Attorney General Mark Speakman has announced the appointment Deputy Senior Crown Prosecutor Gina O’Rourke as a judge of the District Court of New South Wales. The Senior Counsel is due to be sworn in on 30th January 2018.
“Ms O’Rourke is an outstanding barrister who has prosecuted more than 200 jury trials in the Supreme and District Courts of NSW, including murder, sexual assault, large-scale drug manufacturing and supply, and fraud matters,” Mr Speakman said.
Successful prosecution of Robert Hughes
Amongst the most notable trial prosecuted by Ms O’Rourke were the murder trial of wealthy Sydney property developer Ron Medich, during which two jurors were discharged, and former Hey Dad! star Robert Hughes, who was imprisoned in 2014 for a minimum of six years for sexual offences against children.
Champion for child victims of sexual abuse
Ms O’Rourke has participated in programs designed to reduce the trauma of testifying for complainants in child sexual asaault cases, including a pilot program which enables children to pre-record evidence while being supported by an intermediary.
She has also helped formulate guidelines on medical and forensic photo documentation of cases involving allegations of child abuse, and consulted for the Child Abuse Royal Commission on improving processes for complainants who give evidence.
In a career spanning almost a quarter of a century, Ms O’Rourke has worked for Legal Aid Tasmania, and for the Northern Territory, Commonwealth and NSW Offices of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP).
She was appoint Senior Counsel in 2015 and has been a Deputy Senior Crown Prosecutor for two years.
She will replace Judge Paul Conlon who is set to retire on the 29th of January 2018.
Judge Conlon retires
Judge Conlon is known for his ‘no nonsense’ approach’ to criminal justice.
He was responsible for sending child sex offender Tim Stewart to prison for raping a teenage girl and filming the incident, and for handing out strong sentences to other sex offenders and perpetrators of domestic violence, which made him popular amongst conservative radio talk show hosts.
The Sydney-based judge also served as chairman of the NRL judiciary board for eight years, before resigning in protest over the $50,000 fine levelled against Cronulla Sharks skipper Paul Gallen in 2014 for an outspoken social media post.
The judge argued that the punishment imposed on the veteran player was a gross over-reaction.
Judge Conlon attracted media attention in 2010 when he overturned an assault conviction against a man who smacked his 13-year-old stepson lightly over the head.
And in 2016, he made the controversial decision to overturn an Apprehended Violence Order (AVO) made against a father who lifted his eight-year old son out of bed when the kid threw a tantrum and wouldn’t move.
The judge controversially remarked, “[r]esponsible parents would be rightly concerned they too could find themselves dragged into the criminal justice system for doing nothing other than enforcing some discipline in the home.”
Like his successor, Judge Conlon has also worked to make it easier for child complainants to testify in court. And although he is stepping down from his full-time role, Attorney General Mark Speakman says he will be returning on a part-time basis.