14 February 2023

Farmer with 'country flowing through her veins' steps down as special magistrate

| Albert McKnight
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Margaret Hunter

Margaret Hunter is retiring as a special magistrate from the ACT Magistrates Court. Photo: Albert McKnight.

An award-winning cattle breeder with the “country flowing through her veins” has been thanked and farewelled as she stepped down from her role as a special magistrate with Canberra’s courts.

Special Magistrate Margaret Hunter is known, and beloved in the legal profession, for her down-to-earth and straightforward manner.

She once blasted an alleged sovereign citizen for being an “idiot” during a chaotic exchange, and, after a man boarded a bus with what appeared to be a real gun on his hip she said, “We’re not in America and if he wants to carry guns maybe he should go there”.

But she is also known for her compassion, a quality that was clearly evident while she fought back tears when handing down her findings for the inquest into the tragic death of nine-year-old Bradyn Dillon.

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It is a break from tradition for the courts to hold a ceremonial sitting to mark the retirement of a special magistrate.

But, as Chief Magistrate Lorraine Walker told a packed courtroom for such a sitting on Wednesday (8 February), the woman they were there to farewell was “a special, special magistrate”.

She said Special Magistrate Hunter was a woman who had “country flowing through her veins”. She lost her mother early in life and was raised by her father, then “rocked it out” in the 1970s and worked as a nurse before coming to law.

“I’ve seen a woman who has made a massive contribution to the ACT community,” the chief magistrate said.

Andrew Muller, from the bar association, talked about the special magistrate’s career.

She studied a Bachelor of Laws at the Australian National University, worked as a prosecutor from 1994 to 2000 after which she joined the bar, then became a special magistrate in 2014.

She is a founding member of Australian Women Lawyers and has worked on the David Eastman case, which was possibly the highest-profile case in the ACT at that time.

Special Magistrate Hunter also bred prizewinning cattle and said her two biggest loves in life, aside from her family, were law and cattle breeding.

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In her retirement, she said she planned to travel and complete projects at her farm, and also teach occasionally at the ANU.

“I am very sad to be leaving, but I am also looking forward to the next chapter of my life,” she said.

She thanked her colleagues, mentors, court staff, friends and family for their support.

“Without family, life can be difficult,” she said.

ACT Law Society president Farzana Choudhury said that on the occasions Special Magistrate Hunter was presiding, she was struck by how the special magistrate related to those Ms Choudhury was representing “on a very human level”.

“You will be missed for your toughness, tempered by your concern for the person appearing before you,” she said.

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Pity Special Magistrate Hunter is leaving. We need this type of common sense on the Bench given our current crop of legal gentry.

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