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Welcome Justice Elizabeth Curtain

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Cite as: (2006) 80(12) LIJ, p. 29


Justice Elizabeth Curtain was welcomed to the Supreme Court of Victoria on 13 October. Among the speakers was Law Institute of Victoria vice-president Geoff Provis. An edited version of his speech appears below.

I appear on behalf of Victoria’s solicitors to congratulate your Honour on your appointment as a justice of the Supreme Court of Victoria.

As we have heard, your career in the legal profession, including your work as a County Court judge since 1993, will span 30 years in June next year. This means you bring to the Supreme Court extensive experience of criminal trials, of which this Court is handling major cases in increasing numbers.

You were admitted as a barrister and solicitor of the Supreme Court of New South Wales in 1986 and soon thereafter you were appointed as a prosecutor for the Queen for the state of Victoria and conducted a number of long trials.

You appeared extensively before the Court of Criminal Appeal as it was then named.

You were also a member of the Motor Accidents Tribunal and from 1985 to 1987 you were a presiding member of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

In your 13 years on the County Court you have made a number of firm friendships, and many of those people are here today. Some even date back to your early days growing up in Melbourne where your father ran the Beaconsfield Hotel in St Kilda.

While your father was advocating for 10 o’clock closing and you were taking elocution lessons in the church hall, your later-to-become good friend Paul Elliott was campaigning on behalf of his vicar father for the “stick to 6” policy.

These small political differences did not stand in the way of you later becoming firm friends when you practised at the Bar together and performed in various Bar Review performances.

When welcoming you to the Bench of the County Court, the then chair of the Victorian Bar Council Susan Crennan, now of the High Court, told the gathering that your Honour thoroughly enjoyed participating in the collegiate life of the Bar.

These are the days you left behind when you swapped the Bar for the Office of Public Prosecutions. It was from here that you were appointed to the County Court and began a series of firsts.

Early in your career, you read at the Bar with Lyn Opas QC, who later became Judge Schiftan, and was the first female judge of the County Court. I am also told that you were the youngest person appointed to the Bench of the County Court in November 1993.

On your elevation to the County Court you expressed a wish that your appointment would signal to one and all that the doors of the profession, and every echelon of it, were not closed to women. You also made it clear that you believed gender should not come into such decision-making. It seems your wish has been well and truly realised.

You are known to run an impressively professional and focused court – one that can at times be intimidating to the uninitiated. I understand that one young clerk delivering documents to you in the County Court was so overwhelmed by the atmosphere that she performed a curtsy as she left the court room.

You certainly leave in your wake a number of people in awe of your accomplishments and achievements.

You are a person who has always managed to fit many extra curricula activities into your busy schedule and list your interests as theatre, acting, racing, football, tennis, swimming, physical fitness and travel.

We note that one place you particularly like to travel is South Australia, where your partner Bruce Houston, who is here today I believe, runs the TAB in that state.

This may help to explain your racing interest as well – although sources tell me your Honour’s fascination with the track was already established when you met Bruce.

You have successfully managed to combine this interest with your professional roles and have also served as deputy chair of the Victorian Racing Appeals Tribunal. Of course, that was a big attraction of the country circuit. With some finetuning there were times when your Honour was rather remarkably able to combine country sittings with race meetings.

In Melbourne, Oaks Day is naturally a particular favourite with your Honour and I understand that serendipitously, parties have on occasion been unable to find witnesses on that day which has left you with no judicial duties and all the better able to conduct a view of the racecourse to prepare yourself for any disputes of an equine nature.

As a keen racegoer and punter, this is your season, and we understand you have an extensive array of hats to add variety and colour to the everyday headgear of your new office.

It is also the season in which your Honour has moved from the County to the Supreme Court. In an already champion career, this is another illustrious moment.

So now, on behalf of Victoria’s solicitors may I again congratulate you on your appointment and wish you a long and rewarding service of this Court.

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