YOUNG LAWYERS’ favourite judge, High Court Justice Michael Kirby, made a visit to the Sydney suburb of Coogee on the weekend to speak to the new generation about the lessons he has taken from Australia’s highest court.
The New South Wales Young Lawyers held its annual two-day assembly at the Crowne Plaza hotel, bringing together approximately 50 delegates from around NSW, including the association’s office bearers, executives, regional presidents and the chairpersons of the various young lawyers committees.
The delegates participated in forums on topics such as depression and issues affecting lawyers in regional areas. The assembly also provided the opportunity to launch the association’s first mentoring program which has matched up 25 junior lawyers with 25 experienced lawyers.
Young Lawyers president, Scott Alden, explained that the aim of the program is to assist the younger practitioners in different aspects of their careers by giving them “a bit more of a direction than they might otherwise get”.
“It’s a targeted approach to dealing with work-life balance, dealing with depression and dealing with job satisfaction, or lack of satisfaction”. According to Alden, these are main issues that Young Lawyers has focused on over the last year.
The assembly’s keynote address was given by Young Lawyers patron, Justice Kirby, in which he described some of the key lessons he has learned in over 10 years at the High Court.
The first issue he discussed was the important role the constitution in High Court decisions, a role which he believes is often overlooked by lawyers. The Constitution, he said, has a living quality and he reminded the delegates to keep in mind not only the express provisions, but also those that must necessarily be implied in order to make those express provisions a reality. Referring to a recent case which involved interpretation of section 92, he reminded the assembly that “all parts of the Constitution are there for application and argument in the High Court”.
He also discussed the inevitable role that values play in decisions of High Court judges and the inevitability that there will be differences in values between judges.
“It is inescapable that High Court judges bring in their own legal values and legal principals, as well as legal authority in the judgments they make,” he said.
“The words of the Constitution are ambiguous. The words of a statute are unclear. The words of a case decision are not fully certain. Therefore you have to draw out the legal principals; it’s not a mechanical task … it’s a human system.”
The ability of judges to dissent, he said, is extremely important. “One of the strongest points of our system is that our judges have not only the right but also the duty to express their honest opinion in the case.”
He compared this element of our system favourably to the system in most civil law countries where judges do not have the option to dissent and are required sign the final judgment even if they profoundly disagree with it.
Another issue Justice Kirby addressed was the role of women at the bar and at the bench. He said that while he believes that the number of junior barristers appearing before the High Court has substantially increased over the time since he was appointed; the number of women barristers with “speaking parts” has not. He explained that because there is now increasing pressure on the executive to appoint women judges, women are now being appointed earlier on in their career than men traditionally have. He believes, however, that the appointment of more women judges is an important and positive development which he hopes will continue. “It a good thing for the culture of the court and the interrelationships of the judges,” he said.
Alden, told Lawyers Weekly that Justice Kirby had
been a perfect choice for the role of patron.
“He’s really thrown himself into the role this year more
than any patron has ever done,” he said.
Justice Kirby said he was confident about the current generation of young lawyers and in particular, he was encouraged by the fact that issues such as depression were being addressed and being taken seriously at the assembly. “You are willing to face and be truthful about issues that earlier generations would deny,” he said.