Women silks 2023

Bar News

It was an embarrassment of riches at the celebration for the new women silks held by the Women Barristers Forum (‘WBF’), in conjunction with the Women Lawyers Association of NSW (‘WLA’), on 15 November 2023 at the Verandah Bar.

Congratulations to each of Maria Gerace SC, Gillian Mahony SC, Angela Cook SC, Kirsten Edwards SC, Catherine Gleeson SC, Dr Peggy Dwyer SC, and Dr Fiona Roughley SC on their appointments to senior counsel. We were extremely fortunate to host her Honour Justice Stern of the New South Wales Court of Appeal, who spoke candidly, and with her Honour’s customary good humour, about her experience of being a silk.

As is traditional, the event was fantastically attended by friends from the Bench and the Bar. One of the nicest things about the event is the number of well-wishers of varying seniority and gender who turn out to celebrate the women silks appointed each year. This year was no exception. It was standing room only to witness MC and WBF President, the indomitable Vanessa Whittaker SC, introduce Justice Stern and each of the new silks for their reflections on their appointments (seasoned attendees know that you wear high heels to this event at your peril).

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the new appointments was the broad range of professional expertise that they hold. As will be readily appreciated from what follows, these silks have contributed in varied important ways to the profession and to the administration of justice more generally. That breadth of experience was reflected in their insightful and entertaining speeches. One spoke of how she achieved success as a person from a diverse background; one of her struggles with impostor syndrome; another of the challenges of parenting at the Bar. Others celebrated the generosity and support of their colleagues. And one (Gillian Mahony SC) gave a very funny and extremely relaxed speech remotely – from a cruise in Bass Strait.

Maria Gerace SC, a member of Maurice Byers Chambers, has a superb coronial inquests practice and specialises in large multi-party litigation. Maria’s broad range of practice at the Bar includes fraud and corruption, environmental and whitecollar crime, class actions, and professional negligence. Maria is on the Common Law Committee of the Bar Association, has previously served on the Criminal Law and Alternative Dispute Resolution committees, and has acted for many years as an advocacy coach for the NSW Bar Readers course.

Gillian Mahony SC specialises in commissions of inquiry and inquests, equity, and family provision and child-related matters. She also appears in tort claims and in Commonwealth prosecutions and sentencing matters. Gillian was the course director for the NSW Bar Practice Course from 2016 to May 2023 and has been a member of its Education Committee since 2016. Gillian was made a Life Member of the NSW Bar Association on 25 May 2023 in recognition of her work on the Bar Practice Course.

Angela Cook SC commenced practice at the NSW Bar in 2008. She has an extensive criminal trial and appellate practice and specialises in children’s crime. She also appears in inquests and high-risk offender matters. Angela is a founding member of the Criminal Defence Lawyers Association.

Kirsten Edwards SC has extensive experience in the conduct of inquests and inquiries. She appears in coronial inquests as counsel assisting and on behalf of families, government departments and private parties, particularly medical professionals and sporting groups. Kirsten is also an adjunct associate professor at the School of Law at UNSW where she co-teaches a course involving advocacy, evidence, and ethics. Kirsten is a member of the Bar Association’s Inquests and Inquiries Committee and has drafted components of Bar examinations for the Bar Association.

Catherine Gleeson SC has a broad commercial practice that includes matters as diverse as large class actions, shipping, transport, and aviation matters, commissions of inquiry and regulatory investigations. Catherine is a (possibly over) active member of the NSW Bar Association, serving regularly on the Bar Council and a number of committees.

Dr Peggy Dwyer SC has a wide-ranging criminal and coronial law practice across New South Wales, the Northern Territory and Western Australia and is currently counsel assisting in the inquest into the death of Kumanjayi Walker in the Northern Territory. Peggy’s coronial inquest work has led to instrumental reforms addressing cultural and language barriers to allow for the participation of Indigenous witnesses and families. Peggy is Vice-Chair of Weave Youth and Community Services and serves on the board of Legal Aid NSW.

Dr Fiona Roughley SC maintains a broad and very busy practice in both commercial and public law. She has appeared in large and complex proceedings spanning class actions, professional negligence, contractual disputes, directors’ duties, judicial review, cartel conduct, and foreign mergers. Fiona is a prolific writer, regularly contributing articles to the Australian Law Journal, the Australian Journal of Administrative Law, and Bar News, and she has published book chapters on a variety of subjects. Fiona is on the board of Pymble Ladies College and is a member of the Council of Law Reporting for New South Wales.

The WBF was honoured to host, along with WLA, the celebration of the standard of excellence obtained by these new silks. BN

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