First, may I thank Senior Vice President Róisín Annesley QC for taking on the authorship of In Brief for its landmark 1000th edition last week. Reading the original edition illustrates that some issues are perennial, such as fees and Chambers accommodation. Nonetheless, it is clear that the Bar is now a very different place from 1992, the discussion about mutual recognition being a case in point.
Earlier this week, the legal profession welcomed Her Honour Judge Sarah Leighfield to the County Court of Victoria. Ruth Shann delivered the welcome on behalf of the Bar and Ruth’s address may be read here.
Last week’s Common Law Bar dinner caused me to reflect on the current restrictions, which either prevent or limit a return to in-court hearings. The Heads of Jurisdiction are limited in their capacity to re-open the courts by restrictions placed on them by social distancing requirements. It seems incongruous that people can now dine in restaurants and pubs, attend social and sporting functions and return to work, but the courts are unable to operate other than at significantly reduced capacity. Waiting lists are growing and it’s hard to see how this problem will be dealt with, even in part, until the courts re-open in full. Discontent is only amplified by the fact that interstate courts seem to have continued to operate largely unaffected by the Covid crisis. Perhaps the importance of our court system to good government in this state has been, and is, under-appreciated?
Several weeks ago, I mentioned the importance of barristers accepting the opportunity, if offered, of physically appearing in court. As a profession, we can hardly expect the judiciary to make efforts to return to in-court hearings if we are not similarly prepared to make that effort. I have recently been made aware of a matter where an invitation was extended to the barristers to physically appear in court, but was rejected on no real basis other than convenience. To say the least, this is disappointing. Likewise, I have had reports that some counsel tend to treat online hearings more like an informal chat than a formal court proceeding. A side effect of wearing shorts and thongs under the robes, perhaps?
On a more positive note, the first civil jury in Victoria for 12 months commenced this week in the County Court of Victoria. Let’s hope it is the first of many.
Christopher Blanden QC