Supporting the Community, the Courts and the Profession
This week has been a momentous one for the Victorian Bar. Yesterday, we welcomed 48 bright, exceptional and enthusiastic individuals as new barristers. Individually, they opted to join the Bar to continue their careers serving their clients and the community in our college of independent legal advisors. Collectively, they bring to the Bar considerable and diverse professional and personal experience from government, sporting, public, corporate and academic sectors. Many have studied interstate or overseas and a number are fluent in other languages.
But what is unique about this group is what I have seen demonstrated from day one of the Course – 5 March 2020. Because from that day, as the government stepped up measures to contain coronavirus, our lives began to change in ways we never imagined. The following Friday, the Readers voted unanimously to continue the Course, and, when we were ultimately all forced into working remotely, they stepped up to the task with dedication, optimism, tenacity, adaptability and technological prowess as they completed more than 50 of the 140-odd sessions via videoconference. We welcome them to the Victorian Bar. The attributes they demonstrated throughout the Course will stand them in good stead as they embark on what I’m sure will be flourishing careers at the Bar.
The novelty and challenges of the environment that our new barristers are entering, and in which we are working, were highlighted by the Honourable Anne Ferguson, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Victoria, in the second of the Victorian Bar’s “In Conversation” webinar series with members of the judiciary, held last night.
Her Honour spoke with us about some of the obstacles that the Courts faced in devising new ways of working with social distancing in place, explained how the Courts and the profession have collaborated to find solutions to keep the wheels of justice turning, and shared some of her personal challenges during the last few months. The Chief Justice acknowledged the creativity, responsiveness and dedication of court staff and the legal profession, and expressed her gratitude for the collaborative attitude of our Bar. Her Honour made the point that, if there is one lesson learned, it is that we don’t need to rigidly keep doing things just because that’s the way things have always been. Of course, the value of in-person hearings and the role of the professional advocate are undiminished, but the present experience offers opportunities for the way we work in the future. For those of you who missed it, the recording of the webinar is here.
Her Honour also reminded us of the profession’s wider obligations to ensure justice is served in the community in these difficult times. In that sentiment, the Pro Bono Committee has asked me to pass on Justice Connect’s call for barristers with expertise, or interest, in employment and tenancy law, and can participate in Fair Work conciliations by direct brief, to register their interest by completing the Expression of Interest form on the pro bono page on the Victorian Bar member website.
As a result of the COVID-19 crisis, demand from individuals, families and community organisations has doubled since the start of March and Justice Connect has put an interim service response in place to deal with that. You can contact Justice Connect via this email for more information.
In the conversation with the Chief Justice, and in listening to some of the questions posed, I was struck by the sense of optimism and collaboration across the legal profession, not only in Victoria, but across Australia, and indeed the globe. To this point, I am very pleased to share the new guide from the Inns of Court College of Advocacy that Professor the Hon. Clyde Croft AM SC, a member of the Victorian Bar, assisted in compiling. There has been a tremendous sharing of information and resources – from the courts and throughout the profession – and I’m very grateful that members of our Victorian Bar have been taking a lead in this.
I’m also delighted that, despite now being up to #35 in COVID-19 updates from the Bar, members continue to read them and I thank those who have expressed their appreciation. I’ve seen many members sharing thoughts about new court procedures on social media, and there is a lively discussion on chat lines about the emerging COVID-19 jurisprudence as courts apply these to real situations, with real consequences for individuals involved in the justice system.
Thank you to every member who has contributed their time and wisdom to supporting the Courts, the profession and the community in these difficult times.