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Today marks the end of an era for the Local Court of NSW, as Chief Magistrate Judge Graeme Henson retires after more than three decades on the bench.

The veteran judge served a total 33 years at Local and District Court benches in NSW, including 15 years as head of the Local Court jurisdiction – making him the longest-serving Chief Magistrate in the NSW Local Court.

Attorney-General Mark Speakman today paid tribute to Judge Henson for his contribution to the NSW justice system.

“Under Judge Henson’s stewardship, the Local Court has consistently led the nation in the efficient delivery of justice,” Speakman said.

“This is a great achievement when you consider the Local Court finalises 96 per cent of NSW’s criminal prosecutions and more than 90 per cent of its civil litigation.”

Deputy Chief Magistrate Michael Allen will step in as Acting Chief Magistrate while the government considers a permanent replacement for Judge Henson. Magistrate Allen was appointed Deputy Chief Magistrate of the court in 2018 and joined the bench in 2009. Previously he worked as a solicitor in the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and Legal Aid Commission, and a barrister based in regional NSW representing clients across a range of jurisdictions.

Solicitors will remember Judge Henson for his advocacy in persistently fighting for more resources for the state’s busiest court. He was also an advocate for mental health in the judiciary and often spoke openly about vicarious trauma and other pressures judges face. He campaigned for a range of entitlements including a minimum two-week holiday break over the Christmas and mid-year period for the Local Court Conference.

Judge Henson was also committed to achieving gender equality on the bench and during his tenure, the proportion of female magistrates hit record highs. As he retires, women make up 49.6 per cent of magistrates in the Local Court.

President of the Law Society of NSW Juliana Warner said: “Judge Henson’s tenure as Chief Magistrate has been defined by his Honour’s passion for justice, his commitment to achieving gender parity on the bench and ensuring transparency in the court process. He has also passionately pursued the efficient operation of one of the busiest Courts in the country, without undermining access to justice.

“I have really appreciated the close and productive relationship that Judge Henson has fostered with the Law Society and the legal profession, not just during the pandemic, but over many, many years. On behalf of the State’s solicitors, I would like to thank Judge Henson for his decades of service to the law.”

Speakman said Judge Henson had displayed strong leadership throughout the past 18 months of the COVID-19 pandemic and implemented several measures to enable courts to continue working under changing public health orders.

“Last year, the Chief Magistrate implemented effective measures to keep court users safe and the wheels of justice moving,” Speakman said.

“These included increasing the use of audio visual link, postponing certain non-urgent hearings and keeping foot traffic in courts to a minimum.”

Prior to becoming a judge, Henson served as deputy solicitor for public prosecutions in the NSW Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. He was appointed a magistrate in 1988, a deputy magistrate in 1994 and chief magistrate in 2006 before becoming a judge of the District Court in 2010.