Egyptian-Greek Dina Yehia has been appointed as a judge of the New South Wales Supreme Court, effective since July 4.
Yehia said in remarks to the ABC news website that the road to her appointment has been long and difficult.
“It wasn’t easy but I think I’m very privileged to have been given these opportunities,” she noted.
The Supreme Court says half of the 20 judges to join their ranks over the past eight years have been women.
It adds that judges of the Supreme Court are drawn from a wide variety of backgrounds, including barristers, solicitors, and existing judges from other courts; publicly and privately educated; diverse practice areas.
“As a woman and an immigrant, I encourage diversity in the profession. Diversity on the bench is an essential component of a fair and impartial judiciary. If our institutions are to remain strong and independent, they must reflect the community they represent,” Yehia said.
“When you come from a different ethnic and cultural background there’s a lot of fitting in to do… but I was very fortunate that I always had some supportive mentors from the very beginning,” Yehia added.
Yehia, who is of Greek-Egyptian descent, got her start as a defense attorney for the Western Aboriginal Legal Service in 1989, where she represented thousands of Indigenous clients.
“It was apparent to me even back then as it is now, that it’s really in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and experience that the criminal justice system has had a detrimental impact,” she said.
In 1999 she became a public defender and was appointed the first female Deputy Senior Public Defender in 2013. As judge to the District Court, a role she assumed in May 2014, she pushed for the Walama List.
“Most Indigenous people’s contact with the legal system has been historically adverse. If you go back to the stolen generations, the law was used to justify taking children away from their families and communities,” she said.
Indigenous Australians make up 30 per cent of Australia’s prisoners, despite being just 3 per cent of the population.