By Sonia Hickey and Ugur Nedim
The New South Wales local court has appointed 11 new magistrates – the largest appointment in several years.
Attorney General Gabrielle Upton says the addition is an important step forward in achieving gender equality across the legal profession, as six of the new magistrates are women.
Closing the gender gap
Women now make up 62 of the state’s 140 magistrates, and this is good news considering that just several years ago, the figure was as low as 15% despite the fact that at the time, females made up almost half of the legal profession.
Fast forward to 2016, and more women than ever before are entering the profession – about 63% of new law graduates are female. Unfortunately, females also have the highest attrition rate.
Having more females in senior legal positions across all areas of the legal profession has been identified as a way of keeping women in the profession longer, and helping to address the barriers to female career progression, such as these factors identified in a survey by the Law Council of Australia:
- Not enough mentors to support career development.
- Limited opportunities for promotion and advancement.
- Poor work/life balance.
The legal profession is traditionally a male dominated industry, with men holding the lion’s share of senior positions and wielding power over career opportunities and advancement.
So it’s important that women are encouraged into the profession, and supported to stay there because they bring an important sense of balance which needs to be maintained to engender public trust in the legal system.
Women often have different skill sets, emotions, thought processes and life experiences than men. Women are an integral part of our social fabric and need to be seen as an integral part of the judicial system.
But while gender equality is important, so is competence and expertise – the new appointees have combined legal experience of almost 250 years. Seven have specialist experience in criminal law and four in civil law.
Additional resources will help productivity
While the NSW Local Court prides itself on having had the lowest backlog of any comparable jurisdiction in Australia for over a decade, as measured by the Productivity Commission’s Report on Government Services, NSW Chief Magistrate Judge Graeme Henson says the additional resources are critical to serving the needs of city and regional areas, and remaining a leader in the delivery of timely justice.
“When matters are dealt with efficiently, it reduces stress and uncertainty for victims and defendants and allows witnesses to give evidence while the incident is still fresh in their minds,” Judge Henson says.
The new magistrates are:
- Imad Abdul-Karim
- Susan Horan
- Rodney Brender
- Jennifer Price
- George Breton
- Julie Soars
- Kathy Crittenden
- Brett Thomas
- Cate Follent
- Julia Virgo
- James Gibson.
They will take up positions on the bench early next year.