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Canberra lawyers Margaret Jones and Rebecca Christensen appointed as latest ACT senior counsels | The Canberra Times


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Two of Canberra’s most accomplished lawyers with decades of experiences dealing with complex cases across various jurisdictions, including overseas, now have the initials SC next to their names after becoming the most recent senior counsel appointments in the territory. For the silks, Margaret Jones and Rebecca Christensen, they prefer to have the limelight on the intrinsic value of their and their colleagues’ work and what more needs to be done to benefit those needing help the most. Ms Jones has been active in law reform in the ACT over the years and in 2020, she became the chairwoman of the ACT Bar Association Criminal Law Committee. She says while the appointment is an honour, it will be “business as usual” in working on legal issues close to her heart. One is improving the right to having access to justice, particularly for clients from backgrounds of significant disadvantage. “Having legal representation is enormously important and so my passion and my concern, because of my background and now doing criminal defence work, is the funding of legal aid services, including the Aboriginal Legal Service,” Ms Jones says. “The rising rate of Indigenous incarceration rates keep increasing, which is happening country wide and it’s great concern to me and everybody I know who’s involved in criminal law.” Ms Jones cites the legal aid situation in the UK as an example that she hopes Australia does not follow. “There has been a shocking running down of the criminal justice system [in the UK], which is having real impact,” she says. MORE NEWS “If you don’t have an adequately funded legal aid system, then people won’t have access to justice and that really undermines the basic tenets of the rule of law.” A key reform she helped lead was a 2004 report, after travelling around the country and New Zealand, about better approaches to investigating and prosecuting sexual assault matters, which has led to some of the practices we see now. She says that despite being the public face in court by virtue of being a barrister, most of the public needs to know that teams she works with are just as crucial. “What I often say to instructing solicitors is that for me, it’s not about any sort of hierarchy,” she says. “I have a role and they have an equally important role. “Because if I don’t have somebody doing all the incredibly important work of preparing documents, doing the research and organising witnesses then I can’t do what I do.” Ms Jones started her criminal law career at the NSW Legal Aid Commission in 1991 before a shift to the ACT DPP, including as deputy director. She has also appeared as counsel in more than 60 Court of Appeal hearings, a number of High Court matters as junior counsel and many serious and complex trials. She says that while improvements are needed, the ACT has “lots of good things happening”, including the drug and alcohol court led by now-retired judge John Burns. She also cites the ACT Government’s bid to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 10 years to 14. In the past eight years, there has been only two prior SC appointments in the ACT and the previous appointment of a female practitioner was Louise Donohoe SC in 2008. “Our peers and the judiciary thought that we warranted the appointment on merits and certainly it’s a great privilege to be a role model for other women in the profession,” Ms Jones says. As for her colleagues, she has had the privilege of “working with a lot of very bright young lawyers, who are now excelling in the profession”. She also praises her mentors and fellow SC appointee Ms Christensen, saying “I was very delighted that she was appointed”. “It’s very well deserved. She is a very experienced advocate, she’s a quiet achiever,” Ms Jones says. “She has a lot of experience appearing in difficult jurisdictions and she’s probably one of the most experienced trial advocates in the ACT.” Ms Christensen, who politely declined a request for an interview and photo, began her career as a barrister in the Queensland DPP office and was appointed as a crown prosecutor from 2003. Four years later and up until 2010, Ms Christensen held the same role, as well as being an advisor, to the Solomon Islands DPP office and for a time acting deputy director before becoming a senior state prosecutor for Papua New Guinea until 2015. Her roles in those jurisdictions focused on complex appeals and trials and on the mentoring of junior lawyers. Her path to Canberra began in 2017 when she started at the ACT DPP as a senior advocate and was appointed crown prosecutor two years later. During her career, she has mentored up-and-coming lawyers. During a speech given at the bows ceremony of both senior counsels in early November, ACT Supreme Court Chief Justice Helen Murrell said the court was “delighted at your announcements”. “Ms Jones, over the past 30 years your ability has been enhanced by working on both sides of the record,” Chief Justice Murrell said. “At the ACT DPP, you made a significant contribution, particularly in relation to the territory’s response to family violence and sexual offending. “You continue to contribute to the development of the criminal law and criminal law reform.” The judge said Ms Christensen had also “become a regular and welcome counsel in the court, especially in the Court of Appeal”. “You have prosecuted in several very challenging jurisdictions, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea – not to mention Queensland,” she said. “No doubt the challenges that you had to meet elsewhere fostered the resilience that has enabled you to gain recognition in this jurisdiction so quickly.” The SC appointments were announced by the ACT Bar Association with president Andrew Muller saying the association was delighted in the appointments after a wide-ranging consultation process. 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