8 March 2023

Magistrate Beth Campbell, a 'pioneer for women in law', retires after 25 years

| Albert McKnight
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Beth Campbell

Magistrate Beth Campbell has left the bench after serving for 25 years. Photo: Albert McKnight.

When Magistrate Beth Campbell handed down her final sentence and bowed to her courtroom for the last time, she was met with a chorus of applause and thanks from the gallery.

She has now retired from the ACT Magistrates Court, where she spent 25 years as a magistrate after being appointed in 1998.

Addressing a packed courtroom for a ceremonial sitting to mark her retirement on Friday (3 March), she called for action on improving the conditions at the Territory’s jail.

She said there was no prison in the ACT when she was first appointed to the bench, as the Alexander Maconochie Centre, “with all its explicit promise of being human rights compliant”, didn’t open until 2009.

But Magistrate Campbell said a recent report from the ACT Inspector of Correctional Services showed it was “all too clear that the AMC is yet to live up to its lofty ambitions of rehabilitating rather than punishing prisoners”.

For instance, she said the apparent lack of a structured day and resulting boredom at the facility “presents an ongoing concern”, but the report had also found the situation was worsening.

“How can it be that there are so few real education opportunities available at our human rights-compliant jail?” she asked.

“And how can it be that in the past month, I have had two defendants speak to me directly of recently having been sexually abused while in custody?”

She said the report had 29 recommendations, which she hoped the ACT Government would act on.

READ ALSO Farmer with ‘country flowing through her veins’ steps down as special magistrate

Magistrate Campbell was speaking after members of the legal community thanked her for her service. They included ACT Law Society president Farzana Choudhury, who called her “a pioneer for women in law”.

She said the magistrate had been described as the “most incredible, clever woman” and “an excellent judge of character who could not be taken advantage of”.

“A defendant sitting in your court knew they were going to get a fair go,” Ms Choudhury said.

ACT Bar Association president Marcus Hassall said she was known for her “patience, diligence, warmth and care”, as well as being “a great keeper of chocolate biscuits”.

He raised some of her famous moments in court, including sentencing tennis star Nick Kyrgios earlier this year and how she blasted protesters causing chaos in her courtroom in 2022. This was all before she handed down her last sentence to a possum killer earlier this week.

Magistrate Campbell was the second woman to be appointed to the bench and had been its longest-serving current member.

After starting her career, she worked as a practice manager in Tumut and lectured at Charles Sturt University, then returned to the ACT as a solicitor and a senior lecturer at the Australian National University.

Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury, himself a former student of the magistrate, said she had made a significant contribution to the courts and the community since her appointment.

He said she was “regarded as someone who genuinely understands the human condition” as well as being “an especially quotable magistrate”.

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Throughout her career, she has also raised her four children.

“My most important contribution to the world is the children I have raised,” she said in her speech.

“I have never met anyone with whom I’d be prepared to swap families.”

She thanked her colleagues and members of the court, saying she would look back on her time as a magistrate with great fondness.

“How lucky I am to have had a job that makes saying goodbye so hard,” she said.

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