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Roslyn Atkinson

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Roslyn Atkinson

Roslyn Atkinson Justice Roslyn Atkinson the view from the bench ABC Conversations

Appointed by
Major General Peter Arnison

Full Name
Roslyn Gay Atkinson

30 November 1948 (age 75) Brisbane, Queensland, Australia (

Roslyn Gay Atkinson AO (born 30 November 1948 in Brisbane, Queensland) is a Justice of the Supreme Court of Queensland, having been appointed to that position in 1998. In 2002 she also became the Chairperson of the Queensland Law Reform Commission, and served in that role until her retirement in 2013. As well as being responsible for the Yankee Doodles precedent, Justice Atkinson has also made two notable decisions in her capacity as member of the Queensland Legal Practice Tribunal.


Pre-judicial career

Justice Atkinson began her career as a Teacher, from 1970 to 1974. She then became an Actor and Theatre Administrator from 1974 to 1978, before becoming a Lecturer of Literature, Drama, Film and Australian Studies at the Queensland Institute of Technology. In 1985 she entered the legal profession by becoming an Articled Clerk at Feez Ruthning. The following year she was an Associate to the Honourable Justice Brennan, then a Justice of the High Court of Australia. She was admitted to the bar in 1987 and practised there until her appointment to the Supreme Court.

Yankee Doodles

Justice Atkinson is perhaps most famous for her judgment in the case of Yankee Doodles v Blemvale Pty Ltd, an oft-quoted and highly influential case in Queensland which shaped the law relating to when courts will exercise their discretion by settling aside default judgments against defendants.

The plaintiff had obtained judgment for recovery of possession of land, mesne profits and costs, and the defendant had made application to have the judgment set aside.

After rejecting the defendant’s argument that judgment had been irregularly entered, her Honour discussed the circumstances in which the court will set aside a regularly obtained judgment, reiterating that the defendant providing a satisfactory explanation for the failure to appear and the length of delay for making the application are both factors that the court will consider. However, citing the Australian Capital Territory case of Sue Oclee Pty Ltd v Bak (1979) 29 ACTR 8, her Honour went on to emphasise the requirement for the defendant to have a prima facie defence on the merits:

Observing that the defendant did not exhibit or tender any proposed defence to the action, Justice Atkinson concluded that it did "not appear to have a plausible defence such as would cause the court to exercise its discretion to set aside the default judgment". As a result, her Honour dismissed the defendant's application to set aside default judgment.

The case of Legal Practice Tribunal v Tampoe [2009] QLPT 14 was before the Queensland Legal Practice Tribunal, the main disciplinary body for legal practitioners in Queensland. Justice Atkinson is a member of that tribunal, and was the judge which heard the matter.

The respondent, a solicitor and principal of a law firm, acted for convicted drug smuggler Schapelle Corby. It was in acting for her that he was accused of breaching client confidentiality, after Tampoe disclosed Corby’s criminal history in a television interview published on 26 June 2005 on the Channel 9 program Sunday. He was also charged with bringing the legal profession into disrepute, after he also referred to Corby and her family in disparaging terms in a documentary to be shown on Australian television, and claimed that he had invented a defence for Corby alleging that baggage-handlers had planted the drugs, when this is not part of a defence lawyer’s role. Tampoe accepted all of the allegations as particularised.

Justice Atkinson wrote that “the person who has behaved in the way particularised is not suitable to be a legal practitioner“, before making an order recommending that Tampoe’s name be removed from the roll of legal practitioners.

As a result, Tampoe was removed from the roll, meaning that he is no longer eligible to practice as a solicitor or a barrister.

The case of Legal Services Commissioner v Dempsey [2009] QLPT 20 was a Discipline Application brought before the Tribunal against Townsville solicitor Paul Dempsey, who was charged with six counts of misconduct arising from his dealings with two different clients.

Dempsey acted for the first client in a matrimonial matter, and was accused of having failed to maintain proper standards of competence and diligence, misleading the client, drawing his client’s funds from the trust account into his general account when he was not entitled to do so and misleading the Queensland Law Society. Dempsey acted for the second client in a personal injuries matter and was accused of over-charging, as well as preferring his own interests to that of his client.

Dempsey denied all changes, however, the Tribunal accepted the evidence of the clients over Dempsey’s, and in so doing found Dempsey guilty of four counts of professional misconduct and two counts of unsatisfactory professional conduct. The judgment was scathing of Dempsey. Discussing Dempsey’s claim that he had a meeting with the matrimonial client which was at odds with a letter he sent her and a diary note, Justice Atkinson remarked that:

Two months later, the Tribunal reconvened and made the finding that Dempsey had been dishonest and misleading when giving evidence to the Tribunal. The Tribunal then effectively terminated Dempsey’s legal career when Justice Atkinson concluded that:

As a result, Dempsey was removed from the roll, resulting in the end of his legal career.

The following year, Dempsey appealed the Tribunal's decision, but the Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal. In 2011, Dempsey applied for special leave to appeal in the High Court of Australia. On 9 June 2011, Justices Gummow and Kiefel refused special leave, noting that "The application to this Court does not seek to advance any ground that would justify a grant of special leave to appeal and the applicant enjoys no prospect of success in this Court."


At the 2015 Australia Day Honours, Justice Atkinson was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia for distinguished service to the judiciary and to law reform in Queensland, through contributions to the legal profession and to promoting awareness of issues of injustice and inequality in Australia and internationally.


Roslyn Atkinson Wikipedia

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