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New High Court Chief Justice first to make formal acknowledgement of Indigenous people

Giovanni Torre -

Australia's 14th High Court chief justice has become the first to make a formal national acknowledgement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, inviting an Indigenous barrister to open the speeches at his swearing-in ceremony.

On Monday Stephen Gageler was sworn in and acknowledged "the Ngunnawal people, and the Ngambri people who hold deep and abiding ties to this part of Australia".

"This being a ceremonial sitting ... of a court having nation-wide jurisdiction, I also acknowledge traditional owners and custodians of lands in all parts of the continent of Australia, of Tasmania, of the Torres Strait Islands, and of other coastal islands," Chief Justice Gageler said.

"I do so in the place – in the very courtroom – where traditional laws and customs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples were first recognised by the common law of Australia, in the decision of this court in Mabo v State of Queensland (No 2)."

Aboriginal Legal Services and other justice advocates welcomed the appointment.

Tony McAvoy SC, who spoke at the swearing-in, said the ceremony marked a level of respect for the role that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have to play in the legal system nationwide.

"It's not a practice of which I'm aware of in the past, [but] it is ... not without precedent in other jurisdictions – so it's nothing for people to be afraid of," he said, the ABC reported.

"In fact, it's something that I, in my view, can rejoice about, in that the representatives of our first peoples can participate in, and be seen participating in, the Australian legal system at its highest levels."

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   Giovanni Torre   

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