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Welcome Justice Pamela Tate

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Cite as: December 2010 84(12) LIJ, p.30

Justice Pamela Tate was welcomed to the Supreme Court on 13 October. Among the speakers was LIV executive member Reynah Tang. This is an edited version of his speech.

I appear on behalf of the LIV and the solicitors of this state to congratulate your Honour on your appointment to this Court.

The achievements in the law that have brought your Honour to this appointment are the more remarkable when one reflects on the facts that: law was your Honour’s second vocation; your Honour came to Australia in 1984 to qualify yourself for this new career; and you came into practice with no connections or contacts in the law in Victoria.

Although you hail from Dunedin, New Zealand, like Split Enz, Sam Neill and Russell Crowe, we are proud to call you one of our own.

Your Honour’s philosophical focus was in analytical philosophy – the philosophy of language and philosophy of mind. The progression from that to law seems obvious.

However, I daresay there were philosophical friends who saw your Honour’s choice of a career in law over one in philosophy as misguided and a lesser option. Equally, I daresay there are what one might describe as robust forensic legal advocates who would not see ivory tower academic training and teaching in philosophy as a promising foundation for legal practice.

However, from the very outset, your Honour has excelled – and you bring to this Court the philosopher’s depth and subtlety and a record of strong forensic advocacy.

At Monash University, your final-year honours thesis supervisor was the late Professor Enid Campbell. Professor Campbell was the Sir Isaac Isaacs Professor of Law – a towering figure in the legal academy.

When, towards the end of your law course you applied for summer clerkships to lay the ground for articles, the then managing partner of Phillips Fox, Alan Kirsner, identified you as an outstanding candidate, and determined to secure you for Phillips Fox before his competitor firms discovered you.

Alan Kirsner had established a formidable intellectual property group, of which Colin Golvan was a member. Your Honour served a summer clerkship with Colin Golvan.

You then accepted Phillips Fox’s offer of articles. Your principal was Michael Salter, who also moved your admission.

Michael Salter asked you one afternoon to look into whether an Australian client sued in litigation arising out of the destruction of a new luxury hotel by fire in Puerto Rico needed to put in an appearance and contest the proceedings. The claim was far-fetched to the point of absurdity. However, to have engaged in the multi-party litigation in Puerto Rico would have involved massive legal costs.

Your Honour had the advice the next day – “No” – and a carefully reasoned memorandum explaining why. A little nervous about the enormity of advising the client not even to enter an appearance, Mr Salter sought advice from a senior QC. The advice came back adopting your Honour’s memorandum in its entirety – and with a comment to the effect of “I cannot improve on this” – extraordinary praise for an articled clerk’s overnight memorandum.

After admission to practice, your Honour laid important foundations for your future work with government, working for nearly six months with the Victorian Attorney-General’s Department in legal policy and research. From there you went to the High Court, to be associate to the Honourable Sir Daryl Dawson.

Then your Honour came to the Bar.

One of your first research assignments during your articles year at Phillips Fox had been from Geoffrey Levy, another member of Alan Kirsner’s intellectual property group.

With Mr Levy, your Honour had worked on the matter of Dart Industries Incorporated v Decor Corporation Proprietary Limited.

About three-and-a-half years later, when you had been at the Bar only a year, the appeal in that case came on for hearing in the High Court.

Phillips Fox briefed your Honour. You were led by Bob Ellicott QC (former Commonwealth Solicitor-General and later Attorney-General) and Colin Golvan (by then also at the Bar). To this day, nearly 20 years later, the decision in that case is the seminal decision in assessing loss of profits.

As counsel, your instructing solicitors say that you were always totally in command of your brief; you developed immediate rapport with clients; and you gave succinct and practical advice.

You were unfailingly courteous and respectful, not only of the contributions of your instructors, but respectful of the submissions of your opponents.

Your thoroughness extended not merely to researching whether there was contrary authority in Victoria to your submissions – but whether there was contrary authority anywhere – a significant exercise, particularly in the area of human rights in which, with the Victorian Charter, your Honour made such a significant contribution.

Your Honour became the first woman to be appointed Solicitor-General in Victoria and, as the Attorney General observed at the time, you were “the best lawyer for the job”.

Your Honour has, over many years, earned the respect of all with whom you have worked: your instructors (both in the private profession and in government); your fellow counsel; your fellow Solicitors-General; and the judges before whom you have appeared.

It is my pleasure, on behalf of the LIV and the solicitors of this state, to wish your Honour long, satisfying and distinguished service as a judge of this Court.

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