May it please the Court.
I appear on behalf of the Law Institute of Victoria, and the Solicitors of this State, to pay tribute to Your Honour’s service in the Law over many years.
Your Honour has deep roots in the solicitors’ branch of the profession through your father John Harper – a legend at Arthur Robinson & Co, where Your Honour served Articles and began as an employee solicitor.
In reading the transcript of Your Honour’s Welcome on the 13th of March 1992, I was struck by the warmth of the Institute address by my predecessor, Gail Owen – and I’m delighted that Ms Owen is with me today at the Bar Table.
How better than to begin with a few passages from Gail’s address 21 years ago.
“Your Honour has always been considered a ‘friend’ of solicitors. It is not true to say that the relationship was bad prior to your chairmanship, but it is true, I think, that they were never better during it. You were an excellent ambassador for the Bar. During your term as chairman, you religiously attended Law Institute functions.”
“This Court is indeed fortunate to have acquired such a hard-working person as yourself. On your past record, nothing short of perfection shall be expected of you. In this, I mean that cases will be dealt with speedily, but with the utmost respect for the litigants, and judgments will be equally quickly forthcoming, hopefully in the delightful style we have become accustomed to in your Chairman’s Cupboard.”
The Solicitor has mentioned Your Honour’s leadership and thoughtful reforms in the establishment of the Long Cases List. Your Honour’s strategy in relation to reform was inclusive and co-operative. Your Honour established the Long Cases List Committee – which later became the Civil Litigation Committee.
The Committee was broadly representative including expert specialist silks; juniors; solicitors from firms large and small. The then Listing Master – now Judge Kings of the County Court – had the figures and statistics.
Your Honour is a good listener and an astute manager. You have unfailing courtesy and an ability to see the positive in practically every contribution. Even in strong views hotly put – Your Honour immediately identified and articulated the unstated constructive point to be drawn, separating that from the combative rhetoric. Such calming strategies made this Committee work. Solicitors and counsel alike remained on the Committee for years. You got practitioners thinking and working together towards improvement.
And so it was in the Probate Users Group. It was a diverse group of solicitors and counsel and included a lay representative of the public whose business was in marketing will and probate kits.
One member of the Probate Users Group points favourably to Your Honour’s philosophy of never sending anything off to a subcommittee – of working with the whole Committee and dealing with each item.
The Users Group solved problems – it achieved, for example, changes to the rules on advertising one’s intent to apply for probate on-line at a cost of about $40 a shot as opposed to newspapers at about $300.
And over and above Your Honour’s work on the Court, you worked tirelessly for good causes.
Your Honour has been President of the Victorian Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders (“VACRO”) since 1995. You have been Chair of the Victorian International Humanitarian Law Advisory Committee of the Red Cross since 2000.
The Australian Red Cross has observed that your work, as chair, has, in their words “been characterised by his championing of innovative and creative dissemination projects, by his calm and thoughtful leadership and his commitment to the values of international humanitarian law.”
They have also noted that Your Honour was “instrumental in establishing the Chair of International Humanitarian Law at Melbourne University, a position which has materially and substantially contributed to the advancement of International Humanitarian Law scholarship in Australia” and that you “oversaw the Women and War exhibition in 2008, a project which brought a photographic display of the International Committee of the Red Cross to Australia, and which contributed substantially to public understanding of the experiences of women in armed conflict.”
It is also remarked that Your Honour has been “particularly active in encouraging young volunteers in their research work, something they have truly appreciated.”
They conclude that “happily, Justice Harper’s leadership of the Victorian IHL Advisory Committee continues, and Australian Red Cross is enormously grateful for his time and ongoing efforts to promote understanding of the law of armed conflict and of the experiences of those made vulnerable by war.”
For some seven years in the 1990s, Your Honour was President of the Victorian Chapter of the International Commission of Jurists. Your Honour brought the stature and integrity and polish of your person to the cause, raising the standing of the ICJ and its efforts – as well as in your public statements on issues of concern. And Your Honour also worked to organise conferences – one in 1997 when you were President; and another in 2001.
Your Honour was a part-time Commissioner of the Law Reform Commission of Victoria headed by Professor Louis Waller in the 1990s. From 2001 to 2008, Your Honour was a part-time Commissioner of the re-established Victorian Law Reform Commission headed for some years by Professor Marcia Neave, now Justice Neave.
The Commission was divided into Divisions for its various projects and references. Your Honour chaired the Division on Bail; and you were a member of the Divisions working on Defensive Homicide; Sexual Offences; Evidence; Civil Justice; and Jury Directions.
More directly in what might be called Your Honour’s “line of work”, you have served as Vice-President since 2008, and as President since 2010 of the Judicial Conference of Australia. And it has been in that capacity that Your Honour has spoken out about issues, for instance on Sentencing – delivering the Kerferd Oration on Sentencing: Public Perceptions, the Reality; and their Social Implications; giving interviews to the media; and writing Op Ed pieces for submission to The Age and The Herald Sun.
Your Honour, I know there are still some worthy endeavours that I have not included in the narrative of Your Honour’s quite extraordinary and outstanding service to the Court; to community of the law; to the wider community; to Offenders and the children and families of prisoners who are Doing it Tough, and beyond our shores in the efforts of the International Humanitarian Law Advisory Committee.
Your Honour’s massive contributions over many years were recognised in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 2008. You were made a Member of the Order of Australia.
Finally, I return to my starting point of Gail Owen’s Institute address at Your Honour’s Welcome more than 21 years ago.
Ms Owen recalled her embarrassment that she had, before knowing of Your Honour’s appointment, said in what she had thought to be casual conversation, that 20 or more years on the Bench was too long – that a Judge would become too removed from the practice of reality and was likely to become bored.
She did not resile from that. Rather, she expressed the view that, “in Your Honour’s case, your modesty, charm and good humour will no doubt carry you successfully through the years before you and, if I am still around, I shall return to this Court upon your retirement to hear your verdict on my hypothesis”.
On behalf of the Law Institute of Victoria and the solicitors of this State, I wish Your Honour and your wife, Margaret, all the very best in your retirement.
May it please the Court.