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Queensland’s second longest-serving COA judge retires

Queensland’s second longest-serving Court of Appeal (COA) Justice Hugh Fraser was this morning farewelled after a prodigious 40-year career at the epicentre of many of the nation’s most important legal cases.

A collection of the nation’s finest legal minds today gathered in Brisbane’s QEII Courts of Law’s ceremonial Banco Court for the valedictory of Justice Fraser, after a 14-½ year judicial career that included a staggering 1800 legal judgments.

Justice Fraser has served as a judge of the COA for almost half the time since it was first established in Queensland 30 years ago.

As words of praise flowed from Queensland’s Chief Justice Helen Bowskill, Solicitor-General Sandy Thompson QC and Queensland Law Society President Kara Thomson – Justice Fraser, renowned for his dry, wicked sense of humour, took time to thank everyone for turning up, including those who may have attended just to make sure he left the building after.

Eminent jurists to attend the ceremony included High Court of Australia Chief Justice Susan Kiefel AC, High Court Justices Pat Keane AC and James Edelman, former Queensland Chief Justices Catherine Holmes AC and Paul de Jersey AC, former COA president Margaret McMurdo and the incumbent office holder Justice Debra Mullins AO.

Chief Justice Bowskill, who led the ceremony, said Justice Fraser had served the COA with great distinction in the decade and a half since being appointed on 30 January 2008.

“That it is the second longest-serving tenure of any judge of appeal in the (Queensland) Court of Appeal’s 30-year history, beaten only by the court’s second president Justice Margaret McMurdo.”

“It is also beaten, but only by one month, by the COA’s invaluable research officer Bruce Godfrey who commenced his tenure just … before Justice Fraser.”

Chief Justice Bowskill said before his remarkable stint on the judiciary, Justice Fraser had appeared as counsel in some of the “most important legal cases of the last 30 years”.

“During his tenure as a judge of appeal Justice Fraser has made an enormous contribution to the law and the administration of justice,” she said.

“In terms of sheer numbers, His Honour has contributed to almost 1800 judgments in the Court of Appeal which cover every kind of law imaginable.

“Although I tried to identify some seminal cases here, there are frankly too many to choose from. Justice Fraser has left an indelible mark on the jurisprudence of not only the state (of Queensland), but the nation (of Australia).”

Queensland Solicitor-General Sandy Thompson QC told the ceremony that Attorney-General Shannon Fentiman had been unable to attend, but that he was grateful for the opportunity to speak in her place.

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

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

“I have known Your Honour (Justice Fraser) for 40 years and it is a particular pleasure for me, on this occasion, to have been asked to speak both personally and on behalf of the (A-G).

“Today marks the conclusion of a stellar judicial career characterised by dedication; clear, sound, erudite judicial reasoning; and all the qualities of modesty, courteousness, good humour and humility that should stand as a beacon for every future appointee to judicial office.”

QLS President Kara Thompson, in her tribute, thanked Justice Fraser for his “presence and dedication to service of the people of Queensland”.

Justice Fraser, in his last speech as judge of the state’s highest court, took time to reflect on the 43 years since being admitted as a barrister of the Supreme Court of Queensland in 1979.

“Just before I came down to court, my children gave me some very valuable advice about this speech,” Justice Fraser said.

“(They said) ‘whatever you do dad, don’t be yourself’.

“Seizing the opportunity to give one last judgment, I respectfully agree with all the nice things the Chief Justice has said about me. I also endorse (Chief Justice Bowskill’s) acknowledgment of the presence of many eminent judges and other distinguished people at this ceremony.

“Thank you all for the very real honour you do me by taking time out of your busy lives to attend this ceremony in person, virtually or by watching the livestream.

“So happy am I about your attendance – my gratitude extends even to those of you here to make sure I do in fact leave the building.”

Justice Fraser, who paused momentarily for the laughter to abate, wryly added: “I think I just saw some of the barristers nodding (in agreement).”

With regards to his time as a legal practitioner, Justice Fraser said the “bedrock principles underlying the delivery of justice accordingly to law” had not changed much in the past four decades.

However, he said during that same period there had been seismic changes to Australian society which have had profound impacts on the legal profession.

“Perhaps the most obvious change is in the composition of the judiciary … in the appointment of women as judges,” he said.

“In the modern era, to take just some examples, there have been obviously merited appointments of woman as a Chief Justice of Australia (Justice Kiefel), two women as Chief Justices of our Supreme Court (CJ Holmes and Bowskill) and three women as presidents of our Court of Appeal (including Margaret McMurdo and Debra Mullins). I am delighted these eminent people are here today.

“Another demographic change, one only just beginning, is the appointment of Indigenous people as judges. I am not qualified to lecture anyone on this topic, but I am proud to have served as judge, if only for a very short time, with Justice (Lincoln) Crowley – the first Indigenous person appointed to a superior court in Australia.”

Justice Fraser will be replaced by current Supreme Court Justice Peter Flanagan.

Justice Flanagan is scheduled to be sworn-in as COA judge at a ceremony in Brisbane’s Banco Court at 9.15am next Friday (22 July).

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