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SA’s first Aboriginal magistrates appointed

Two Aboriginal women have been appointed magistrates, in a historic first for South Australia.

Feb 02, 2023, updated Jan 30, 2024
SA Chief Justice Chris Kourakis and Attorney-General Kyam Maher announce new judicial appointments with Kaurna and Narungga elder Yvonne Agius. Photo: Jason Katsaras/InDaily

SA Chief Justice Chris Kourakis and Attorney-General Kyam Maher announce new judicial appointments with Kaurna and Narungga elder Yvonne Agius. Photo: Jason Katsaras/InDaily

Attorney General Kyam Maher named Lana Chester and Natalie Browne as new magistrates today, calling it “an exciting moment for South Australia”.

“Both Ms Chester and Ms Browne are exceptionally qualified, experienced appointees with a wealth of knowledge and experience that I’m sure will serve them well during their time in the Magistrates Court,” Maher said.

“Since the first court was established in this colony in 186 years ago, there hasn’t been an Aboriginal person as a member of our judiciary. Today, that changes.

“It’s extremely important that we represent the diversity of South Australia in those who make up members of the judiciary.”

Maher said Chester has over 25 years’ experience in criminal law working with the Legal Services Commission, with a background in the Supreme, District and Youth Courts.

Browne has almost 20 years’ experience in criminal law, having commenced in private practice in 2003 and subsequently working extensively with the Legal Services Commission.

Both incumbent Magistrates will hear a range of matters, not limited to cases involving Aboriginal people.

A founder of the Nunga Court in Port Adelaide, Kaurna and Narungga elder Yvonne Agius, is proud to see Aboriginal people now sitting on the judiciary.

“It will make our people feel much better being in front of their own people,” she said.

“I also wish that there were many more taking over, because it’s about time. I’m 80 years of age and this is the first time I’ve seen this.

“I’ll be looking forward to more joining up in the system, because that’s where we need it.

“As you are aware, a lot of our people are locked up. And I think this is a good thing that’s happening, that we may be able to take those numbers down a bit.”

Agius said Aboriginal people can often be disenfranchised by the legal process and more supports are needed to deal with language barriers.

“You know, [Aboriginal people] are very shy people, and most of them that come from up north don’t know what the justice system is all about,” Agius said.

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“They should have interpreters in the justice system now for the people from up north that don’t speak much English or don’t understand English.”

Attorney General Kyam Maher with Kaurna and Narungga elder, Yvonne Agius and Chief Justice of South Australia, Chris Kourakis. Photo: Jason Katsaras/InDaily

Photo: Jason Katsaras/InDaily

SA Chief Justice Chris Kourakis said the new appointees would bring a different perspective and understanding to the courts.

“Sure it’s important to the Aboriginal community that they know that Aboriginal people have members of their community on the bench, but the really important point is the spreading of an understanding of their community, their culture, their strength and challenges to the whole judiciary,” he said.

It comes as the state government announced a number of other new appointments to the judiciary.

District Court Judge Julie McIntyre is being elevated to the Supreme Court ahead of the retirement of Justice Kevin Nicholson, while Magistrates Nick Alexandrides and Michelle Sutcliffe will be appointed to the District Court to fill both Judge McIntyre’s vacancy and the vacancy created by the imminent retirement of Judge Paul Cuthbertson.

Kristopher Handshin KC has been appointed to the District Court to fill a vacancy created with the elevation last year of Justice Kimber from the District to the Supreme Court.

Michael Barnett and Joanna Martin have also been appointed to the Magistrates Court.

“In his 34-plus years within the legal profession, Michael Barnett has been involved in numerous complex civil and criminal matters and worked across a range of different disciplines. He has had a distinguished career at the independent bar in Adelaide,” Maher said.

“Joanna Martin is an extraordinarily qualified public servant, with experience as a lawyer in Government and Community Legal Centres in the Northern Territory and corporate experience in New South Wales, as well as developing policy and overseeing the development of complex legislation within the Attorney-General’s Department.”

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