28 August 2023

Supreme Court's first Indigenous judge a 'landmark moment'

| Albert McKnight
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Justice Louise Taylor (left) is welcomed into the Supreme Court by Chief Justice Lucy McCallum on Friday. Photo: Albert McKnight.

The newest judge in the ACT Supreme Court said she would tell other First Nations lawyers and lawyers from diverse backgrounds: “There is a place for you here.”

“Even when you feel like a tourist in the profession, you must carry yourself as if you belong, because you do,” Justice Louise Taylor said.

Justice Taylor, the first person of First Nations heritage to become a judge in the court, was officially sworn into her position at a packed ceremonial sitting on Friday (25 August).

She said it was essential for the legal system to reflect the lived experience of First Nations people, noting the law had a “devastating, unique impact” on her people.

“The statistics are not just numbers to us, they tell the stories of our families and our communities,” she said.

“It makes sense to me, then, that we must participate as more than just subjects in the legal system foisted upon us.”

Justice Taylor said she would be “a judge of all manner of people”, just like her record showed she was a magistrate for all manner of people.

“I am also a Kamilaroi woman. That fact has, at times in my life, been a source of antagonism from non-Aboriginal folks curiously invested in my cultural credentials,” she said.

“The only endorsement I seek in that regard is from the people to whom I proudly belong.”

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She said through her father, Dr Russell Charles Taylor AM, the might of her ancestors was in her blood.

“My father, the first in his family to finish high school and attend university, went on to become the most senior Aboriginal person in the Commonwealth public service,” she said.

“It’s no surprise, then, that I was raised to be nothing other than proud of my identity, with a strong sense of obligation to contribute to bettering the lives of our people.

“I did not inherit a pathway into the law. I am the granddaughter of a wharfie and a publican. My pathway to the law was driven by my experience of it as a girl growing up in inner-city Sydney.”

The six ACT Supreme Court are (from left) Verity McWilliam, Chrissa Loukas-Karlsson, Louise Taylor, Lucy McCallum, David Mossop and Belinda Baker.

The six ACT Supreme Court judges are (from left) Verity McWilliam, Chrissa Loukas-Karlsson, Louise Taylor, Lucy McCallum, David Mossop and Belinda Baker.

Justice Taylor has served as a magistrate in the ACT Magistrates Court since 2018. Previously, she worked as the deputy CEO of ACT Legal Aid and held roles with the ACT and Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.

“I am a proud product of the ACT legal profession,” she said.

“We are a grown-up city with a thriving profession.”

She thanked the people who had supported her in her life and career.

“It is my long experience that behind every great woman juggling their profession and personal life is another great woman juggling their profession and their personal life,” she said.

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When Aunty Jude Barlow was giving the Welcome to Country at the start of the ceremonial sitting, she described Justice Taylor as “a totally deadly woman”, as well as an exceptional human who was full of kindness, compassion and courage.

“Her swearing-in means so much and not just to her family and friends, but it means so much to her community,” she said.

ACT Law Society president Farzana Choudhury said it was “an occasion to be celebrated for so many reasons”.

She said Justice Taylor was highly regarded and respected across the legal profession, with practitioners describing her as a natural-born leader and down to earth, as well as a person with a quick wit and wicked sense of humour who was disinterested in pompous nonsense.

Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury said the ceremony was a “landmark moment”, as she was the first person of First Nations heritage to be appointed as a Supreme Court judge.

He said she had been selected as a result of a vigorous and thorough recruitment process and noted the court had expanded and she was now the sixth resident judge.

Her appointment to the Supreme Court was announced last month.

Belinda Baker and Geoffrey Kennett were announced as judges for the Supreme Court last year, although Justice Kennett later left his position, while Verity McWilliam was sworn in earlier this year.

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