The Trials and Tribulations of the District Court’s Newest Judges


Seven experienced barristers, including five Senior Counsel, will become the newest judges of the NSW District Court, in February 2019.

The appointments are part of the state government’s $148 million funding package which is designed to ease the pressure on the District Court, to help clear the court’s backlog in cases and reduce the length of time it takes to finalise proceedings.

“Between them, the new judges have amassed more than two centuries of legal experience, the majority spent at the Bar,” Mr Speakman stated.

“For the first time, the District Court will start the law year with a record 75 permanent judges, paving the way for increased sittings across the state and ensuring the court is in a strong position to tackle the criminal case workload in 2019.”

Who are the new judges?

The new appointments comprise five men and two women, some of whom are extensively experienced in both prosecuting and defending criminal cases.

Kara Shead SC

Kara Shead SC was employed with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions for 20 years, before transitioning for 18 months to criminal defence as a Deputy Senior Public Defender, before returning to the prosecution as a Deputy DPP.

She has prosecuted several high profile cases including the trial of Sean Lee King, who was found guilty of murdering his girlfriend Jazmin-Jean Ajbschitz, and the so-called ‘honour killing’ case of Hazairin Iskandar who was found to have murdered his wife’s lover and colleague Mohd Shah Saemin.

As a defence lawyer, Ms Shead represented Glen McNamara who was charged together with corrupt police officer Roger Rogerson with the murder of Jamie Gao.

She participated in interviews with the NSW Young Lawyers Criminal Law Committee and the SBS Insight Program during which she recalled being shocked at the widespread backlash arising from her move from prosecution to defence. She described the impact of the transition upon her personal and professional life, as well as the effect of second-hand trauma experienced through being privy to disturbing information and images in both her roles.

She defended her move to the defence, explaining the importance of all accused people being competently represented regardless of the allegations against them.

When asked whether she regretted working a lawyer, she told SBS:

“Not for a minute. Most of the time in the middle of a big criminal trial I cannot believe that I get paid to do my job”.

“It is enjoyable, immensely interesting, and never boring.”

Richard Weinstein SC

Richard Weinstein SC has 25 years of experience as a barrister in a range of areas including coronial inquests, personal injury, disciplinary proceedings and alternative dispute resolution.

He took silk in 2011 and has been an Adjunct Associate Professor lecturing in Evidence Law at the University of New South Wales since 2013.

He was appointed by former Bar Association President Arthur Moses SC as a Bar Advocate for Change in September 2017 to continue his efforts in formulating “strategies to promote equality, diversity and inclusion”.

Mr Weinstein has been at the forefront of advocating for diversity at the Bar for many years, including the inclusion of LGBTI people.

In the words of Mr Moses, “Richard through his leadership at the Bar and the NSW Bar Association, has demonstrated a commitment to the collegiate atmosphere of the Bar and the wellbeing of members. Richard’s work dealing with LGBTI diversity and inclusion at the Bar has been significant. This is particularly important during a time when there is much public debate about marriage equality”.

Mr Weinstein recently gave informative presentations to Bench TV about Expert Witness Joint Interviews.

Nanette Williams

Nannette Williams commenced employment with the DPP more than 30 years ago and steadily rose to the position of Deputy Senior Crown Prosecutor.

She has prosecuted a large number of high profile criminal cases, including the trial of 70-year old Warren Francis Rogers who was charged with murdering his wife of 40-years when she broke a promise not to contact a particular man.

Mr Rogers pleaded guilty to manslaughter but his asserted his innocence of murder on the basis that he lost his mind due to his wife’s actions.

Ms Williams accepted a plea to the lesser charge of manslaughter in the case of 27-year old Cathrina Cahill, who killed her partner while suffering a bout of post-traumatic stress disorder.

She was also the lead counsel in the state’s first prosecution of genital mutilation cases.

Ms Williams was presented with the DPP Award for Excellent in 2016, named as one of the Top 50 Public Sector Women in NSW in 2018 and holds the rank of Commander in the Royal Australian Navy Reserves.

She is certainly no stranger to controversy. Back in 2011, she acted as the defence lawyer for her partner Searle Indyk, who was prosecuted for assault occasioning actual bodily harm, common assault and animal cruelty arising from allegations that he attacked a neighbour and kicked a dog.

Before Waverley Local Court, Ms Williams accused police of performing a “false arrest” and perpetrating a “grave miscarriage of justice” by prosecuting her partner.

”He’s now been subjected to what is nothing more than a malicious prosecution,” she told the court.

The incident prompted one newspaper to report, “[f]or someone whose job depends on the integrity of the police force, the Crown prosecutor Nanette Williams does not have complete faith in the boys and girls in blue.”

Sean Grant

Sean Grant has been a barrister for 30 years practising in a number of Australian states including NSW and Victoria.

He has represented clients in a number of high profile trials, including alleged drug trafficker Carl Williams.

Mr Grant received death threats after representing alleged gangland killer Victor Brincat in Melbourne Magistrates Court, prompting a number of media reports about lawyers being threatened for “just doing… [their] job”.

He has also appeared complex fraud cases and appeals across jurisdictions.

Ian Bourke SC

Ian Bourke SC has been a criminal lawyer for over 30 years, including seven with the Commonwealth DPP and 22 years at the Bar.

He was appointed to Senior Counsel in 2014 and has acted as Counsel Assisting in 20 coronial inquests and inquiries over the past five years, including the death 83-year old Noreen Peacock who was found by real estate agents “largely mummified” in her bed at her Kellyville home in 2013.

Mr Bourke has also prosecuted several high profile cases including the terrorism trial of a Sydney teenager who was found in possession of two M9 bayonets and a sharpener.

Jonathon Priestley SC

Jonathan Priestley SC was first admitted as a lawyer in the Northern Territory three decades ago before moving to NSW where he practised until 1995.

He became a barrister in 1995 and was appointed to Senior Counsel in 2014.

He has been practising from a small chambers in Lismore in Northern NSW, and appears in a diverse range of legal fields including succession law, property litigation, family law, equity law and home building cases.

Robert Weber SC

Robert Weber SC was admitted to the Bar in 1987 and appointed to Senior Counsel in 2001.

He has been a leading silk at a prominent Sydney chambers for many years and his areas of practise include appeals, class actions, commercial law, commissions of inquiry, equity, insolvency and bankruptcy, sports law, insurance law and professional liability.

He has acted as an arbitrator for the Court of Arbitration for Sport and appeared in many coronial inquests including proceedings into the deaths during the 1998 Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race.


previous post: Sydney Criminal Lawyers® Weekly Rundown – Articles from 25 to 30 December 2018

next post: New Gag Laws Will Make FACS Less Accountable

Author Image

About Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim is an Accredited Criminal Law Specialist and Principal at Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, Australia's leading team of criminal and traffic defence lawyers.