Her Honour Judge Dina Yehia SC as a Justice of the Supreme Court of New South Wales
On 4 July 2022, her Honour Judge Dina Yehia SC was sworn onto the bench of the New South Wales Supreme Court. The Banco Court was filled to capacity and a sense of good feeling pervaded the Court. In attendance at the ceremonial sitting of the Supreme Court were members of her Honour’s family, eminent members of the Bar, and a spectrum of judicial colleagues. Her Honour was joined in the Banco Court by her partner, Ernie Benton, Justice Lucy MacCallum, Chief Justice of the Australian Capital Territory Supreme Court, the Honourable TF Bathurst KC, the former Chief Justice of the New South Wales Supreme Court, the Governor, her Excellency the Honourable Margaret Beazley AC KC, and her Honour’s dear friends, Maryanne Hausia and Tash Dakos. Her Honour’s brother, Talaat, and nephews, Alex and Omar, were watching live from New Zealand.
Her Honour’s contributions to the profession, both in her capacity as an intelligent, well-respected judge, and as a powerful force at the bar, were referred to by the Attorney General, the Honourable Mark Speakman SC MP. These sentiments were echoed by Ms Vann der Plaat, President of the Law Society of New South Wales, on behalf of all solicitors of the State.
Her Honour was born in Cairo, Egypt where her late father was a military general, and where her late mother, Rita, an extraordinary woman of Greek background, worked as an interpreter for the UN. When her Honour arrived in Australia at age seven she did not speak a word of English. From the world of tumultuous politics, her Honour and her family settled in Five Dock, Sydney. In keeping with the family’s emphasis on the importance of education, her Honour was a tenacious and bright student. Her Honour knew that she wanted to become a lawyer from the age of 13. She then went on to study Arts/Law at the University of New South Wales.
Her Honour’s confidence and independence soon made her a role model for her peers. Indeed, her Honour demonstrated the directness and initiative that has made her such a powerful conduit for legal reform from the outset of her career. Towards the end of her degree, her Honour made a call from a pay phone to the Western Aboriginal Legal Service (WALS). Her Honour spoke to Eric Wilson SC, then the principal solicitor of WALS, and asked for a job. After graduating in 1989, her Honour commenced work in Dubbo. Her Honour cited her time at WALS as one of her most formative experiences. Of note during her Honour’s time at WALS was her Honour’s introduction to Maryanna Hausia, a formidable Bakindji woman, and the then officer manager of WALS. Her Honour recalled that Maryanne, together with her wonderful family, welcomed her Honour into their home and filled her Honour’s time there with strength, resilience, wisdom, and good humour. The WALS solicitors appeared for clients in Local Courts, District Courts and the Supreme Court over a large part of New South Wales.
Imagine an area, about the size of Spain. Solicitors, including her Honour, and Field Officers serviced towns like Bourke, Brewarrina, Wilcannia, Broken Hill, Dubbo, and its satellite towns. Those were the days when her Honour’s clients were routinely arrested and charged for swearing in public – it was a time when the offence of swearing carried a term of imprisonment and many of her Honour’s clients were sent to gaol for swearing. Her Honour, together with her colleagues, forged on, travelling hundreds of kilometres, representing their clients fearlessly and compassionately.
Her Honour’s vision has introduced a more holistic and multi-disciplinary approach towards sentencing, while always ensuring that an Indigenous narrative and voice is present when sentencing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander offenders
The Chief Justice AS Bell remarked that Justice Yehia would enhance the reputation of the Court through her professional experience and her significant contributions to the District Court of New South Wales. Justice Yehia is a judicial leader, whose character was forged through perseverance and endeavour. Her Honour was called to the Bar in 1999 and subsequently appointed a Public Defender. Her Honour took silk in 2009 and became the first female Deputy Senior Public Defender in 2013. Her Honour’s practice in the Supreme Court included murder trials and the year-long terrorism trial at Parramatta in 2009. In 2013, her Honour appeared as lead counsel in the High Court case of Bugmy v The Queen (2013) 249 CLR 571;  HCA 37. The case continues to have a profound impact in the sentencing of offenders whose background of deprivation and disadvantage explains their conduct and reduces their culpability.
Her Honour was appointed a judge of the New South Wales District Court in 2014. During her time on the District Court Bench, her Honour has presided over countless trials, sentence proceedings, Super Call Overs, and, just prior to her appointment to the Supreme Court, the merciful 3.1 List. Her Honour is the Co-Chair of the Walama Working Group, in which she spent seven years tirelessly advocating for the establishment of an Her Honour’s vision has introduced a more holistic and multi-disciplinary approach towards sentencing, while always ensuring that an Indigenous narrative and voice is present when sentencing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander offenders. Indigenous sentencing court. Her Honour was instrumental in establishing the Walama List which commenced operation in the Sydney District Court on 31 January 2022. Her Honour’s vision has introduced a more holistic and multi-disciplinary approach towards sentencing, while always ensuring that an Indigenous narrative and voice is present when sentencing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander offenders. A champion for diversity and equality, her Honour, up until recently, was the Chair of Diverse Women in Law (DWL).
DWL is an organisation which has been formed to mentor women of diverse backgrounds in the profession. In that position, her Honour has carved out multiple opportunities for diverse women, including commencing the Court Observation Program. Serendipitously and aptly, this swearing in ceremony occurred during NAIDOC week. Her Honour spoke powerfully on the disproportionate rate of First Nations peoples in prisons and the importance of committing to a First Nations Voice in national Parliament. The NAIDOC week theme was “get up stand up show up”.
The Banco Court was brimming with high emotion and celebration for this particular ceremonial sitting of the New South Wales Supreme Court. We wish her Honour well. BN