Patience and persistence are crucial to the Bar’s success
One of the most infamous miscarriages of justice in Australia occurred in 1982, when Lindy Chamberlain was wrongly convicted of the murder of her baby, Azaria, and her husband, Michael, was wrongly convicted of being an accessory after the fact. The Chamberlains’ personal and legal ordeal was epic – through the original trial, appeals to the Federal and High Courts, four coronial inquests and the Morling Royal Commission, which finally exonerated the Chamberlains. Their convictions were quashed in 1988. The final inquest, in 2012, found that Azaria had died as the result of being attacked and taken by a dingo.
Four members of the Victorian Bar were among the legal team who fought for justice on behalf of the Chamberlains during their long legal battle: Commander the Honourable John Winneke AC RFD QC (deceased), the Honourable John Phillips AC QC (deceased), Andrew Kirkham AM RFD QC and Brind Zichy-Woinarski QC. On Wednesday, Andrew Kirkham AM RFD QC, Victorian Bar member since 1967 and Chairman of the Bar in 1991–92, was the guest on Svenson Barristers’ CPD Conversational, talking about the landmark legal battle.
For the nearly 200 in attendance, including Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton, Andrew proffered fascinating insights into the confluence of biased media coverage and faulty forensic evidence that had tainted the Chamberlain trial, and how the couple’s legal team eventually won a pardon, an apology, quashed convictions and compensation. At Andrew’s request, the webinar will not be available for download, but, with overwhelming interest still in the case, the Bar will be re-broadcasting it, with Andrew in attendance to take questions. Stay tuned for the date.
Andrew and his colleagues’ remarkable contribution to the Chamberlains’ defence was an exceptional chapter in the Bar’s history and speaks to their persistence, grit and professionalism. Andrew and his colleagues represent the best of the Bar’s strength and determination.
Continuing advocacy during COVID
The skill and expertise of Victorian Bar members – who defend people’s rights and help redress wrongs – form a strong pillar upon which the administration of justice rests, and this must continue unfettered. I wrote to members early in the week about our disappointment with the Premier’s COVID-19 Roadmap to Reopening, particularly in that it does not allow for a return in the short term to a degree of normality in the administration of justice. The Chamberlains’ ordeal shows that obtaining justice may be neither easy nor quick and proper legal representation is essential.
For this reason, we continue to actively advocate for the early reopening of the legal sector from Stage 4 Restrictions; that is, to ensure the proper functioning of the judicial system and civil society. We are continuing to advocate (in the first stage of reopening) for members’ access to chambers for both preparation and hearings, and for the resumption of critical onsite ancillary services, such as mailrooms, photocopiers and IT services. Additionally, to assist our members who are suffering from the financial impact of COVID-19, we will also keep advocating for the $10,000 Business Support Fund grant offered by the State Government to be extended to barristers who do not have employees, to help mitigate the significant income declines some members have faced. (Those with employees who meet the criteria here are eligible to apply.)
At a time when many barristers are enduring economic pain, I have also requested that the Victorian Legal Services Commissioner address the issue of outstanding fees owed to barristers by solicitors. In some cases, the sums owed are quite large and have been unpaid for months. We will continue to update members on the progress of this and all our advocacy efforts.
Expedited Mediation – Protocols with the County Court
In addition to our advocacy work, the Bar continues to collaborate with the courts to enhance the administration of justice in Victoria and find efficient solutions to help clear the increasing backlog of listed cases. Tony Elder and the Alternative Dispute Resolution Committee agreed on protocols between the Bar and the Family and Federal Circuit Courts in June to refer appropriate matters to mediation by the Bar’s nationally accredited mediator members (the original announcement is here). We’re very pleased that an increasing number of cases are being referred to mediation through the scheme.
I’m delighted to announce that an agreement is now in place with the County Court’s Commercial Division for appropriate matters before it also to be referred through the Expedited Mediation scheme. We look forward to a larger number of the Bar’s mediators bringing their skills to the mediation table to help clients resolve their disputes in a timely manner. The protocol will be released shortly.