Justice Holmes is right person to mend courts
JUSTICE Catherine Holmes becomes the 19th Chief Justice of Queensland after what has been one of the most tumultuous years in the 152-year history of the Supreme Court.
She comes to the most senior judicial job in the state with 15 years sitting in superior courts – having been appointed to the Supreme Court in 2000 and as a Justice of the Court of Appeal six years later. As the first female chief justice, Justice Holmes makes history – marking another previously secure male bastion that has finally been joined by a woman of talent and substance.
Justice Holmes can extend her mark on history by repairing the damage done to the Queensland judiciary in the past 15 months since her predecessor Tim Carmody was first mentioned as a candidate for the post of Chief Justice.
That event sparked months of often disgraceful attacks from within the courts and the wider judicial community on Justice Carmody’s character, briefing against the appointment, threatening to deny cooperation, undermining of the Chief Justice and the scandalous taping of private conversations. It was one of the darkest periods in the Court’s history and much of what occurred shames those involved – inside the Court and in the wider legal community. In the end, Justice Carmody’s position was made untenable and he did the selfless and responsible thing by standing down as Chief Justice. He may have taken too long and dithered in the final weeks but he should be remembered well for doing the right thing.
The new Chief Justice kept her nose clean during this unseemly insurrection – she officiated at the swearing in of Justice Carmody in a ceremony which had to be held in private – and comes to her new job best placed to heal the wounds and restore the dignity of the Court. Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath, herself a high achieving Brisbane lawyer, has handled the appointment with care and consideration.
Given that it was obvious months ago Justice Carmody was more likely than not to stay on, Ms D’Ath should have been more advanced than she seemed to be when his resignation was announced finally, meaning the replacement took longer than perhaps necessary to select and finalise. That aside, Ms D’Ath has resisted any temptation to join the judiciary wars we’ve seen over the last year and looked for a new Chief Justice on the sole basis of merit and what’s good for the Court.
She has succeeded and deserves congratulations.
In a government which has sometimes struggled to find its policy and administrative feet, the Attorney-General stands out as one of the few who is diligent, thoughtful and considerate in going about her job. She doesn’t jump to the chance of scoring a political point for the sake of it and hasn’t wasted time and energy mocking her predecessor.
Now that she has appointed the Chief Justice, Ms D’Ath can turn her mind to whether we need an independent body to oversee the courts – such as a judicial commission as has been suggested – and whether judicial selection could be improved by involving a separate statutory set of advisers.
Justice Holmes meanwhile should rejuvenate the sense of unity and teamwork needed in our superior courts, getting judges to work together and stop the kind of schoolyard behaviour that broke out from time to time over the past 14 months.
There is no place in any workplace for the kind of treachery we have seen. It should never happen in our highest courts where sober maturity and levelheadedness are requirements for sitting on these benches.
The new Chief Justice should also look at the reform agenda for courts which can always do with an efficiency audit and an examination of other improvements that might be implemented.
At the moment the Queensland Law Reform Commission has just two reviews on its books – the important look at mandatory reporting of issues relating to child protection and settling neighbourhood disputes over fences and dividing lines between dwellings.
Some serious work aimed at making our most senior courts work better could be in order.