I wish you all a happy new legal year and hope that you have had a restful break.
Like many of you, I attended a service on Monday to mark the opening of the new legal year. I chose to attend the Synagogue of the East Melbourne Hebrew Congregation to support the Jewish members of our legal community. The service was a moving occasion. We prayed, including a legal prayer composed for the occasion by Maurice Ashkanasy QC who was chair of this Bar from 1953 to 1956, and we sang, led by the mesmerising voice of Cantor Didi Levin, a Senior Associate at Allens. One particularly delightful aspect of the service was the Honourable Justice Richard Niall’s tribute to the Honourable Justice Michael Sifiris to mark his retirement as a Justice of Appeal.
The Bar was represented at other services by Liz Bennett S.C., who attended the Red Mass and Mark Robins KC, who attended the Ecumenical service at St Paul’s Cathedral. Justin Hannebery KC represented the Bar at yesterday's Opening of the Legal Year event at Deakin University in Geelong.
On Wednesday next week, I and other members of the Bar Council will attend the annual Legal Laneway Breakfast. It is always a good opportunity to celebrate the year ahead with our colleagues in the wider legal community, and the Victorian Bar is proud to be a sponsor. Registrations are still open. If you wish to attend, click here.
On Tuesday night, I had the pleasure of attending the annual Australia Day reception at Government House. I was curious to see who else might be there. Amongst the many members of the wider community, there were some members of the legal profession, including our Bar, the odd judge, members of the diplomatic corps and a few sporting celebrities. In the great reception hall, I spied the recent portrait of former Governor, the Honourable Linda Dessau AC by Yvette Coppersmith. I mention this because the Bar has commissioned a portrait of Dessau by the same artist that will be hung in the Peter O’Callaghan QC Gallery next week, along with our commissioned portrait of the Honourable Geoffrey Nettle AC KC (by Jude Rae) and a photographic portrait of Barbara Hocking, who was the first barrister briefed in the Mabo case.
Speaking of Australia Day, I would like to congratulate retired members of our Bar, Dr Ian Hardingham AM KC who was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia for significant service to the law and legal reform in Victoria, and Patrick Dalton OAM KC who was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for service to the law, and to the community.
I also extend my congratulations to his Honour Judge Michael Wise on his appointment as a judge of the County Court of Victoria and wish his Honour a long and satisfying career on the bench. Information regarding his welcome ceremony will be provided soon.
Last night, the Bar Council met for the first time this year. We had a busy agenda, but perhaps the most significant item of business was to appoint a working group to advise us on a new Strategic Plan for the next four years. The working group comprises senior and junior members who represent a wide cross-section of the Bar and will be chaired by Philip Crutchfield KC. The current Strategic Plan expires in June this year.
We also received the Adept Research Report on the results of last year’s State of the Bar Survey. With 650 respondents, representing about 30 percent of the Bar, the results are statistically robust. We are currently preparing some further tables that will assist with comparative data analysis from Bar Roll, but in the meantime, members can read the Report here. There is much to digest, but for me, the significant value of the survey and the report is that it has enabled us to track trends by comparing the data with that collected when we last conducted a State of the Bar survey five years ago. Two trends are worth noting. The first is that the gender pay gap has lessened with female income in the highest income bracket growing by a factor of 25%, compared to the increase in male income in this bracket at 14%. The second is a remarkable reduction in reported or observed incidents of discrimination and sexual harassment. Clearly, the work that the Bar has done to address these issues is working. Bullying has also decreased but remains a problem and will require increased focus.
There is much other planning and work being undertaken by our Bar Council, the Bar Office and by our committees for the year ahead. I look forward to working with Bar Council to ensure we serve our members through a successful 2024 and will keep you all informed. If, in the meantime, any of you would like to raise anything that you think we should be doing, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me or any other member of the Bar Council.
Silks bows / ABA quarterly meeting
On Sunday, I will be heading to Canberra for the Silks bows at the High Court and the ABA Quarterly meeting on Monday, 5 February.
The silks ceremony will be held at 3:30pm and will be live-streamed. For members interested in viewing the ceremony, the link will become active just prior to the ceremony.
Georgina Schoff KC