THE VICTORIAN legal community welcomed in the new legal year with a ceremony at Queen’s Hall in Parliament House last week.
The inaugural event, which was organised by the International Commission of Jurists, Victoria (ICJ), had over 100 attendees including the Governor of Victoria, Professor David de Kreyser AC; the parliamentary secretary for justice, Brien Tee MLC and an Aboriginal elder of the Wurundjeri people.
Speaking on behalf of the ICJ was the Supreme Court of Victoria’s Justice Tony Pagone. Pagone explained that ceremony was intended to serve as a public reminder of the importance of the rule of law and equality before the law in a diverse community.
Also speaking at the event was Tasneen Chopra, chairwoman of the Islamic Women’s Welfare Council of Victoria. Chopra spoke of the importance of the welfare and community sector in assisting migrant communities with their interactions with the law, particularly considering that many have had negative experiences with their home legal systems.
“For many, their experiences dealing with the legal system have been immersed with incidences of bigotry, corruption and sometimes, brutality,” she said. “Not surprisingly then, upon arrival here their inclination to utilise the legal system in this country is greatly marred by the baggage of these negative episodes.”
She explained that breaking down these preconceptions and helping migrant communities trust in the Australian legal system creates extra challenges for legal authorities. Chopra also spoke about the importance of the rule of law, and specifically, how everyone is equal before the rule of law, regardless of race, religion or creed.
Rev Professor Robert Gribben, president of the United Faculty of Theology also addressed the audience. Professor Gribben spoke of the importance of actively guarding and adapting the rule of law and not assuming that the law will always be applied justly.
“We should be grateful to those who have the courage to point out abuses,” he said.
Gribben praised the introduction of the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act, and expressed her hope that the Victorian community actively promote it. He responded to critics who believe that the charter is unnecessary, saying: “I believe it’s value lies in its insistence that the law seek the dignity and respect due to every human being.”