Bumper Bar Council meeting
Last night’s Bar Council meeting had a longer agenda than usual, with a number of significant matters that have been underway in some cases for many months coming to fruition:
Bar Council has resolved to retain the current ‘standards-based’ philosophy underlying the exam. Any candidate who achieves the pass mark of 75% will continue to be guaranteed a place in the Bar readers’ course. This reflects the position that has applied since the establishment of the exam requirement in 2011. Available places in the readers’ course will be offered to candidates in the order of their ranking in the exam.
There are limited places available in the March 2020 course for candidates who successfully pass the November 2019 exam, because of the number of candidates who have passed earlier exams but not yet been able to undertake the course. Most successful candidates from the November 2019 exam will be offered places in the September 2020 or March 2021 courses. Candidates planning to sit the November 2019 exam have been advised of these constraints.
Bar Council reached its resolution having given detailed consideration, over the course of a number of meetings, to the recent report of the Panel appointed to review the exam (which received some 80 submissions on this and other aspects of the exam), having consulted with members from recent Bar readers’ courses and all members of the present course, and having taken soundings from the Bar more widely.
The unfortunate reality is that the constraints on the Bar are such that we could not increase the number of places in the Bar readers’ course without substantially altering its curriculum (particularly by reducing the current emphasis on oral advocacy training and assessment with individualised feedback). This would materially reduce the quality of the experience of readers undertaking the course, or substantially increase the cost of the course, presenting a greater potential cost barrier to aspiring barristers. The principal constraint, however, is not cost—it is that the readers’ course depends on the goodwill and generosity of around 300 volunteer teachers and assessors, drawn mostly from the Bench and Bar. We do not have, by way of example only, sufficient teachers or assessors to be able to offer moots to more than the current number of readers, or to increase the number of written advocacy exercises we can administer and give feedback upon. Nor is there any realistic option of, for example, moving from two to three courses per year. Not only would that exacerbate the problems we currently face with finding sufficient teachers and assessors, but it could not be fit into the already busy calendar of other activities at the Victorian Bar.
Bar Council was therefore faced with the difficult task of deciding whether to maintain the current guarantee that anyone who passes the exam will be offered a place in the readers’ course, but at the cost of the establishment of a waiting list; or replacing the current system with a ranking system that would not require a waiting list, but only offer places to the top students in each exam, with the consequence that some candidates who had achieved the pass mark of 75% might not be offered a place at all and have to re-sit the exam.
There is no perfect solution to this problem. Please be assured that Bar Council has given it very careful consideration, drawing upon the report of the exam review Panel and widespread consultation. We will, of course, continue to monitor the exam and course closely.
The parental leave policy has been in place now for some 20 years. It was an Australian first and remains the only Bar-wide parental leave scheme in Australia.
My thanks to Richard Wilson, all members of the Pro Bono Committee and to the Supreme Court for their fine work on this exciting protocol.
We will be seeking the approval of members of the Association at its AGM next month to improve the structure of the Association by incorporating a trustee company limited by guarantee, establishing a trust deed that complies with ATO and Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission requirements, and replacing the rules governing the Association to allow distribution of assets to the new charitable trust characterised as a necessitous circumstances fund for tax deductibility purposes. The existing management and decision-making processes will be retained. More about this when notices for the AGM are posted in a few weeks time.
If you have ever wondered about any of those matters—essentially, how we are structured, who is responsible for what, and why we do things in the way we do—the Framework is compulsory reading. Thanks to Bar CEO Katherine Lorenz for her work in leading this project.
Bar Council meetings are always busy affairs. Apart from the above matters, we also dealt last night with, among other matters, approval of past minutes; reports from the President and the CEO; a monthly finance report; reports in relation to BCL and the Law Council of Australia; a report in relation to the Bar’s delegations from the Victorian Legal Services Board and Commissioner; and various membership matters (disciplinary, practising certificate renewal, applications and transfers, and accreditations), and noted the work of many of the Bar Council’s working groups and standing committees.
Victorian Bar Foundation Student Achievement Awards
Last Friday night I enjoyed attending one of the year’s highlights, the Victorian Bar Foundation and City of Hume Student Achievement awards. It was wonderful to see the excitement and sense of accomplishment of the winners of the awards, and the pride of their families and teachers who attended to join in celebrating their achievements.
The awards are the result of a partnership between the Victorian Bar Foundation and the City of Hume (Broadmeadows, Tullamarine, Craigieburn, Sunbury), which is one of Australia’s most culturally diverse communities, where 140 languages are spoken, and two out of every five residents speaks a language other than English.
The awards recognise 15 high academic achievers by providing prizes of $1,500—$1,000 from the Victorian Bar Foundation and $500 from City of Hume, as well as mentoring opportunities with members of the Bar. The awards go to a student selected from each of the 15 high schools in the City of Hume, based upon their results in Legal Studies.
My congratulations to Victorian Bar Foundation Chairman, Justice Digby, Foundation Patron Justice Gordon, the members of the board of the Foundation, and the Mayor, Councillors and staff of the City of Hume, for an initiative which encourages some of the State’s most promising students to see and experience the intellectual curiosity and diversity within our profession, in the hope that they might be inspired to pursue a career in the law and, more particularly, at the Victorian Bar.
New Chief Magistrate
Congratulations to her Honour Judge Lisa Hannan on her appointment as Chief Magistrate of the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria, commencing on 17 November 2019. Judge Hannan will replace Chief Magistrate Lauritsen on his retirement from the role.
Details of the welcome ceremony will be announced when they are known.
A busy week
This week, as well as Bar Council and my regular catch-ups and meetings (CEO, Diversity & Inclusion Working Group, Executive), I attended a planning meeting with representatives of the Victorian Legal Services Board for a forthcoming regional regulators’ conference, and did interviews with ABC News 24, The Age and the Four Corners program (the latter being for a forthcoming episode looking at the Royal Commission into the Management of Informants). Thanks, too, to Justin Hannebery QC for doing some media interviews on behalf of the Bar with The Age when I was unavailable.