Advice Justice Kirby has for Law students in 2022
Updated: Apr 29
It's 7PM on a torrential, rainy night. The rain is pounding the glistening concrete. I've managed to find a park and frantically run towards the lecture theatre. From the outside the cream coloured doors are firmly secured, and I can't hear a whisper escape through the crevices between the foyer and the entrance. I decide to rigoursly push them open, only to realise that the lecture hall is already full and Justice Kirby has raptured an entire audience of law students. I mentally pray to remain unnoticed. In a disturbingly vibrant green hoodie, I crab-walk to the top of the lecture theatre. (Subtle, right?)
The lecture hall comes to a quiet.
The kind of quiet where you can hear other students removing their face masks.
I can't stress how being 10 metres away from the Great Dissenter feels like an accomplishment.
His opening address stresses the importance of being a joiner. He stresses that part of the profession involves a principle of construction that prima facie (on the face of it) you read a Statute so that it is not taking away the rights of citizens and other people. That is a lever that can sometimes allow you to raise questions and urge upon Courts a construction that will not be unfair and unjust. This is the difference between a good barrister, and a great barrister. He speaks highly of John Baston who was a Professor at the University of Adelaide and later a professor at the University of UNSW, he was a joiner, and he was in many of the advocacy organisations. and it was announced that he is retiring from his profession.
A matter of great disappointment today is that a lot of students are not very interested in these things.
Justice Kirby goes on to lament that yes, you must make a certain amount of money, however he stresses that it's the pursuit of justice that makes our profession noble.
Sometimes it's easy to forget why we started, that the true pursuit of law is to fight for the rights of others and those that don't have a voice.
During Kirby J's discussion a student found their voice and asked the great dissenter how he felt about some of his judgements and especially those that were overturned or where he was outnumbered. This opened up an opportunity for Justice Kirby to reference the famous case of Al-Kateb v Godwin. He stated "I’m not obsessed about it because I dealt with it and I moved on. There are other things to do in life besides the Judicial."
During my first year of law, working in a Judicial capacity was often touted as an incredible achievement, if not the greatest achievement. But after a few lectures on Civil and Criminal Procedure, and Jurisprudence it's become easier to identify more pressing legal issues outside of the Judiciary. Another student raised the issue of the Judiciary typically being "stale, pale and male." To which Kirby replied that he doesn't agree with the Judiciary selecting their successors because it creates a ‘chaps like us’ mentality.
The Courts should reflect in a general way the Courts that they serve. What can we do to make sure that the judiciary of the future reflects our society, and that they are members of the bench. What can be done is that academics can make a fuss and raise issues at conferences and organise conferences in harmony with civil society organisations.
A young man in the front row, asked Justice Kirby if he ever saw someone with disabilities being able to sit on the bench one day. To which, he replied-
'People with disabilities have made very successful careers as advocates and as solicitors. Not that I can think of in the Judiciary. Until I had come along there had been no openly gay person in the Judiciary, to which he thanks his partner for support. The great dissenter clo of his greatest acquiesces, that everybody should have, (if it’s possible, it’s not always possible) a partner who has their feet on the ground and tells them where to get off.'
It felt heartwarming to end the lecture on that note, reminding ourselves the importance of getting involved, having a strong support system and acknowledging that there are a lot of ways to make a difference as a law student.