The appointment of Justin Lincoln Crowley, a Warramunga man as the first Aboriginal superior court judge in Australian history is monumental. Mr Crowley’s appointment coincides with National Reconciliation Week (NRW) 2022. Its significance and what it means for Indigenous reconciliation and justice going forward cannot be undermined.

Supreme court judge Lincoln Crowley (left) with Queensland’s chief justice Helen Bowskill (right). ‘In the end, justice is what it’s all about: always was, always will be,’ says Crowley. Photograph: Darren England/AAP | Credit: The Guardian

Mr Crowley’s father is one of the first Indigenous majors in the Australian Defence Force, becoming his source of inspiration. Similarly, Crowley’s career achievements are impressive. His resume includes work with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Legal Service and the NSW Crown Solicitor’s Office. Crowley was admitted to the bar in 2003. Since, he has served as a Crown Prosecutor, private counsel and senior counsel across Queensland and New South Wales.

Why is Crowley’s Appointment So Significant?

NRW is celebrated yearly between the dates 27 May – 3 June. It is first and foremost, a commemoration of the successful 1967 referendum. It recognises First Nations peoples as legal constituents of the Australian government. Simultaneously, it is also a celebration of the 1992 High Court Mabo Decision. It recognises that all First Nations people hold native title. Damien O’Brien, the bar association’s president, celebrated Crowley’s appointment by stating, “Your Honour’s elevation to become the first First Nation superior court judge in this land is an important step in a much longer process to ensure that this historical role is rectified.”

Credit: SBS

Consequently, by beginning to cultivate a legal system that reflects the diversity within Australian communities, positive reformation of social, political and cultural systems becomes easier. Mr Crowley has answered questions about why this appointment is so important by stating “The answers to these questions are pretty obvious: diversity matters.” Therefore Mr Crowley’s appointment is the next great milestone in fostering an environment that supports and encourages Indigenous reconciliation.

What Does This Mean for First Nations Communities?

Tass Liveris, president of Law Council of Australia, congratulated Mr Crowley. Mr Liveris and Mr Crowley both hope that this appointment will inspire more Indigenous Australians to take up law as their profession. Furthermore, Mr Crowley’s expertise as an Indigenous Australian will be influential as the Australian court proceeds to focus on delivering justice to First Nations individuals and communities. Policies of assimilation, forced removal and segregation under the 20th century vision of a White Australia resulted in the forced removal of tens of thousands of Indigenous children.

Although Mr Crowley’s appointment alone won’t unpack all the inequalities and inhumane treatment experienced by Indigenous communities. This is a step in the right direction. Growing up in Northern Territory Mr Crowley experienced first hand racism as an Aboriginal man. His voice is extremely influential in platforming and addressing Indigenous concerns.

Mr. Crowley’s Vision for the Future of Australian Law

Crown prosecutor Lincoln Crowley leaves the Supreme Court in Brisbane | Credit: 7 News

Mr Crowley emphasises that justice will be heart and soul of every decision and case he will deal with as a superior court judge. The Guardian reports that Crowley as saying,

“I will strive to do justice in every case. To my mind that is the most important objective in the law, and the one thing our community expects judges of this court will deliver. In the end, justice is what it’s all about: always was, always will be.”

He aims to centre Indigenous concerns, and hopes that one day the appointment of a First Nations judge will be the norm rather than the exception.

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