Michelle Lensink

Women Justices

This speech is to congratulate the government on its appointments of Justice Ann Vanstone, Judge Trish Kelly and Magistrates Maria Panagiotidis and Penny Eldridge to greatly enhance representation of women in the South Australian judiciary. Their appointments are a significant step towards enhancing the representation of women in the judiciary.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: I move:

That this council congratulates the government on its appointments of Justice Ann Vanstone, Judge Trish Kelly and Magistrates Maria Panagiotidis and Penny Eldridge to greatly enhance representation of women in the South Australian judiciary.

This motion is also being moved by the member for Bragg in the other place and I commend it to the council. In August and September 2003, four women were appointed to the bench of the South Australian judiciary. These women have been outstanding performers in the legal profession and their appointment will bring a wealth of experience and greater depth to the judiciary. Their appointment will also go towards addressing the gender imbalance in what is a traditionally male dominated field.

Justice Ann Vanstone was appointed to the Supreme Court of South Australia on 21 August 2003 and is only the third woman to receive this honour after Justice Nyland and the late great Dame Roma Mitchell. She graduated from the University of Adelaide law school and was admitted to the South Australian bar in 1978. Justice Vanstone has extensive experience in the areas of criminal, commercial, family and administrative law in South Australia, Victoria and Western Australia. In South Australia, she was the deputy crown prosecutor from 1989 to 1992 and the associate director of public prosecutions from 1992 to 1994. In 1994, she was appointed a queen's counsel and, in 1999, she was appointed as a judge of the District Court of South Australia.

Judge Kelly was appointed to the bench of the District Court on Wednesday 10 September 2003. She is well known for her strong advocacy of minority groups and prosecution of sex offenders. She was instrumental in the introduction of social workers to ensure support for victims of child sex crimes during the legal process. Judge Kelly has worked in the Northern Territory, Queensland and South Australia. She has made an invaluable contribution throughout her career to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service, the Equal Opportunity Commission, the Crown Solicitor's Office and the Crown Prosecutor's Office. She was first admitted to practice in 1974 and was appointed a QC in 2002.

Both Maria Panagiotidis and Penny Eldridge were appointed senior magistrates, filling the vacancies of retiring magistrates Kevin Rogers and David Gurry. Maria Panagiotidis was admitted to the bar in 1982 and has had extensive experience practising as a barrister and solicitor in South Australia. She has given senior legal counsel across a broad range of areas, including administrative law, statutory interpretation, constitutional law and disciplinary inquiries. She commenced her legal career working for the Crown Solicitor's Office, eventually returning there and becoming a managing solicitor.

Penny Eldridge has practised in the Supreme Court of South Australia and the High Court of Australia since 1977. She was a senior associate for 10 years with Minter Ellison, where she practised principally in the area of litigation. She worked in the area of commercial disputes, industrial and employment issues, media communications law and wills and estates. In her last five years at Minter Ellison, she practised widely in the area of defamation law, acting for the publisher of the daily and weekend newspapers in Adelaide and the ABC. Since 2002, she has been a managing solicitor at the Crown Solicitor's Office.

These women bring with them extensive legal experience. They have been respected by the legal profession for their strong roles in practice and have had their achievements rightly acknowledged through these appointments. They bring with them to the South Australian judiciary not only their knowledge, experience and decision-making skills but they also enhance the representation of women. The legal profession has traditionally been and still is a male dominated field. Despite women making up the majority of law graduates, only 15 per cent of barristers are women.

Statistics from Adelaide and Flinders universities show that women represent 63.4 per cent and 70 per cent of law graduates respectively. However, there is a discrepancy between graduating in law and practising it compared to the number of women in senior roles and represented in the judiciary. In South Australia, of 79 judges, 14 are women; of 182 barristers only 28, or 15 per cent, are women; and of the state's 35 Queens Counsel, only six are women.

The expectation that barristers must devote 100 per cent plus of their life to the profession poses a significant barrier to women who also wish to raise children. Some might say that it is a biological fact that women need to take some leave during their pregnancy and in the period following the birth of a child. However, new mums are not the only victims of the long hours imposed by the demands of their profession: families pay the price, too.

Justice Gleeson, Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia, was recently quoted in The Australian as saying: It is a great pity that the Bar cannot find better ways of accommodating women and children.

He believes there is a link between the lack of child care for women and the lack of female barristers and judges. In his own experience, he has witnessed his daughter quit the bar due to the inflexibility of the profession at the highest level.

In closing, I would like to reiterate my congratulations to Justice Ann Vanstone, Judge Trish Kelly and magistrates Maria Panagiotidis and Penny Eldridge. These women have worked hard for their profession and, no doubt, have made numerous sacrifices to reach where they are today, but have been recognised for their effort, commitment and professionalism. Their appointments are a significant step towards enhancing the representation of women in the judiciary. I am sure that I have the support of all my colleagues when I wish them well for continued success in their careers.

 

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