Shayna Smith has had a fascinating justice journey which has taken her to the other side of the world where she helped fight for justice for victims of one of Northern Ireland’s worst atrocities.
After completing a Bachelor of Arts/Law at the University of Queensland, Shayna was admitted as a solicitor to the Supreme Court and High Court in 1999. Initially she started working for a private Brisbane-based law firm, practising predominantly in property and commercial litigation matters. However, holding the desire to travel and get some legal experience overseas, Shayna went to Europe, and ended up in Northern Ireland. Here she joined leading Belfast legal practice Madden & Finucane, which was internationally recognised for its human rights work.
“I was fascinated by the story of one of the founding partners, Pat Finucane,” says Shayna. “Pat Finucane came to prominence during the 1980s for successfully challenging the British government in several high profile human rights cases, including that of IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands. Sadly Pat Finucane was murdered in 1989 by loyalist paramilitaries.”
“Growing up in Australia, largely tolerant to people’s freedom to practice their preferred religion, I was interested to learn more about Belfast’s ‘Troubles’. I was able to lead the firm’s legal area representing victims’ claims to the statutory criminal injury compensation fund as a result of sectarian violence. This was an eye-opening role for me as I heard first-hand clients’ stories of how they became victims of mostly random and often brutal violence because of their religious beliefs.”
“During my time working at Madden & Finucane I was also given the opportunity to assist with the firm’s representation of victims and the families of victims of Bloody Sunday” said Shayna. Bloody Sunday—also known as the Bogside Massacre—was a notorious incident that occurred in January 1972 when British paratroopers opened fire on a civil rights demonstration in Londonderry—known to Irish Republicans as simply Derry—killing 13 and wounding 16 others. “Two Bloody Sunday inquiries took place. Due to allegations of cover ups in the first inquiry, a second was established in 1998 to try and report a true account of events. The inquiry consisted of judges including Australia’s Justice Toohey, a former High Court judge,” she added.
Returning to Australia, Shayna joined the Office of Fair Trading’s policy area, initially on a six-week contract as a Legal Officer. “At Fair Trading I discovered a real passion for working on legal policy, legislation, Cabinet and parliamentary matters,” said Shayna. “Although you might think ‘fair trading’ only embodies economic considerations, it actually has a strong consumer protection focus, which considers vulnerable consumers. I have also had the chance to work in other portfolio areas such as education and liquor, however the breadth of the fair trading portfolio—which administers in excess of 60 pieces of legislation—always drew me back. I have been a Director of the area since 2008.”
“During my time at Fair Trading I have been lucky enough to work on complex projects representing Queensland, such as implementing the ambitious COAG (Council of Australian Governments) reform agenda which included constitutional referrals of power for matters such as consumer credit. Fair Trading has had its fair share of being joined with a myriad of different departments, but has predominantly been part of the Department of Justice portfolio over the last decade and currently sits as part of the Liquor, Gaming and Fair Trading Division.”
Shayna is currently acting in the role of Deputy Public Guardian. Although the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) reports to the Department of Justice and Attorney-General, it is an independent statutory body which protects the rights, interests and wellbeing of vulnerable Queenslanders. “In November 2015, I jumped at the opportunity to join the OPG as Acting Deputy Public Guardian,” said Shayna. “It gave me a chance to gain experience of the agency’s human services work with vulnerable people. Having worked mainly in policy, legislation and legal areas, it is a new experience to work in an operational area and see first-hand the unique challenges of frontline service delivery. My regulatory background has prepared me well to understand the implementation demands placed on service delivery as a result of significant reforms such as the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and the new Mental Health Act.”
Visit OPG online: www.publicguardian.qld.gov.au