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Diane Fingleton

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Diane McGrath Fingleton
Magistrate in the Queensland Magistrates Court
In office
November 1995 – 2002
In office
2005 – May 2010
Chief Magistrate of Queensland
In office
August 1999 – 2002
Preceded byStan Deer
Succeeded byMarshall Irwin
Personal details
Born (1947-01-11) 11 January 1947 (age 77)
EducationSt. Stephen's Cathedral School
All Hallows' School
OccupationJudge, lawyer

Diane McGrath Fingleton (born 11 January 1947) is a former magistrate in the Queensland Magistrates Court, most notable for being appointed Chief Magistrate and later being convicted of the offence of intimidation of a witness, before the conviction was quashed on appeal to the High Court of Australia.[1][2]

Early life[edit]

Fingleton was educated at St. Stephen's Cathedral School and All Hallows' School, in Brisbane.[3] She was a stenographer on Bill Hayden's staff in the Whitlam government years.[4] She studied at university in the late 1970s and early '80s, and graduated with a law degree. She waitressed at night and studied by day.[4]


In 1995, the Goss government appointed her to the magistracy and the Beattie government made her a senior magistrate three years later, just as it would appoint a dozen women (and 11 men) to various judicial appointments that upset Queensland's legal establishment.[4]

In 1999, Fingleton was appointed to the position of Chief Magistrate. This appointment was seen as controversial amid suggestions that it was political. Appointed by Matt Foley, she was Queensland's first ever female Chief Magistrate.[5]

The following year, Fingleton attracted criticism from Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Paul de Jersey and others for holding reconciliation ceremonies in six Magistrates Courts in Queensland and issuing a formal apology to indigenous peoples.[6]


In 2002, Fingleton emailed a fellow Magistrate, Basil Gribbin, threatening to have him dismissed from the senior position of Co-ordinating Magistrate, whilst retaining his position as Magistrate, because he had supported a colleague in a workplace dispute against her.[5] Before sending the email, Fingleton obtained legal advice from her solicitor, David Searle. Fingleton viewed Gribbin's action as evidence he had no faith in her role as Chief Magistrate, perceiving his behaviour to be openly provocative and disloyal. Gribbin took legal action against her,[7] and this resulted in her being charged and imprisoned for retaliation against a witness, a criminal offence under the Queensland Criminal Code.[5][8] The crown brought in a prosecutor from NSW, Margaret Cunneen.[2] Fingleton appealed, and the Queensland Court of Appeal appeal upheld her conviction but halved her jail sentence.[5][9]

Released later that year, Fingleton worked as a lecturer at Griffith University.[1]

Appeal to the High Court[edit]

Fingleton v R
CourtHigh Court of Australia
Decided23 June 2005
CitationsFingleton v R [2005] HCA 34, (2005) 227 CLR 166
Case history
Prior action[2002] QCA 266
Appealed fromQueensland Court of Appeal
Court membership
Judges sittingGleeson CJ, McHugh, Gummow, Kirby, Hayne & Heydon JJ

Fingleton sought special leave to take her case to the High Court of Australia.[5] On 8 October, the day before the 2004 federal election, Justices McHugh and Gummow granted her special leave to appeal.[5] The decision to grant leave was made 73 minutes into the hearing.[5] Justice McHugh said that:

It would be hard to imagine a stronger case of a miscarriage of justice in the particular circumstances of the case. There is not only a question of conviction and a gaol sentence, but the applicant has lost one of the most important offices in the State of Queensland.[10]

The following year, in 2005, the High Court unanimously allowed the appeal and quashed Fingleton's conviction.[2] Their reasoning was that Fingleton in fact had immunity from criminal prosecution under the Queensland Magistrates Court Act for anything done in the course of her judicial or her administrative functions.[8] Justice Kirby described what happened to Fingleton as "indelible".[2]: para 186 

Professor Rosemary Hunter, a supporter of Diane Fingleton and former Dean of the Griffith law school, has argued that Fingleton's case has raised a range of issues around party politics, gender politics and office politics.[8]


Later that year, Fingleton was again appointed and sworn in as a magistrate of the Caloundra Magistrates Court. She retired in May 2010.[1] She continued to serve at board appointments and speaker engagements. In 2017, Ms Fingleton was special guest speaker at the 50th anniversary event for human rights and legal advocacy organisation, Queensland Council for Civil Liberties (QCCL) in Brisbane.


Swimming Upstream, her brother Tony's autobiographical film about his background and family, includes brief glimpses of his younger sister, Diane. The film was released in 2003 and was very well received.[11]

Further reading[edit]

  • Diane Fingleton (2010). Nothing to Do with Justice: The Di Fingleton Story. New Holland Publishers. ISBN 9781742570709.


  1. ^ a b c "Diane Fingleton". Australian Women Lawyers. Retrieved 7 December 2017.
  2. ^ a b c d Fingleton v R [2005] HCA 34, (2005) 227 CLR 166 (23 June 2005), High Court (Australia).
  3. ^ Mahlouzarides, Molly; Miller, Danielle (22 December 2011). "Diane Fingleton". University of Queensland. Retrieved 14 January 2013.
  4. ^ a b c Ramsey, Alan (2 July 2003). "Law savagely turned against lawmaker". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 4 February 2011.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Ramsey, Alan (2 February 2005). "Swimming upstream and against spite". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 4 February 2011.
  6. ^ Aiken, Kirsten (9 August 2000). "Queensland Magistrates to apologise to Indigenous people". ABC Local Radio. Retrieved 4 February 2011.
  7. ^ Gribbin v Fingleton [2002] QSC 390 (27 November 2002), Supreme Court (Qld)
  8. ^ a b c Carrick, Damien (28 June 2005). "Di Fingleton; The Siege of Glenrowan". The Law Report. Retrieved 4 February 2011.
  9. ^ R v Fingleton [2003] QCA 266 (26 June 2003), Queensland Court of Appeal
  10. ^ Fingleton v The Queen [2004] HCATrans 380 (8 October 2004), High Court (Australia).
  11. ^ "Diane Fingleton". Internet Movie DataBase. Retrieved 4 February 2011.