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Barrister suspended for kissing, texting family law judge

A West Australian counsel who had a “close personal relationship” with the judge presiding over her client’s matter has been fined and suspended from practising for nine months.

user iconNaomi Neilson 13 May 2024 Big Law
Gillian Anderson. Source: Francis Burt Chambers

Gillian Anderson. Source: Francis Burt Chambers

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Between March 2016 and February 2018, while they both worked on the same matter, barrister Gillian Anderson and Justice John Walters exchanged hundreds of SMS and WhatsApp messages, had private phone calls, and briefly met up on four occasions.

The Western Australia State Administrative Tribunal (WASAT) was told Anderson and Justice Walters, now retired, “shared a brief kiss on two or three occasions” during those private meetings.

The substance of the communications “reflected the maintenance of a close personal relationship” between the pair.


“[It was] characterised by or involving personally close or familiar association, at a time when Justice Walters was seised of the proceedings and the practitioner was engaged as counsel for the applicant wife in the proceedings,” WASAT heard.

The conduct was said to be “at all times, contrary to the practitioner’s ethical and professional obligations” and amounted to professional misconduct.

The Legal Services and Complaints Committee agreed to settle the proceedings with Anderson by imposing the nine-month suspension, a $10,000 fine, a public reprimand, and a $34,183.50 costs order.

In a statement of agreed facts, Anderson said it was “inappropriate and fell short of the standards the public is entitled to expect” and admitted she should have disclosed the communications.

The husband at the centre of the proceedings brought an appeal in the High Court, arguing that the relationship between his former wife’s counsel and Justice Walters was “inexcusable”.

His lawyer, Steven Penglis SC, said it was “bad enough” the relationship was not disclosed, but it was made worse by the number of opportunities Anderson and Justice Walters had to say something.

The High Court agreed it was “particularly troubling”.

The Australian Law Reform Commission said it would review laws about judicial impartiality as a result of the relationship.