The Victorian Bar has a proud tradition of championing pro bono assistance, fostering a culture of helping vulnerable members of the community access justice and assisting courts and tribunals in the administration of justice. The Victorian Bar Pro Bono Awards recognise barristers who make an outstanding contribution representing parties on a pro bono basis.
The Victorian Bar Pro Bono Awards Ceremony was held on 21 March 2023. Nominations closed on 30 November 2022.
The short video below features the Honourable Chris Maxwell AC, President of the Victorian Court of Appeal, explaining how pro bono assistance provided by barristers makes a difference to vulnerable people in our community.
The Pro Bono Committee is grateful to Michael Rivette, barrister and past Deputy Chair of the Pro Bono Committee and past Chair of the Communications Committee, for all his hard work in creating this excellent video.
The awards and winners for the 2023 Victorian Bar Pro Bono Awards are:
- The Victorian Bar Pro Bono Trophy, for outstanding individual achievement in pro bono advocacy over a long period was awarded to Julian McMahon AC SC for his decades of pro bono service, including acting for Australians facing the death penalty overseas and most recently for appearing for the Fitzroy Legal Service at the coronial inquest into death in custody of Veronica Nelson, a Gunditjmara, Dja Dja Wurrung, Wiradjuri and Yorta Yorta woman, and ensuring rigorous and thorough representation of the Parumpurru Committee of the Yuendumu Community at the coronial inquest into the fatal shooting of Kumanjayi Walker by a police officer.
- The Daniel Pollak Readers Award for outstanding achievement in pro bono advocacy undertaken by barristers who have completed their Readers’ Course within the previous two years was awarded to Katharine Brown for appearing in a significant number of pro bono matters as a reader, including Waratah v Youth Verdict  QLC 4, the first Australian decision to accept that climate change has human rights impacts.
- The Ron Castan AM QC Award for outstanding achievement in pro bono advocacy undertaken by barristers who are between two- and six-years call was awarded to Tim Jeffrie for appearing in the ACT Supreme Court and Court of Appeal on behalf of a Wiradjuri woman in a matter in which she alleged a breach of human rights by the ACT government in failing to provide Aboriginal health assessments in ACT prison.
- The Susan Crennan AC KC Award for outstanding achievement in pro bono advocacy undertaken by barristers who are between seven and 15 years call but are not Silks was awarded to Alison Umbers for appearing at final hearings in the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia in two related bankruptcy matters with a complex history and assisting to truncate the proceedings.
- The Ron Merkel KC Award for outstanding achievement in pro bono advocacy undertaken by barristers who are more than 15 years' call or who have taken silk was awarded to Juliet Forsyth SC for appearing at a lengthy and complex rehearing in the Queensland Land Court, on behalf of a landholder group who objected to the expansion of a coal mine in the Darling Downs, demonstrating attention to the detail of highly technical Queensland mining laws.
- The Public Interest/Justice Innovation Award for outstanding achievement in pro bono advocacy, which has a strong public interest element or has involved a procedural or substantive innovation in the law likely to enhance access to justice was awarded to Claire Harris KC, Christopher Tran, Colette Mintz and Nicholas Baum. This team (which worked with Natasha Hammond and Robert White of the New South Wales Bar) was nominated for their work at first instance and on appeal acting on behalf of Traditional Owners on the Tiwi Islands in a matter successfully challenging government approval of an environment plan submitted by a large oil and gas producer for a drilling campaign as part of the Barossa offshore gas field project.
- The Debbie Mortimer SC Award for outstanding achievement in pro bono advocacy in a Tribunal or the Magistrates’ Court, was awarded to Gemma Cafarella for her significant work representing disadvantaged clients in a variety of tenancy, human rights and disability discrimination matters at VCAT and NTCAT, and for representing environmental activists at sentencing hearings in the Magistrates’ Court.
- The Uncle Jim Berg Award for outstanding achievement in pro bono advice or advocacy that enhances access to justice for First Nations clients either nationally or in Victoria, was awarded to Tim Farhall for acting in numerous pro bono matters, many for First Nations clients, including discrimination matters and matters arising out of deaths in custody, and for his advice to community legal centres and non-government organisations on issues affecting First Nations people.
- The Equality Award for outstanding achievement in pro bono advocacy that furthers the rights or interests of a disadvantaged and/or minority group was awarded to Min Guo for his dedication to protecting and advancing the rights of people seeking asylum, people in detention, and people facing visa cancellation, including through numerous appearances at merits review hearings in the AAT.
- The Pro Bono Team Excellence Award for outstanding achievement in pro bono advocacy by a team of at least three barristers was awarded to Peter Willis SC, Matthew Albert, Angel Aleksov and Evelyn Tadros. This team (which was led by Justin Gleeson SC of the New South Wales Bar in the High Court) was nominated for their dedicated work in complex litigation on behalf of Mr Shayne Montgomery, a First Nations man of the Mununjali Peoples who was being held in immigration detention pending deportation, resulting in his release when (following oral argument in the High Court, but before judgment) the Commonwealth Government withdrew its challenge.
The Victorian Bar congratulates all the winners and nominees for improving access to justice for our community.