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Law Week 2004 opens doors

News

Cite as: (2004) 78(7) LIJ, p. 32

From a speech by the federal Attorney-General to public seminars and awards, Law Week 2004 gave the public an insight into the inner workings of the law.

Federal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock addressed more than 180 lawyers on his plans to reform the regulation of the legal profession in one of the highlights of Law Week 2004.

Speaking at the Pitcher Partners/President’s Luncheon at Le Meridien on 20 May, Mr Ruddock said maintaining a world-class legal system was at the top of his agenda.

He pointed out recent significant advancements towards a national profession, national defamation laws and a review of the legal services directions as proof he was not suffering from “reform fatigue”.

Mr Ruddock also spoke on continuing attempts to halt the threat of terrorist attacks against Australia.

He said the extent to which Australians could enjoy their civil liberties relied on the effectiveness of counter-terrorism legislation.

It was important to see legislation designed to stop terrorist attacks in Australia as a way of ensuring human security, which would then allow people to realise their full potential, he said.

“I am not suggesting that counter-terrorism legislation should not be scrutinised to ensure that limitations on personal freedoms are minimised. Indeed, I encourage such an appraisal.

“But failing to recognise that national security can promote civil liberties by preserving a society in which rights and freedoms can be exercised will inevitably lead to the incorrect conclusion that civil liberties have been overlooked in an effort to promote national security.”

Mr Ruddock said Law Week was an important occasion as it reinforced the role of lawyers as an intermediary between the justice system and the community.

Lawyers also had an important role to play in broader issues such as law reform.

“It is this role in acting for the greater public good that sets legal practitioners apart as a profession rather than simply a vocation.”

Mr Ruddock’s words matched the theme of this year’s Law Week, which was “Opening the doors to the law”.

The week, jointly organised by the Law Institute and the Victoria Law Foundation, drew thousands of people to dozens of events from 16 to 22 May.

About 400 people attended two public seminars held during the week. The first, on bodies corporate, drew 180 people at the Melbourne Town Hall on 18 May. The second, on wills and estates, attracted more than 200 people on 22 May to the Town Hall.

The public also flocked to a series of court tours around the state.

As well as the traditional tours of the Supreme Court and County Court buildings in Melbourne, tours were conducted in many regional court complexes including Wodonga, Ballarat, Moe, Geelong and Bendigo.

The Law Institute and PILCH held a “thank you” dinner on 17 May for about 50 practitioners who had contributed to the Legal Assistance Scheme over the past year.

The scheme matches calls for pro bono work with firms and practitioners who have enlisted in the scheme.

More than 500 Law Institute members are part of the scheme.

In 2003, 124 matters were referred to participating solicitors for assistance and advice.

Speaking at the dinner, Parliamentary Secretary for Justice Jenny Mikakos said access to justice was markedly improved by the work of the scheme’s solicitors.

Law Week also recognised the work of students and the media.

The Institute’s Young Lawyers’ Section and law firm Deacons held a Social Justice Essay Competition in the weeks leading up to Law Week. The competition asked secondary school students from across the state to write an essay on a social justice issue.

The winners were announced at a ceremony held on 17 May. Hamish Williamson of South Gippsland Secondary College won the junior category, Connie Lee of Covenant College won the intermediate category and Claire Ferguson of Ivanhoe Girls’ Grammar won the senior category.

The Victoria Law Foundation held its annual Legal Reporting Awards on 17 May.

LIJ journalist Jason Silverii took out the top award – Reporter of the Year on Legal Issues – while LIJ illustrators Pat Campbell and Nigel Buchanan were highly commended in the Best Illustration category. (For more details on the Legal Reporting Awards, see June 2004 LIJ, page 21.)

Law Institute president Chris Dale said Law Week 2004 was “a very positive presentment of the law to the community”.

Mr Dale said he particularly enjoyed the Monash University-organised debate on designer babies held at Parliament House on 19 May. He was one of the judges who had to decide which side better debated their view on the question: Should the law allow genetic engineering to create the perfect baby?

The “negative” team of barristers Julian Burnside QC, David Shavin QC and Simon Wilson QC defeated the “positive” team comprising World and Australasian debate champion Kim Little, law student Simin Kocdag and Mallesons Stephen Jaques solicitor Chris Fladgate.

Mr Dale said the debate was fun and interesting. “There were lots of schoolchildren who came along and we had a pretty full chamber,” Mr Dale said. “It was another example of bringing the community into interface with the law.”

Institute marketing manager Alicia Patterson said that in an effort to build on the success of this year’s event work on Law Week 2005 was already under way.

“Next year we need to work out how members and the profession can take advantage of the week to better effect for their own marketing purposes.

“It is really one of the those points of the year during which members should take advantage of the fact that Law Week is happening and they can do some promotion in their own community,” Ms Patterson said.

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