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Opening of legal year more inclusive


Cite as: December 2011 85(12) LIJ, p.14

The annual opening of the legal year is steeped in tradition.

Every year, at the tail end of January, there are events to mark the occasion. Traditionally, they have been church-based.

There is the Red Mass at St Patrick’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, the Ecumenical Service at St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral, the Eastern Orthodox Service at St Eustathios’s Greek Orthodox Cathedral, the Synagogue Service which alternates between the Melbourne Hebrew Congregation and Temple Beth Israel and, occasionally, a Buddhist observance.

In recent years, however, there has been a move to widen the occasion to include non-religious environments.

In 2008, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) established a secular community observance for the opening of the legal year, with support from the LIV, the Victoria Law Foundation and Corrs Chambers Westgarth.

The community observance was established to broaden involvement in the occasion, the Secretary-General of the ICJ (Victoria), barrister Melanie Szydzik, said. “Historically, only lawyers and judges would attend the opening ceremonies to pray for guidance and wisdom for the coming year. It dates back to the Middle Ages,” she said.

“The ICJ believed that while the traditional opening ceremonies had an admirable aim, the profession and community would each benefit from broadening the reach of the opening of the legal year.

“It would create an opportunity to strengthen the profession’s relationship with the community and celebrate and remind us all of the importance of access to the law and the rule of law to all in the community.”

The community observance is well attended. In 2010, about 200 people attended the event at Queen’s Hall in Parliament House.

“Our event attracts attendees from an entirely different cross-section of the community, drawing many non-lawyers,” Ms Szydzik said.

In 2012, all services will be held on Monday, 30 January. The community observance will be held at Waldron Hall in the County Court for the first time.

“This will be the first time the venue has changed. The ICJ is open to the event being held at different venues, provided that the venue demonstrates the connection between the community and the law,” Ms Szydzik said.

The 2012 community observance will be hosted by Supreme Court Justice Lex Lasry and keynote speakers will be law professor Frank Brennan and Family Court Chief Justice Diana Bryant. The youth speaker will be MacRobertson High School student Mieke Foster. Music will be supplied by a student group from MacRobertson High School.

For more information on all observances, go to


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