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The legal profession is in mourning after NSW District Court Judge Peter Zahra SC passed away suddenly on Sunday 8 May.

In a statement, Judge Zahra’s family said the much-loved husband and father “was a special soul and touched the lives of everyone he met.”

“In honour of our Dad and his life, we encourage everyone to have a hot chocolate and share a dad joke in his honour. Those who knew him would know he loved a good (bad) joke!”

NSW Attorney General Mark Speakman said in a statement “during his 15 years on the District Court bench, Judge Zahra earned the deep respect of his colleagues, those at the Bar who appeared before him and the profession more broadly.”

“I express the State’s gratitude not only for Judge Zahra’s work as a Judge of the District Court, but his significant contribution and service to the law and legal profession over many decades.”

His Honour took silk in 2001 and was later sworn in as a District Court Judge in 2007.

Judge Zahra contributed decades of service to the legal profession, practising extensively in criminal law. He was appointed a Public Defender in 1989 and Senior Public Defender in 2001, during which time he appeared in major murder and drug trials throughout NSW.

NSW MP for Heffron Ron Hoenig paid tribute to the Judge in Parliament this week, remembering him as a “professional and personal titan.”

“A prolific workaholic, Peter’s dedication to the law was eclipsed only by his sense of community and love of family. He was deeply proud of his Maltese roots and wanted to see more people from diverse backgrounds enter the law and the judiciary,” Hoenig said.

“The people whose lives were most impacted by the law drove Peter’s dedication to his work. His commitment to justice was ingrained in his strong sense of humanity. A few years ago, following my election to this place, Peter came to see me for some support for an Indigenous baseball team. The titan of the legal profession was, to those kids, the bus driver who drove the team bus on the weekend.

“As a District Court judge, Peter continued to carry a huge workload motivated always by a deep sense of justice and care for both victims and offenders. In 40 years he never lost his values of integrity and what was right.”

Law Society of NSW President Joanne van der Plaat said in a statement “Judge Peter Zahra made enormous contributions to the law in NSW as both District Court judge and Senior Public Defender.”

“His integrity, compassion and dedication to the administration of justice were a great example to all legal practitioners,” she said.

“The Law Society of NSW extends its condolences to Mr Zahra’s family and loved ones.”

Aboriginal Legal Service CEO Karly Warner released a statement remembering Judge Zahra as a “thoughtful legal practitioner, committed to the public value and importance of his work.”

“Since receiving the sad news of Judge’s passing today, my colleagues have shared their memories of him as a warm and generous leader, and a proud working-class man who rose to the highest tiers of his profession through hard work and passion,” said Warner.

Judge Zahra was recently in the news for overseeing the trial of singer Guy Sebastian’s former manager, Titus Day, who has pleaded not guilty to embezzling $900,000 of Sebastian’s royalties and other funds. Day’s case was adjourned for a week and reallocated to another judge.