Welcome to the Honourable Justice Melanie Sloss

Date: 16 Aug 2013
Author/Organisation: Reynah Tang, Law Institute of Victoria

Welcome to the Honourable Justice Melanie Sloss upon her appointment to the Supreme Court of Victoria

May it please the Court.
 
I appear on behalf of the Law Institute of Victoria, and the solicitors of this State, to congratulate Your Honour, Justice Sloss, on your appointment to this Court.
 
Upon completion of your Honours Law Degree at the University of Western Australia, Your Honour served Articles with Peter Wiese at Robinson Cox in Perth – what is now Clayton Utz’s Perth Office.
 
Your Honour remained with Robinson Cox for a little over 3 years.
 
In the first two years, Your Honour had rotations through the litigation, commercial law and conveyancing sections of the firm.
 
For the third year, you elected to work in the commercial law section.
 
Your Honour received a thorough grounding.  You then did general commercial work, including some minor appearance work.  And you were able to assist one of the partners, Michael Lewis, in the preparation of two papers on mining law, and in the research and preparation of a number of chapters in a book Mr Lewis was co-authoring on Mining Law in Western Australia – which was published the following year.
 
Mr Wiese was engaged in a monumental case involving CRA in which J D Merralls was briefed and opposed to David Malcolm.  You therefore met J D Merralls and were able to work with and observe him in Court.
 
During Your Honour’s time as an Associate to Sir Ronald Wilson, you not only wrote the Honours Paper for your LL M Honours Degree.  You also prepared and presented a paper on Corporate Share Repurchases with Dr Gavan Griffith QC, the Commonwealth Solicitor-General, which you presented at the Australasian Law Students Association Conference in May 1985.  Dr Griffith is overseas and asked that I present his apology and his congratulations to Your Honour.
 
At the time, Arthur Robinson & Hedderwicks in Melbourne was associated with Robinson Cox in Perth, and Your Honour came to Melbourne after your High Court Associateship in order to work with Ian Renard, a leading practitioner in takeover law and schemes of arrangement.
 
Your Honour’s enormous ability, your single-minded commitment and the long hours you worked were recognised and, after less than a year, Your Honour was made a Senior Associate.  You then went to the Bar in the March 1987 Readers Course.
 
Your Honour was well liked by all at Arthur Robinson & Hedderwicks – as you had been at Robinson Cox in Perth.
 
In the greater scheme of things, Your Honour was not with either firm terribly long – about 3 years at Robinson Cox, 2 of those years constituting Articles and the year of limited practice; and about 18 months at Arthur Robinson & Hedderwicks.
 
However, not only did people in those firms brief you, but the personal friendships from those times continue to endure – and many are here today who came to know Your Honour then.
 
I believe it was while you were at Arthur Robinson & Hedderwicks that Your Honour had your first experience of the particular challenges for a young instructing solicitor with a Sydney silk.
 
Your Honour’s Melbourne silk was unexpectedly jammed and, in the particular circumstances of that emergency, it was decided to brief a Sydney silk.
 
Your Honour was, as it happened, alone as the instructor at Court that day.
 
The Sydney silk, as is apparently the custom there, made it clear that he would not be carrying any books or papers in the procession to Court.
 
The two Melbourne juniors were somewhat taken by surprise, but felt that, if their leader were not carrying books or papers, they should not do so either.
 
My informant, who was one of the two juniors, is unclear as to what the final outcome was.  He would like to think that he relented and helped Your Honour with the load.
 
One solicitor briefed you early in your time at the Bar for Medical Defence Organisations here in Victoria and in Western Australia against a Medical Defence Organisation in the United Kingdom.  Your instructor accompanied Your Honour to London – glad, as he said, to do so at the “pointy end” of the plane.
 
Your modest accommodation at the Marble Arch Hotel was quite a contrast.
 
You interviewed witnesses there for about a week.  And your instructor was impressed that Your Honour brought only a small case of clothing, and a quite large case of papers.
 
And, as soon as the interviews for the day were concluded, when he would go out for a walk, Your Honour would excuse yourself and go back to the hotel and your folders.
 
Ms McLeod mentioned the Ok Tedi mining case.  Your instructor’s dismay at the Marble Arch Hotel in London is, of course, relative.
 
The first time you went to Tabubil in Papua New Guinea, your party arrived by plane in the evening.  It was dark. You transferred to a couple of four wheel drives for a rough ride the rest of the way to the “Cloudland Hotel”.
 
“Cloudland” was of fibro-cement construction.  It was Friday night – and Friday night was darts night for the local mine workers.  About 50 of them were lined up to get into “Cloudland”.
 
Your Honour is not normally timid.  But on this occasion, your instructor in the other four wheel drive heard a voice from your vehicle:  “Could we go back to the airport now, please”.
 
Nor was coming in by helicopter along the Sepik River any improvement.  The dumped tailings gave the scene a marked similarity to “Apocalypse Now”.
 
Your Honour’s dedication to exercise and fitness is well known – as evidenced in Ms McLeod’s account of the Conference after the ABA Conference in Rome recently.
 
That commitment is longstanding.  You had, in the Yorta Yorta case to travel into the Bush in Northern Victoria.  Your instructor in that case recalls your commitment to your early morning walks.
 
She recalls also that when you were up in Rumbalara taking evidence there in a huge tent, you all nevertheless took a break to listen to the Melbourne Cup on the radio.  And it was Your Honour who organised the sweep.
 
Your Honour doesn’t often get to the Melbourne Cup.  Almost invariably you’re working.  You do, I’m told do better getting to the Derby – to enjoy chicken sandwiches with Peter O’Callaghan and others in the members car park.
 
Your Honour walks when you’re out in the bush.  In Melbourne, Your Honour regularly walks the Tan on Sunday mornings.  And when your recent injury prevented that, you continued to join your fellow walkers for coffee afterwards.
 
Perhaps this is the time to speak about sport generally.
 
Your Honour’s support of Richmond is well known and you now join on the Court your friend Justice , and, of course
 
Perhaps
 
You may be aware that part of my platform as President of the Law Institute is diversity, so if the Attorney asks for my opinion on appointments, I will certainly be pushing the case for more Blues supporters.
 
However, Your Honour is not wholly one-eyed.  You attended the White Ribbon Day lunch last year and, because there was little interest in it, and Your Honour wished to support the good cause, you were the successful bidder for an “Official 2012 Western Bulldogs team signed Guernsey”.  History does not relate what Your Honour then did with it.
 
I return now to the Law.
 
One solicitor who has briefed Your Honour for many years in Electricity Regulation and Telecommunications Regulation cases observes that when he first did so, some 10 years ago, Your Honour came to that work without any technical background in those areas.
 
Your Honour took the time to educate yourself.  And you did so in your own time, not charging an individual client for the hours of self-education Your Honour undertook.
 
It obviously paid off and you were regularly briefed in regulatory matters, including by Frances Williams, a partner from my Brisbane office who recalls you have been known to break into the Richmond Tigers theme song to motivate your team, even sending around the lines by email so that your instructors could you join you in doing so at the end of a long conference call.
 
So many of Your Honour’s instructors say the same things – that Your Honour exemplifies the qualities they admire in Senior Counsel.
 
They speak of Your Honour’s generosity with your time – of your patience with them and their staff – and of your respect in both seeking and then listening to their concerns, questions and suggestions – and taking the time and trouble to respond with absolute specificity.
 
Your Honour expects support and commitment from your instructors, but you are not personally demanding.  If you need to work through the lunch hour, often all you ask for is a banana to keep you going.
 
And Your Honour is always smiling and courteous – coming into Court, you beam and smile at your opponents – hence the nickname from some of “the smiling assassin”.
 
Ms McLeod has spoken of Your Honour’s service on various committees of the Bar.  On a number of occasions, I had the privilege to welcome a judge beside Your Honour.  I always recall the first time observing your hand written annotation on your speaking notes - "Slow and Loud".  Important advice, particularly in this beautiful, but acoustically challenged, Banco Court.
 
For 3 years, from 2006 to 2008, Your Honour also served as Chair of the University of Melbourne Legislation & Trusts Committee – and as a Member of the University Council.
 
In that capacity you moved mountains – some have suggested the equivalent of 10 years work in the 3 years that you chaired that Committee.
 
On the Legislation side, your Committee reviewed and wholly revised the University statutes.  You reduced the statutes from a tangle of some 1,400 pages to a logically-ordered body of some 280 pages.
 
The Victorian College of the Arts had been brought in to become a Faculty of the University. In addition to the public controversy, the VCA brought with it a variety of different Trusts.
 
Your Honour oversaw the development of a new framework for all University Trusts and their administration.
 
Your Honour strove to include all members of the quite-large Committee in discussion.
 
This resulted in long meetings – indeed, Your Honour is said to have established a record for all Melbourne University Council Committees – one meeting ran for some 4 ½  hours.
 
That Your Honour was then, at 9:15 pm, returning to Chambers was recognised as evidencing a perhaps personally virtuous worth ethic – but a work ethic that some members of your Committee would have rather Your Honour had kept to yourself and not shared with them in their Committee meetings.
 
Your Honour was, however, sensitive to the human dynamic and, for example, you introduced an annual dinner at University House after the first Committee meeting of each year – to welcome new members and recognise the contributions of those leaving the Committee.  And that was much appreciated.
 
Many of Your Honour’s instructing solicitors regard Your Honour as a friend as well as a professional colleague.  All rejoice with Your Honour in your appointment, but are sad to lose you as their counsel of choice.
 
That said, for those that appreciate the intricacies of tax and revenue law, like me, Your Honour's appointment fills an important gap left by the defection of Justices Pagone and Davies to the Federal Court.
 
On behalf of the Law Institute and the solicitors of this State, I wish Your Honour long, satisfying and distinguished service as a Judge of this Court.
 
May it please the Court.

 
 

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