The Victorian Bar / Commercial Bar Association International Commercial Law Conference, held last weekend in Hong Kong, was a great success. About 115 delegates attended eight panel sessions that covered topics as diverse as the rise of international commercial courts, arbitration arising out of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative, re-regulation of the banking and financial services industries, modern trends in case-management of commercial disputes, and the use and misuse of sensitive data. Every panel included at least one speaker from the Hong Kong Bar or broader profession. It was fascinating to hear perspectives on China’s “one country, two systems” constitutional principle, and the operation of Hong Kong’s Basic Law, which enshrines the continuation of the common law and an adversarial justice system in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region until at least 2047.
Other highlights of the conference included addresses by the Hon Chief Justice Ma GBM of the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal and Michaela Browning, Australian Consul-General to Hong Kong and Macau, and the gala dinner held at the China Club.
I had the opportunity, while in Hong Kong, to speak at length with the Chairman of the Hong Kong Bar Association, Philip Dykes SC, who brought me up to date on the fearless work done by many members of the Hong Kong Bar in protecting the rule of law and standing up for Hong Kong’s rights under the Basic Law. In that regard, while we were in Hong Kong, the first express train departed from the new West Kowloon station to mainland China. Controversially, mainland Chinese law applies at the new station, causing some to dub the new service the “Trojan Train”. The current Bar Council of the Hong Kong Bar Association had been vociferous, but ultimately unsuccessful, in its opposition to the application of mainland law on Hong Kong territory.
Plaudits to all those involved in putting on a superb conference, particularly Wendy Harris QC (Senior Vice-President of the Bar and President of CommBar), Paul Hayes QC (Chair) and all other members of the Organising Committee, and the hard-working members of the Bar Office, particularly Sarah Fregon, Amanda Utt and Sarah Harrison Gordon. Thanks too to the generous sponsors of the conference: platinum sponsor, Epiq; gold sponsors, Deakin Law School and KordaMentha; bronze sponsor, Dever’s List; in-kind sponsors Samsonite and Irvine; and pen sponsor, Jade.
The Bar and the County Court, working together, have designed a new pilot scheme for pro bono referrals which will commence on Monday 1 October in the County Court’s Commercial and Common Law Divisions.
The Protocol for the scheme recognises that where a party is unrepresented and lacks financial or other capacity to gain legal assistance, it may promote the interests of the due administration of justice for that party to be assisted by a pro bono lawyer where one is available, or for the Court to be assisted by an amicus curiae.
The protocol provides clear written guidance as to eligibility and the operation of the scheme. Notably, referrals under the scheme are to occur by Court Order, which will provide clarity as to the scope of the request, thereby reducing the risk that accepting a limited request may lead to pressure to undertake a more onerous pro bono brief.
I encourage members who practise or aspire to practise in the Commercial and Common Law Divisions to register. Registration enables members to opt to participate in all, or specific, elements of the Bar’s pro bono offering, including the Bar’s Pro Bono Scheme, which is administered by JusticeConnect, the new County Court trial and other court referral schemes.
I commend those members who contributed significantly to the development of the Protocol, including Richard Wilson, Fiona Ellis, Erin Hill, Sarah Keating, Meredith Schilling, Michael Rivette and Claire Harris QC. I also thank the Bar’s CEO, Sarah Fregon.
The discussions that have led to the creation of the Protocol ensure that both the Court and the Bar will be jointly responsible for its success. The Protocol will improve the quality of experience for members in providing pro bono services which will, in turn, improve the outcome for clients and the courts.
Congratulations to Tim Goodwin, who this week won the prestigious 2018 National Indigenous Legal Professional of the Year award.
In awarding the prize, the Commonwealth Attorney-General, the Hon Christian Porter MP said:
I am very impressed with your passion and commitment to improving justice outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians through your work as Junior Counsel to the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory and your pro-bono work. Your involvement in committees including the Victorian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, National Apology Foundation and the Human Rights Law Centre Boards, and the Indigenous Justice Committee further demonstrate your contribution to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.
This award provides an opportunity to publicly acknowledge your achievements and support you in further professional development that you wish to undertake in law.
Tim was admitted to legal practice in 2010 and signed the Bar roll in 2014. Prior to joining the Bar, Tim was a participant in the Victorian Bar’s Indigenous mentoring program. Tim’s generosity in giving his time for pro bono commitments has been a consistent theme of his time at the Bar.
As I foreshadowed last week, I plan to devote some space in the next few In Brief messages to letting members know a bit more about what it is like to serve on Bar Council, in the period leading up to the 2018 election. Regular readers of my message will have a fair idea of what I get up to from one week to the next, but may be less familiar with the extraordinary contribution that is made by other members of Bar Council.
This week, I pay tribute to Wendy Harris QC, the Bar’s Senior Vice-President, who has served on Bar Council since November 2015. Wendy has, since 2016, chaired the Bar Council’s governance review working group which first conducted, and then implemented, sweeping governance reforms that have dramatically improved the quality and timeliness of information that comes to Bar Council, facilitating better decision making. Wendy is a strong advocate for the proposal to move the Bar to a biennial election model with councillors serving two-year terms. Among the many other things she does for the Bar Council, Wendy serves on the Counsel Committee and heads a working group looking at ways of driving more direct access work to members of the Bar. She was Junior Vice-President in 2017 and is Senior Vice-President this year, which involves extensive commitments as a member of the Bar Council’s executive team. She regularly fills in as Acting President when I am unavailable. In addition to all of those commitments, Wendy is President of the Commercial Bar Association, has an incredibly busy practice, and even finds time, although I don’t know how, to achieve a modicum of work-life balance.
Áine Magee QC represented the Bar at the welcome for their Honours Magistrates McNamara and Kelly on Tuesday. Aine Magee QC’s speech welcoming Magistrate Kelly can be read here.