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Supreme Court farewells Justice Betty King

18 August 2015

Justice Betty KingAfter 15 years of dispensing justice in Victoria — the last 10 at the Supreme Court — Justice Betty King has taken her final bow.

In front of a packed Banco Court on 14 August 2015, Justice King called time on her illustrious legal career, 40 years to the day she signed the Bar Roll.

‘I no longer wish to view the relentless parade of dead bodies and destroyed lives,’ the 65-year-old told those present, which included judicial officers from all Victorian courts and tribunals, many barristers and solicitors, as well as current and former Court staff.

‘I just wanted to say goodbye. I did not want to go without thanking you all,’ she said.

Justice King was admitted to practice in 1975 and was one of only two women to do so.

‘There were 497 counsel in active private practice. Only 13 were women,’ Victorian Bar President Jim Peters QC told her farewell.

‘[The late] Lillian Lieder had signed the Bar roll a couple of years before Your Honour, but the two of you were to become a formidable force, real pioneers of women barristers... In 1992 it was fitting that you both took silk together.

‘When the two of you came to the Bar it was almost inconceivable to the profession and, dare I say to the Bench, that a woman could make a career at the Bar appearing in serious criminal cases. It was all the more difficult because at that time there'd been exponential growth at the numbers at the Bar over the previous few years.’

They succeeded and both carved out brilliant legal careers.

In 1976, in her first jury trial, Justice King, who was prosecuting, was the only woman in court. The 18 accused men all had male counsel and instructors. His Honour Judge Leckie presided and the jurors were all men.

A decade later Justice King was appointed the first woman prosecutor for the Office of Public Prosecutions and in 1989, she became the first in-house counsel at the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions office.

She was appointed one of only three members of the National Criminal Authority in 1993, another first, later serving as Acting Chair of the Authority before being appointed a County Court Judge in 2000.

Law Institute of Victoria President Katie Miller spoke of an excited phone call she received as a young lawyer from a tradesman friend who had met Justice King at a fundraising dinner.

‘You had discussed your respective jobs while you shared some fresh air outside,’ she told the farewell. ‘This man was enthusiastic about Your Honour, he was amazed that you talked about life on the Bench in such a normal way, and was touched by the interest Your Honour, in turn, showed in his work. He thought he had met a legal rockstar, and I couldn't have agreed with him more. Your Honour has been an outstanding judge, passionately concerned to do justice, and if needed, to coax the advocates who have appeared before Your Honour into conducting the case so as to give you, as the judge, a fighting chance of achieving that end.’

Victorian Solicitor-General, Richard Niall QC, told the gathering that Justice King had rendered enormous service to the people of Victoria.

‘Your Honour has brought to this court a vast knowledge of the criminal law, a decisive mind and a great sense of fairness to all those who are involved in the criminal trial process,’ he said.

‘Those three attributes of knowledge, decisiveness and fairness are the hallmarks of a great trial judge. Your Honour is widely regarded as having exemplary judgment in trial rulings, charges to juries and the imposition of sentence.

‘Your Honour has, throughout Your Honour's service, been very protective of the role of the court in ensuring that justice is given according to law.’

Justice King expressed her gratitude for the generous words spoken about her, adding: ‘I'm truly overwhelmed by everyone’s presence here today.

‘You have accordingly been part of the fabric of my life, day in day out,’ she said. ‘I may have spoken to some of you, might have smiled at you, on some days nodded and other days not even seen you, but you have all contributed to making me, me...

‘I am moving on to do other things with my life, because I think I’ve hogged the limelight long enough. Every court needs to be refreshed and reinvigorated by new blood,’ she said.

‘It has been a privilege to be asked to serve on this great court and I hope I have served the people of Victoria well, they deserve it.’

Justice King was appointed to the Supreme Court in 2005. 

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