A one-day conference, Judging for the People, is being held at Victoria University’s Queen Street Campus on 9 April, bringing together stories of the court’s development and decisions, its judges, and the buildings and libraries that have featured since it was established on 12 April 1841.
An exhibition is also to be run from 8 April to mid-May at the Royal Historical Society of Victoria featuring artefacts from the court, and the original 1837 ship board diary written by Melbourne’s first practising lawyer, William Meek, on his 1837-38 voyage to Australia.
Victoria University adjunct professor and legal historian Dr Simon Smith, who is convening the conference and exhibition, recently edited and oversaw research for the first-ever book about the history of the court, Judging for the People: A Social History of the Supreme Court in Victoria 1841-2016.
“There has been virtually nothing written about legal history in Victoria, which is a bit of a contrast to NSW,” Dr Smith said.
“There’s quite a lot written about the legal history in NSW but that's because they had a 50-year headstart and they in fact were the first [Supreme Court].”
Mr Smith said that by publishing the book and hosting the conference and exhibition they are “trying to play catch up”.
Victoria’s Chief Justice Marilyn Warren will give the keynote address at the conference, with other talks given by eminent speakers including Family Court Justice Victoria Bennett, Legal Service Board Commissioner Michael McGarvie and former Supreme Court Judge Bernard Teague.
“What we're hoping with the book and the conference is that they will stimulate interest in legal history in Victoria because legal history here is very underdone,” he said.
“We're encouraging legal practitioners to come because they'll learn a lot about the origins of the court and its place in constitutional history in Victoria.”