"An efficient process, a fair hearing and a decision made according
An interview with the Honourable Justice Roslyn Atkinson
First Member and President of the Anti-Discrimination Tribunal Qld.
Anti-Discrimination Act 1991
the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Tribunal. The Tribunals main function
is to hear and determine complaints in relation to contraventions of
the Act referred to it by the Commission. Complaints are referred to
the Tribunal when they are unable to be settled through conciliation
at the Commission.
The Tribunal is required to act in accordance with the rules of natural
justice, equity, good conscience and the substantial merits of the case
(section 208). Various forms of redress may be ordered by the Tribunal
, including damages of "an amount the tribunal considers appropriate
as compensation for loss or damage caused by the contravention"
Roslyn Atkinson (as she then was) was appointed as first Member of
the Tribunal in 1992 and continued in this role until 1994. At that
time other members were appointed, and she was elevated to the position
of first President of the Tribunal - a position held until 1997. Other
positions held include : Hearing Commissioner for the Human Rights and
Equal Opportunity Commission and Commissioner and Deputy Chairperson
of the Queensland Law Reform Commission. Today the Honourable Justice
Roslyn Atkinson is a Judge of the Supreme Court of Queensland in Brisbane.
The early days of the Tribunal were ground breaking times where policies
and procedures were set in place to ensure "an efficient process,
a fair hearing and a decision made according to law." Justice Atkinson
however is quick to point out that parties who come to the Tribunal
must realise that they are in a different place from the Commission.
They have crossed from mediation, to an adjudicative process. While
at the Tribunal, it was her aim to see that this process produced a
result that was fair to all parties. In order to make the process fair,
the proceedings were deliberately made informal and applied even handedly.
Justice Atkinson commended the high standard of legal representation
for parties on both sides during her time at the Tribunal. At a time
where every case was a landmark case and created valuable interpretation
of the law, she thought the lawyers were keen to facilitate a fair outcome
by representing their clients interests. It was vital for the integrity
of the Tribunal that it be conducted in a way that was scrupulously
fair, so that its determinations would be respected by both parties.
The position of complainants before the Tribunal was well understood
by Justice Atkinson. She commented "A complainant who has been
discriminated against because of a vulnerable position, ironically,
has to be quite strong to carry it through to the end, because litigation
is hard. Any kind of litigation is hard."
As the sole member of the Tribunal, Member Atkinson (as she then was),
presided over many major and landmark cases in discrimination law, not
only for Queensland but Australia. She recalled that at the time, each
new matter heard was a test case in its own way, and provided her with
the unique opportunity to state how the law was to be applied, and this
in turn would be followed in other cases.
In paying tribute to the early litigants she said "One thing that
those relatively strong and determined individuals do, is they vindicate
the rights of a lot of other people who don't then have to come to a
hearing, because the Commission is then able to tell people what the
law is in that area
They had such a long term impact on the
lives of other people in this state."
Some cases which readily came to mind were Kevin Cocks v State of Queensland.
This case, which concerned access to the front entrance of the Brisbane
Convention and Exhibition Centre for people with a mobility impairment,
changed the view of the sorts of access that should be provided to public
With regard to sexual harassment, the cases of Relsie Doyle and Rebecca
Moore v the Black Community Housing Service and others was highly significant,
as it showed Aboriginal women asserting their rights not to be sexually
harassed in their own community. The cases of Caroline Tulk and Sandra
Boehmer v Stanley Moore and others sent a clear message about the right
of women not to be harassed in the workplace. Narelle Hopper v Mt Isa
Mines and others added to the case law, and pointed out that it wasn't
enough for employers to employ women in difficult positions, and just
leave them to sink or swim. It showed not only that women shouldn't
be exposed to a hostile work environment, but indicated the sort of
steps that should be taken to change such an environment.
The case of JM v QFG and GK and State of Queensland which involved
the question of access to fertility treatment by a lesbian, was important
for a reason other than the merits of the case. It was the first Queensland
Tribunal case which had received a generally negative reaction from
the media, and where the extent of discrimination faced by lesbians
Justice Atkinson commended the Act as being comprehensive, clear and
well set out, noting that these things are important if people are to
be able to exercise their rights.
In summing up her time as Member and President of the Tribunal, Justice
Atkinson described it as a "magnificent opportunity
.It was just absolutely a privilege to me to have an
insight into the people who appeared before me and their views of the
world, and the contribution they have made to changing the world for
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