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Welcome Justice Peter Vickery


Justice Peter Vickery was welcomed to the supreme court at a ceremony on 28 May. Among the speakers was LIV president Tony Burke. This is an edited version of his speech.

Those who have had the privilege of instructing you over the years congratulate you most sincerely on your appointment. They will miss you. As counsel, you were always willing to take on the hard cases involving principles in which you believed.

You worked immensely hard – often at fees that were little more than nominal; often entirely pro bono.

Your passion for justice – your extraordinary industry, often long into the night, and occasionally all night – and your gifts of identifying the key issues and articulating arguments that were lucid, simple and direct will equip you well for your new office as a judge.

As we’ve heard, you attended Melbourne Grammar School. You rowed in the first VIII, and were captain of boats; you played in the first XV; and you were a cadet under-officer.

You were also the school captain.

You are now a leading international human rights lawyer. One wonders whether your human rights colleagues and friends would look askance were they to know that in your youth you personally administered corporal punishment.

That was one of the duties of the captain of the school –– and one that your now-judicial brother, Justice Harper, had performed six years earlier. Your Honour was surely destined for the law.

Your late father was a County Court judge for more than 20 years and wrote what was, for several generations of lawyers, their principal practice book, Vickery’s Motor & Traffic Law.

In 1998, the day after your father’s death, you were on a plane to Canberra to argue, pro bono, a criminal appeal to the High Court. It wasn’t even your case. Senior counsel who had prepared the appeal was jammed, and you took it on.

On the way up in the plane your instructing solicitor told you of an address he’d just read by New South Wales Chief Justice Spigelman. Spigelman told the story of Sir Owen Dixon asking a group of students, “Who is the most important person in a trial?”

Dixon’s answer was: the litigant who loses the case. If that person leaves court knowing that the trial has been fair, justice will have been done.

You said that reflected your father’s philosophy – and that your father had died yesterday.

Your instructor was dismayed, and said you should have told him and not taken the case.

You responded that your father would have wanted you to do that pro bono appeal.

You worked on that case all night in your Canberra hotel room – substantially recasting the arguments.

You persuaded the seven judges of the High Court to hear the new arguments, and argued the case all day.

The angels were on your side of the facts, but immunity was against you.

You had, however, the satisfaction that Justice Kirby, in a concurring judgment, recorded your authorities and arguments on the merits.

The substance of your authorities and arguments was the basis for another High Court decision in another case – one in which there was no immunity issue.

You also had substantial experience as a solicitor before you went to the Bar.

In addition to your articles year with Hugh Graham and your year-or-so as an employee solicitor with Madden Butler, you worked with Bishop & Co, solicitors in London.

Back in Melbourne and while teaching at La Trobe University, you were a consultant to P.C. Neil, solicitor in North Carlton.

And in 1977, you had a small, part-time practice as a sole practitioner in your own name, also in North Carlton, before going to the Bar.

In more than 30 years’ practice at the Bar you won the respect and affection of solicitors and clients alike.

One client, Jinks Nolan, brought fresh croissants for you and your friends in Aickin Chambers each day of her case.

She lives in Boston and is delighted to learn of your appointment – though she now wants a replay of her case with you as the judge.

You and your wife, Claire, have an interest in wine, sharing the management of the Dancing Man vineyard. She has deep roots in wine, being the daughter of the late Dr John Middleton of the Mt Mary winery in the Yarra Valley.

It was probably a good decision to drop the name “Vickers Hill” – though one can’t help wondering whether the name Dancing Man might involve a subconscious echo of the Scottish country dancing of your youth in London.

Justice Bell has the Hurley vineyard at Balnar ring. Justice Judd has the Ten Minutes by Tractor vineyard at Main Ridge, Mornington.

But I doubt that either of them can boast a Lamborghini twin turbo tractor – an enhancement acquired with the proceeds of sale of your Audi sports car.

On behalf of the LIV and the solicitors of this state, I wish your Honour well in your appointment to this Court. May you have long, satisfying and distinguished service.


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