The Land Court of Queensland hears and determines matters relating to land and natural resources. A specialised judicial tribunal and court of record, established under the Land Court Act 2000, it comprises a president and three members. Unlike judges, who have life tenure, members of the Land Court are appointed for 15 year terms.

The Judicial Registrar is another judicial officer of the Court who performs many functions along with the assistance of a Deputy Registrar, and here we follow two such people – Graham and Chris.

Many matters listed before the Land Court are Land Valuation appeals that have a statutory land valuation of $5 million, or less. Preliminary Conferences and Mediations see parties meet in person to try and resolve the dispute. It is a busy workload, with around six to 10 matters listed on any given day, with 30 to 60 matters heard during busier months.

Around 90 per cent of matters are resolved without the need for a contested hearing, which saves the court system and parties an enormous amount of time and money. This result is achieved through the excellent alternative dispute resolution work carried out by the Deputy Registrar (Chris) and the Judicial Registrar (Graham) of the Land Court.

Graham and Chris reviewing mattersDeputy Registrar, Chris, and the Judicial Registrar, Graham, of the Land Court.

The Deputy Registrar works closely with the Judicial Registrar, assisting with all listings and liaising with all parties involved. Land Court matters throughout Queensland progress efficiently throughout the alternative dispute resolution process.

The work is very hands-on and requires a practical and logical approach. It is fast-paced and requires composure and the ability to prioritise workload and travel, as well as constant communication with self-represented litigants and members of the legal profession.

Deputy Registrar Chris’ journey to the Land Court started in 2007 when he found himself working in the Law Courts file room.

ChrisDeputy Registrar Chris

From 2007 to 2014, Chris performed a variety of roles across the Supreme and District Court Civil Registry including exhibits officer, probate officer, a number of listings manager roles, client relations officer, records manager, caseflow manager, deputy registrar and many more, all developing his skills and experience within Queensland Courts. In 2014, Chris was permanently appointed a Deputy Registrar at the Land Court.

Reaching right back to the beginning, Graham’s justice journey started in August 1980 as a school holiday lodgement/filing clerk with his brother Greg’s newly-opened law practice in Mt Isa. This holiday job continued while Graham completed a law degree at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) between 1984 and 1988. In 1989, after completing a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice at QUT Graham was admitted as a solicitor and commenced work in private practice at Ipswich. While working in Ipswich, he became interested in valuation-based litigation and completed a Bachelor of Business (Property Valuation) at Gatton College in 1996 while working full time.

In order to gain some practical valuation experience, Graham accepted a position as an assistant valuer with the Queensland Department of Natural Resources in 1999 and later worked as Land Court advocate with that department during 2003 and 2004. Graham later recommenced as Land Court advocate with the Department of Environment and Resource Management (DERM) in 2007 and was Team Leader of the Land Court Advocacy team from 2008 until 2012.

GrahamJudicial Registrar Graham

Throughout late 2012 and early 2013, Graham worked as a property valuer in NSW and later as a sessional academic in Queensland. In April 2014, Graham undertook a 10-week stint as the Acting Research Officer at the Land Court and later that year undertook a further period as Acting Research Officer and Acting Judicial Registrar. In April 2015, he was appointed as Judicial Registrar of the Land Court on a permanent basis.

Not content to rest on his laurels, Graham completed a Master of Laws degree at QUT in 2010 and, in addition to being a solicitor and valuer, is a nationally-accredited mediator.

Graham and Chris oversee a large number of Preliminary Conferences each year, which often involve similar issues, albeit with different litigants. While there could be a tendency to apply a one size fits all solution, Graham and Chris are always mindful that while the issues may be similar, the litigant’s perspective will, most likely, be different. Graham said, “I constantly try to keep an open mind and look for new approaches to help resolve old issues against this background of a vast array of personalities and individuals.”

“Communication is such a big part of the job,” said Chris. “I can find myself on the phone with a grazier from Wandoan and then emailing a partner in a large Brisbane law firm. The spectrum of people we deal with can be overwhelming - but I do enjoy it, as I get great insight into so many professions and life situations.”

It’s clear that both Chris and Graham have a great respect for their job, and each other. When asked what he likes about his job, Graham said, “I undertake a variety of work throughout the State and help people from all walks of life. When we sit down and help find a solution to a dispute before the Court, it is great to see the weight of the dispute lift from the shoulders of the litigants. I know that Chris and I often feel pleased that we have helped parties achieve this.”

When posed the same question, Chris said,“I most enjoy being able to have a hands-on approach with my work and perform my duties autonomously. I enjoy sitting in on Preliminary Conferences and Mediations and being able to see the range of people that come through the Land Court. I travel the State from Cairns to Coolangatta and out to Taroom and beyond. Being able to work closely with Judicial Registrar Smith and learn from his knowledge and experiences is also very beneficial.”