Sliding doors, common goals
Some of you may remember the crucial scene in the film Sliding Doors, as Gwyneth Paltrow’s character charges towards a London tube – down the stairs, across the platform, squeezing through the train door in the nick of time… or, in the alternate universe arriving a second later, and the doors slide closed in front of her. The film, billed as a romantic comedy, has a deeper narrative about how random events can fundamentally influence our lives. It also highlights that the choices we make in response to events can be as decisive for the future as the events themselves.
This week has been one of hard decisions by the government faced with its own sliding doors moment: decisions that have had enormous ramifications for all of us in our personal and professional lives. I’m sure that many of you, like me, were shocked at the lockdown of Melbourne’s public housing tower blocks and can only imagine the difficulties of those affected.
Many members of the Bar are helping some of the most vulnerable in society during this time. The President of the Children’s Court, her Honour Judge Amanda Chambers, went out of her way to thank the Bar and other private practitioners, magistrates and staff at the DHHS Child Protection Litigation Office for helping the Court meet the needs and expectations of the community, in this week’s In Conversation webinar, hosted by Melissa Stead, Chair of the Children’s Court Bar Association. Judge Chambers spoke of some difficult decisions the Court needed to take to safeguard the community during COVID while maintaining the ability to step in and protect children in need. If you missed the webinar, you can watch the recording here.
The government’s decision to re-impose stage three restrictions in Melbourne this week – and the commensurate moves by courts and tribunals to again restrict in-person hearings – is also terribly disheartening. I know that there is a sentiment among some barristers that commercial silks, like me, are not so affected by the COVID situation, and just don’t understand the plight of those whose work has dried up, or those new barristers who have simply not had the chance to establish their practices. I’d like to emphasise that the Bar Council and I, and the staff at VicBar and BCL, do appreciate the differential impact that this crisis has had on those members of our Bar who are more vulnerable to the financial and other effects which the present circumstances have wrought. We understand that some, particularly at the Criminal Bar, may be seriously considering the viability of their practices, or reappraising their decision to join the Bar.
The uncomfortable truth is that, as leaders of the Bar, we are unable to mitigate the effects of this crisis on our members completely. The resources for that kind of prophylaxis are not available to us. But we are focused on doing what we can. We are doing what we can to understand the pressures on our members, and to alleviate them where we are able to do so: we are, for example, talking to the Criminal Bar Association to see what more we can realistically do to address the issues raised in the survey of its members released earlier this week. We are doing what we can to support BCL in deploying its available resources to provide rental relief to those most in need: this is critical to ensuring that we come out the other side of this crisis with the strong culture and institutions of our college – those that support the accessibility of the Bar without wealth or cultural barriers to entry, the diversity of our membership, and inclusion for all – intact. We are doing what we can to stretch and apply the Bar’s own resources, including by making cuts and sacrifices that allowed us to provide subscription relief to many. We are doing what we can to ensure a return to business as usual – or as close to that as can be managed – by working with the courts and planning our own assistance to members. We are doing what we can to address the health and wellbeing effects of the continued disruption, with specialist seminars and evolving resources.
We will continue to do what we can. It is in the nature of the roles we are performing that the decisions we make, sometimes in those ‘sliding doors’ moments, will not always enjoy universal or even wide support. Our perspectives are necessarily holistic; our focus is on the best interests of the Bar as a whole. Sometimes, no doubt, we will get it wrong. But you have my personal commitment that we will do our best to get it right.
Nevertheless, in the end, this is a collective endeavour. We will have differences in views, but our ultimate goal should be a common one. We need to be pulling on the same oar (and, ideally, in the same direction).
I wish everyone a safe and enjoyable weekend.