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Welcome Judge Christine Thornton

News

Judge Christine Thornton was welcomed as a judge to the County Court on 15 July. Among the speakers was LIV president Tony Burke. This is an edited version of his speech.

It’s now 30 years since your Honour began articles with Martin Bartfeld.

You narrowly missed going into private practice with Slater & Gordon and thus the whole of your professional life has been in the public interest and service – first in legal aid and on secondment to government and then, for nearly 20 years, as a magistrate.

In relation to your secondment to the Justice Department, [previous speaker]
Mr Colbran has focused on your major role in hammering out the Bill that became the Children & Young Persons Act 1989.

You were also on the Committee that worked on the Bill that became the Magistrates’ Court Act 1989.

During 1987, in the preparatory stages of these two Bills, you initiated extensive consultation with Victoria Police, with the Director of Public Prosecutions, with magistrates and judges, with Community Services Victoria and with other government departments.

You were also involved in the general legislative program, which included the Crimes (Family Violence) Act, the Crimes, (Custody and Investigation) Act and the Crimes (Fingerprinting) Act.

And you prepared a brief to the Deputy Secretary for a working group meeting in Geneva for a draft UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

In nearly 20 years as a magistrate, your Honour has sat in every aspect of the Magistrates’ Court jurisdiction, and also in the Children’s Court, the Coroner’s Court, and the Crimes Compensation Tribunal.

You were initially assigned to the City Court, but even then relieved in suburban and country courts – including, for example, Mildura.

You were then assigned to the new Dandenong Magistrates’ Court complex. In some four years there, you established a Crimes Family Violence Committee for court users and organised professional development sessions in family law for the Dandenong magistrates.

In 1998 you came to the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court until 2001, when you were appointed Regional Coordinating Magistrate at Frankston.

Some years ago, a Family Violence Division of the Magistrates’ Court was established at Heidelberg and Ballarat. That Division has not, however, been able to deal with the volume of work, and specialist Family Violence Courts have been set up at Sunshine, Melbourne and Frankston.

Your Honour worked to establish and develop that specialty at Frankston. You initiated and obtained funding for a family violence police liaison officer, based in the Frankston Court. You also assisted with the establishment of two free duty-lawyer services to assist both applicants and defendants in family violence matters.

In this, you worked with and involved the registrar and court staff, and your fellow magistrates.

They all speak of your support for them, both professionally and personally: for example, in relation to their sitting hours and working conditions, and personal concern when,
for example, a member of staff had a death in the family.

And you’ve been an active contributor to the institution of the Court and the magistracy – for example:

  • in membership of the editorial subcommittee that produces the Magistrates’ Court Bench Book;
  • in active membership, for several years, of the Professional Development Committee, and in organising and participating in every professional development conference for magistrates in those years;
  • in action to establish and obtain funding for various programs such as a police liaison officer; duty lawyers; a court-based drug clinician; a recidivist drink-driver program; and Children’s Court diversionary programs; and
  • in speaking at various seminars, conferences, and forums – both public and professional.
  • In your secondment year with Judge Kevin O’Connor’s Policy & Research Section of Jim Kennan’s Justice Department, you used to ski every weekend. Monday morning coffee began with your notes from the slopes.

Such intelligence as I’ve been able to gather of more recent times has your Honour regularly swimming laps with a swimming squad at the crack of dawn – as I have been doing myself today – body surfing at Noosa and roller blading around Brighton.

Your predilection, some might say addiction, for coffee will, no doubt, fit right in with your new colleagues in this Court. But the health-conscious lunch – the same every day – of avocado, caviar, spinach and walnuts may, I suspect, differentiate you from some. It’s also a marked shift from the extravagant dessert recipes you used to exchange with colleagues at Legal Aid.

In 20 years as a magistrate, your Honour has shown yourself to be conscientious and hardworking, calm and balanced, compassionate, and firm.

On behalf of the LIV and the solicitors of this state, I wish your Honour long and satisfying service as a judge of this Court.

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