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Welcome to Justice Katharine Williams

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Cite as: (2002) 76(11) LIJ, p.28

Recently appointed Supreme Court of Victoria Justice Katharine Williams was welcomed to the Supreme Court at a ceremony on 31 October 2002. Among the speakers was Law Institute president David Faram. An edited version of his speech appears below.

On behalf of the Law Institute and the solicitors of this state, I extend my congratulations on your Honour’s appointment as a judge of this Court.

Your Honour was educated at Sacre Coeur College and the University of Melbourne before being admitted to practice in 1972.

After working as a solicitor for Laurie Pentilla & Co, you tutored at Melbourne University and subsequently at Monash University. You completed a Masters before coming to the Bar in 1988.

As was noted on the occasion of your appointment to the County Court in 1999, there are few people in the legal profession more suited to judicial life than your Honour. You are professional, hardworking, efficient, discreet, a good listener and unfailingly polite, even to the rudest of people.

Descriptions such as “delightful”, “modest”, “down to earth”,“great sense of humour” and “fun” have been repeatedly used to describe you, often by people who have nothing at all to gain from offering such praise.

Yet behind this appealing exterior, there no doubt lurks a steely resolve and determination.

Indeed, what with raising four children, a demanding professional life as well as serving on the board of directors of Barristers Chambers Ltd, there really is precious little time for distractions.

It is clear that you do not deliberately seek out extraordinary predicaments or spontaneous situations, however, it is fair to say that now and then, they seek you out.

For example, there was the time when you nipped out of chambers for lunch to buy a new pair of pantyhose – and returned to Chambers the owner of a brand new car. In a remarkable demonstration of good luck, you had won a promotion by the manufacturers of the pantyhose. The solicitors of the state are hoping that some of that good luck might rub off on them during the Institute Christmas raffle.

Another example of your Honour being placed in odd situations is demonstrated by the fact that you have inadvertently amassed a prodigious knowledge of the inner workings of modern cappuccino machines.

In a story relayed to us, your Honour dined alone in a restaurant in Ballarat after a hard day in court. You had a briefcase on wheels, and from this you extracted some papers and set about catching up on work over dinner. At the other side of the restaurant, we are reliably informed, was a man who was also in possession of a briefcase on wheels. The man was in fact a sales representative for a company that manufactured the restaurant’s cappuccino machine.

For this would-be Lothario, the fact that a woman – dining alone – was also in possession of an almost identical case was a coincidence that he considered too rare and unexpected to be taken lightly.

In your typical unflappable and diplomatic fashion, you managed to stop further inquiries by turning the tables on the man in question and launching an interrogation into his chosen profession. As a consequence, you have at your judicial fingertips one area of expertise possibly unmatched by any other judge.

One can only speculate that if you ever wanted to change career paths, you could always replace William Street with Lygon Street and a 14mm spanner.

Your Honour could also be an extremely competent police detective.

One day, again on a circuit, the car you were driving was swiped by a monstrous truck pulling two or three containers. The truck driver refused to stop, so you swung into action, “tailing” the vehicle, weaving in and out of the traffic, always keeping the offending vehicle in sight.

However, such was your Honour’s dexterity at the wheel, and your determination to nab the offender, that you were able to cut off the vehicle – legally, of course – and confront the rather big and burly truckie.

However, there is a denouement to this story, being that when you arrived at the police station to supply the relevant details, you had forgotten the small matter of obtaining the culprit’s name and address.

It is the good fortune for the people of Victoria that your Honour has indeed been appointed to this honourable Court and is not fixing cappuccino spouts or pursuing truck drivers.

Your Honour has already demonstrated distinction as an able member of the judiciary, demonstrating those qualities of unflappability and sound reason that are so essential to the proper administration of justice. We congratulate your Honour on elevation to this honourable Court.

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