GOVERNOR OF Tasmania Peter Underwood has spoken out in defence of judicial method and urged law students to follow his example, even for unpopular causes.
In his breakfast address to the 30th Australian Law Students Association Conference on 9 July, Underwood chose a particularly controversial case to illustrate his point, drawing on the recent Aurukun Nine rape case which involved the lenient sentencing of men convicted of raping a 10-year-old female child. The former Chief Justice of Tasmania conceded that the “learned judge” [Cairns District Court judge Sarah Bradley] had erred in law, but that the legal system had “corrected the error”.
“I draw your attention to the uninformed opinion that abounded in the popular press and on talkback radio that the sentencing judge be ‘stood down’ or ‘removed’ or ‘face an enquiry’,” Underwood said,
“But, even if there had been no appeal, we who have studied law understand that an independent judiciary is a matter of principle — more important than error in any single case and [one which] must not be jettisoned to satisfy uninformed public outrage and clamour.”
Underwood takes his role as public figure and educator seriously, participating in the judging for several of the ALSA Conference competitions, including witness examinations and the final of the Red Cross International Humanitarian Law Moot.
The ALSA Conference is an annual event which draws more than 250 students to compete in competitions including mooting, examining, interviewing and negotiating.
Highlights include the Red Cross International Humanitarian Law Moot and the Australian Law Reform Commission Kirby Cup.
Amongs the other distinguished judges at the event were former Chief Justice of the High Court Sir Anthony Mason, former Chief Justice of the NSW Supreme Court Sir Laurence Street, Justice Peter Heerey and Magistrate Glenn Hay.
The newly appointed Governor clearly has a passion for teaching, and an easy rapport with young law students — his son is a final year law student at the University of Tasmania and an activities co-ordinator for the Tasmania conference.
“I love being here with students and teaching, I’ve also taught with the advocacy institute and the college of law in England and Wales,” Underwood said.
“When I was Chief Justice I used to teach in the legal practice course, advocacy and Supreme Court practice, so it was natural for the university to pick on me, and also my son is doing final year law here.”
He believes that the new pre-admission practical legal training requirements are a positive development for the profession.
“I think it’s essential,” he said.
As for the university experience, he agreed that many law students participating in the ALSA Conference in their final year risked becoming too caught up the process of applying for clerkships and articles.
“It’s not of course, but I think [public service] should be part of the culture of the law school — not lectures about it but staff should embrace it and talk about it , it should be a background culture that being a lawyer requires an obligation to do public service.”