Responding to reports that Victorian Liberals are furious about the appointment of Richard Niall QC to the Court of Appeal, the Law Institute of Victoria (LIV) issued a public statement.
“It is the job of highly experienced and professional lawyers and barristers to give independent advice without fear or favour,” LIV president Belinda Wilson said.
“It is totally inappropriate to question the professionalism of this advice.”
Ms Wilson’s disappointment follows a story published in The Age on 28 November, which suggested that Liberal MPs in Victoria had “not forgiven” Justice Niall for his role in unfulfilled plans to build a tollway in 2014.
Under the headline ‘Liberal fury as lawyer who helped sink East West link made judge’, the paper reported that during his tenure as Victorian Solicitor-General, Justice Niall advised the government that contracts for the East West toll link were “unenforceable”.
The Age reported that under Labor, the decision to ditch the road project and cancel contracts entered into by Victoria’s former Liberal government cost taxpayers over $1 billion. The decision was reportedly made in the face of legal advice from Mr Niall, and two other barristers, that there would still be risk of action against the government from the consortium that won the contract to build.
Victorian Shadow Attorney-General John Pesutto was quoted as saying:
“Three years ago, Mr Niall QC gave advice to the Labor Party which was disgracefully relied upon by Daniel Andrews to suggest that the East West Link contract wasn’t worth the paper it was written on.
“As everyone now knows, that was completely wrong and Victorians were slugged $1.3 billion in compensation not to build a major road that’s desperately needed.
“Members of Victoria’s Court of Appeal occupy a crucial role that they must discharge independently and without fear or favour.”
Ms Wilson said the noise was inappropriate and said she considered the remarks against the judge amounted to a persistent political attack. The article also suggested that the actions of the newly minted judge in his capacity as solicitor-general had not been “forgiven or forgotten” by Victorian Liberal MPs.
“Mr Niall remains, for the opposition, an intensely political figure,” the article read.
Ms Wilson reassured the community that they could have “absolute trust in Victoria’s legal profession and the courts to give advice and make decisions, based on expert advice, experience and the rule of law”.