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NSW Local Court names new president

A new Chief Magistrate has been appointed as president of NSW’s Local Court following the retirement of outgoing president Chief Magistrate Graeme Henson.

user iconNaomi Neilson 01 September 2021 Big Law
NSW Local Court names new president
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Current president of the Children’s Court, Judge Peter Johnstone, will replace the longest-serving Chief Magistrate, Judge Henson, as head of the state’s Local Court, Attorney-General Mark Speakman announced.

“Judge Johnstone will bring a significant breadth of experience to his Honour’s new role. Our state is fortunate to have the services of judicial talent of his Honour’s calibre to lead the Local Court,” Mr Speakman said.

Also commenting on the new role, NSW Law Society president Juliana Warner said Judge Johnstone has been a well-respected member of the judiciary for many years.  


“His Honour’s appointment could not come at a more crucial time for the Local Court as it works to overcome significant delays and backlogs generated by the COVID-19 restrictions,” Ms Warner said. “My heartfelt congratulations to Judge Johnstone – I know the state’s 37,000 solicitors would join me in wishing him well in his new role.”

Ms Warner added that as president of the Children’s Court, Judge Johnstone has championed the appointment of specialist magistrates, has advocated for prevention, early intervention, diversion and rehabilitation measures that keep children out of juvenile detention and has helped strengthen cultural connections for vulnerable young Indigenous children placed in out-of-home care.

In his previous role, Judge Johnstone expressed concerns about the over-representation of Indigenous people, especially Indigenous youth, and was instrumental in establishing the Youth Koori Court pilot in Paramatta.

Judge Johnstone also advocated for the $38 million Children’s Court complex in Surry Hills where there are now a record 15 specialist Children’s Magistrates.

“The legal profession welcomes the appointment and we look forward to continuing the long and productive relationship we’ve enjoyed with the Office of the Chief Magistrate,” Ms Warner said.  

Judge Johnstone holds a law degree from the University of Sydney and was admitted to practice in 1973. Just four years later, he was made partner at one of Australia’s largest firms, then known as Dawson Waldron, and quickly rose to become the national chief operating partner in 2001.

In 1997, Judge Johnstone was given his first judicial experience as acting District Court judge. His Honour then became a full-time judge of the District Court in 2006 and eventually took up the role of president at the Children’s Court in 2012.

“This wealth of leadership experience, including as head of a jurisdiction crucial to steering young people away from a life of crime, will be invaluable as Judge Johnstone becomes responsible for the busiest jurisdiction in Australia.

“So too, his previous roles as a part-time NSW Law Reform Commissioner and deputy chair of the Medical Tribunal of NSW,” Mr Speakman said.

Mr Speakman has paid tribute to Judge Henson for his “strong leadership, his work navigating the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and his support of working towards gender parity” while he worked at the Local Court.

An acting president of the Children’s Court will be announced shortly.