of integrity, compassion and honesty,” he said. “Her Honour’s judicial experience is lengthy and diverse. This gives her the strong foundation to take on this most demanding of roles in the judicial landscape.”

Judge Brassington, who was admitted as a barrister 30 years ago, said being elevated to Chief Magistrate was an extreme honour.

“I am very fortunate to head a court of dedicated judicial officers who are committed to serving the people of Queensland,” Judge Brassington said.

“There are at present 98 magistrates in Queensland and there a four (more soon) to be appointed. There are 47 females and 51 men. So we are almost a court that reflects the balance of Queensland.

“Those magistrates constitute courts from the (far north Queensland) border near Papua New Guinea, to Birdsville, to Quilpie and down to the New South Wales border. They fly and drive hundreds of kilometres to get to court literally through cyclones, fires and over every kind of road. They can be on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week for urgent applications from police, child safety and myriad other agencies.”

Admitted as a barrister of the Supreme Court of Queensland in 1992, Judge Brassington has extensive experience working with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Department of Justice and Attorney-General.

She was appointed a judicial officer of the Queensland Magistrates Court on 22 August 2005 and elevated to the position as one of two Deputy Magistrates on 8 October 2019.

Attorney-General Shannon Fentiman, in her welcome speech, said Judge Brassington was eminently qualified for the role and had been an extremely popular appointment among the legal profession.

“The position of Queensland Chief Magistrate is one of the most important in the administration of our justice system.

“Our magistrates courts are the ones most Queenslanders have contact with. More than 90% of all matters that go before a court in Queensland come before a magistrate.”

Ms Fentiman also used the opportunity to thank outgoing Chief Magistrate Judge Gardiner.

“(Judge Gardiner) has quietly moved on as Chief Magistrate (to his role as a District Court judge) and I’d like to publicly thank him for his leadership of Queensland’s magistrates courts during his time in the role,” Ms Fentiman said.

“His Honour guided the jurisdiction through some very significant challenges – particularly the impacts of COVID.’’

Queensland Law Society President Kara Thomson acknowledged Judge Brassington’s significant career achievements, including her “excellent work as magistrate for the past 14 years”.

“We have already heard of Chief Magistrate Brassington’s career of significant achievements,” Ms Thomson said. “But I would like to recognise the excellent work Her Honour has been doing as Deputy Chief Magistrate and Regional Courts Coordinator – balancing the operational needs of dispensing justice across so many places across our State is not for the faint hearted.

“The Magistrates Court is the people’s court. It is the largest interface between the general public and our courts and accordingly bears the greatest responsibility for ensuring that the public has confidence in our system of justice.

“This task is set to be more profound given the changes to come to this court. The ever-changing landscape of community engagement with justice system, requires the court to adapt without pause.”

Ms Thomson said the changes were most acutely felt during the last few years as a result of the pandemic.

“Courts were required to hear and determine matters differently, in strained circumstances, and this placed significant burden on court infrastructure and personnel, including judicial officers. In many magistrates courts throughout the state, hearing matters remotely was severely impacted by inadequate technology,” she said.

“We commend your Honour, as Deputy Chief Magistrate, and your fellow magistrates, for your commitment to delivering justice during this time.

“But the challenge is not over. Queensland is a decentralised state, as Your Honour is well aware, and the need for agility and advancement in the way proceedings are progressed in the magistrates courts continues.

“The current investment into court and systems upgrades is welcomed and we, as court users, look forward to the opportunity to work with your Honour to ensure the courts are well-equipped to meet growing and diverse demands, and barriers to access to justice caused by location are removed for all.”

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