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‘Deep reservoir of legal talent’: Women now make up almost half of local court magistrates

“I’ve learned from the women who have come before me,” Ms Richardson said. “It’s a great privilege and an honour for me to be one of the women that the court has appointed.”

Ms Richardson, who worked as a youth worker and later in public policy before becoming a lawyer, said “social justice is in my DNA, and in the law, for me, that translated into working in criminal justice with individuals, one person at a time”.

NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman said the appointments recognised the “deep reservoir of legal talent” among women in the profession and it was heartening to see the gender gap closing.

In a speech on Wednesday, NSW Chief Justice Tom Bathurst said “the power entrusted in the judiciary continues to be wielded predominantly by men that both look like me and have been afforded the privileges of a similar background”, and the judiciary must actively promote diversity.

There are 52 judges on the NSW Supreme Court; 11 (21.2 per cent) are women. Of the NSW District Court’s 76 judges, 27 (35.5 per cent) are women.

The six-judge NSW Land and Environment Court is split evenly between men and women. The High Court boasts three women – including Chief Justice Susan Kiefel – and four men.

Chief Justice Tom Bathurst said it was important that the judiciary represents diversity.

Chief Justice Tom Bathurst said it was important that the judiciary represents diversity. Credit:Justin Lloyd

Nicole Ford, who spent 25 years working as a lawyer in rural and regional NSW, will join the Local Court bench on March 15, allocated to the Children’s Court.

The Dubbo South High School alumna and former solicitor in charge of Legal Aid NSW’s Riverina Murray offices in Wagga and Albury was the first person on either side of her family to attend university.

Earlier in her career, she found out during the interview process at a law firm in Wagga Wagga, Farrell Lusher, that she was pregnant.

“They had the foresight to [think], ‘well, you’ll be away for a short while but you’ll be here in the long term’,” she said. She took the job.

Former Crown prosecutor Justin Peach will join the bench on March 1, the same day as barrister Melissa Humphreys, and before Ms Ford and Crown prosecutor Kirralee Tennant on March 15.

As the father of young girls, Mr Peach said “it’s important to me to see that the world that they grow up in and make their careers in is a world that treats them with equality and respect”.

The NSW Local Court now deals with 96 per cent of all criminal prosecutions and more than 90 per cent of civil matters.

Chief Magistrate Graeme Henson said in a foreword to the court’s 2019 Annual Review, released in September, that it was now the busiest jurisdiction in Australia, in a plea for more resources.

Shadow attorney-general Paul Lynch said it was the “the third year running” Judge Henson had called for additional funding.

Mr Speakman said in a statement that “resourcing for the Local Court remains under review as part of the budget process”.

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