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Highs and lows of Law Week


Cite as: (2003) 77(7) LIJ, p.25

From the depths of the Supreme Court to the glamour of awards presentations, Law Week had something for everyone.

The Supreme Court dungeon tours were a highlight of this year’s Law Week. Law Institute president Bill O’Shea said the dungeons provided a fascinating insight into the criminal justice system of old.

“They make the notorious H division at the now closed Pentridge look like a holiday camp. The subsequent tours are sure to wake some ghosts of the past.”

The dungeons were furnished to show what life was like in the 1880s, complete with mannequins of police and prisoners in period costume.

Some of Victoria’s most infamous criminals are believed to have spent time there, including gangster Les “Squizzy” Taylor and serial murderer Frederick Bailey Deeming. Prisoners were locked behind heavy steel doors and shackled to the walls of the gas-lit corridor known as “Prisoner’s Walk”. Prisoners were led up a steep spiral staircase and through a trapdoor into the dock. The remains of anchor points for manacles used to chain prisoners to the walls of the corridor were found during restoration work.

Held from 12-17 May, Law Week aimed to educate the public about the law’s past, present and future. It was jointly organised by the Institute and the Victoria Law Foundation.

Mr O’Shea said Law Week contributed much towards explaining how the legal system worked and how lawyers helped the community. “It is important for us to cherish the independent legal system we have in Australia and to understand the role that lawyers play in maintaining and enhancing that system. Access to justice is fundamental to our society,” he said.

Mr O’Shea said Law Week had been extremely successful this year.

“It was definitely the biggest and best Law Week for many years and we are aiming to build on it for next year.”

For the first time, the Institute opened its doors to the public at a weekend, attracting 300 people. In the Institute’s Tony Smith Lecture Theatre, three speakers covered all aspects of making a will, enduring powers of attorney and estate planning. The speakers were Robyn Sparks and Kathy Wilson from Abbott Stillman & Wilson, and Phil Grano of the Office of the Public Advocate.

The bookshop reported a steady trade and the public also took the opportunity to inspect the library. Outside the building, bookshop staff member Julian Smith donned Ned Kelly armour to give away 300 stress footballs and 600 magnets to passers-by. In the afternoon, the play Murder at Blue Hills?, written by the Chief Justice of Victoria John Harber Phillips and performed by Caulfield Grammar, was held in the lecture theatre. More than 70 people attended, including the Chief Justice.

The court tours, which have been part of Law Week for about 16 years, received an unprecedented response from the public this year with nearly 450 people participating. Members of the public were addressed in each court by leading judges and magistrates. Court Network volunteers, tipstaff and other court personnel guided people through the courts.

The Supreme Court tours were so popular that arrangements have been made to hold more tours throughout the year when the Court is not sitting.

Due to increasing demand, this year for the first time two career expos were held. About 450 people attended the expo at the University of Melbourne and 220 at Monash University. Other events were also popular, with about 300 people registered for sessions at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

The LIJ featured prominently in the annual Victoria Law Foundation Law Reporting Awards held as part of Law Week.

Journalist Jason Silverii was highly commended in the category of Best Report in Print for his article “The judicial life – on call 24 hours” (March 2002, pages 16-25), while art director Katherine Alexander was highly commended in the category of Best Illustration for her entry titled “Prisoners of conscience” (November 2002, pages 56-57).

Freelance illustrator Kerry Millard was also highly commended in the Best Illustration category for her work that accompanied an article titled “The ship’s cat” (December 2002, page 61). Freelance photographers David Johns and Murray Yann were highly commended in the Best Photograph category for their work on “The judicial life – on call 24 hours”.

Herald Sun reporter Geoff Wilkinson was named Reporter of the Year on Legal Issues, while his colleague Norrie Ross won the Columb Brennan Award for Excellence in Court Reporting.

Kate Legge won the inaugural Tony Smith Award for reporting that promotes an understanding of the work of the courts for her Weekend Australian magazine article titled “Patrick – a case in the life of a Family Court judge”.

More than 150 students entered the Deacons and Young Lawyers Social Justice Essay Competition. This year’s competition asked students to turn their minds to the issue of homelessness. Mansfield College student Coral East was the winning student in the years 11-12 category. Loreto College, Ballarat, student Siobhan McBrearty won the years 9-10 award and Wesley College, Glen Waverley, student Simon Merritt won the years 7-8 prize.

The adjudicating panel included Homeless Persons’ Legal Clinic coordinator Philip Lynch, Hanover Welfare Services CEO Tony Nicholson and former Big Issue magazine deputy-editor Meg Mundell.

Students and their schools were awarded novels from Penguin Books, textbook vouchers from Macmillan Publishing and cash prizes from Deacons.

Throughout Victoria there were library displays and court tours at Ballarat, Moe, Beechworth, Chiltern, Corryong, Dromana, Geelong, Morwell, Rutherglen, Tallangatta, Wodonga and Wangaratta. Special activities were also held at Footscray and Frankston. Next year, the Institute aims to have even more activities in regional Victoria.

Paul Conroy


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