Judge Terry was a barrister and solicitor in Darwin from 1977 until April 2007 when she was appointed a Federal Magistrate. She sat in Darwin until July 2010 when she transferred to Newcastle. In April 2013 Her Honour was appointed as a Judge of the Federal Circuit Court in Newcastle.
Judge Janet Terry is part of the Court's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Access to Justice Committee which looks at ways in which the Court can improve access to justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Judge Janet Terry was in Armidale last week took time out of her busy schedule to reply to some questions asked by the Armidale Express.
Her list of hearings in one week made for a busy week in family law and child support matters.Those appearing in her court needed an independent judgement to decide their issues.
When approaching the court complex, a crowd of people attending the hearings were supported by local volunteer groups as well as Centrecare. Those inside her court appear often in personal conflict issues concerning family decisions.
Fortunately Judge Terry grew up in the country, and enjoys travelling to New England on circuit. She experiences the dry, the economic depression as she drives through the region. This "helps her understand issues parties raise about travel distances and the country being in drought," she said.
The Federal Circuit Court sits in Armidale and Tamworth twice a year, and in Gunnedah once a year.
"I also sat in Moree on one occasion to accommodate Aboriginal parties. It would have been very difficult for them to travel to Newcastle for a hearing," Judge Terry said.
"The Federal Court Circuit includes about 30 regional locations nationally because it recognised how difficult it is for people to travel hours to attend court. Many cases could be heard by telephone or video link, but it is far preferable for there to be as many opportunities as possible for people to attend court in person and see the judge in person. It enhances the prospects of settlement, and seeing the parties in person gives me a better feel for a matter than if they are simply voices on the phone, or faces at a distance on a screen.
"Many of the parties who attend court in this region are Aboriginal. Unfortunately, it is not practical for me to have a special list dedicated only for these parties because of the sheer volume of matters I have to deal with on circuit, but I like to think that all litigants are treated with respect.
"The best way for people to become aware of what the Court does, and how litigants are treated, is for them to attend the Court, and see for themselves how matters are dealt with. The Court is open to the public; they can sit in the back and listen to the proceedings if they wish to do so. Another way to understand the work of the Court is to read the judgments available from the Court's website," Judge Terry concluded.
Judge Terry has spoken to small groups in chambers when on circuit, such as a group of university students interested in understanding how the Court operated.
"I am always happy to speak to anyone who wants to know more about the Court,"Judge Terry said.
The Court's family consultants also travel from Newcastle to Tamworth four times a year to deliver a service to regional Australia.
The Federal Circuit Court recently released its revised Reconciliation Action Plan which outlines practical measures to promote reconciliation and improve access to justice.