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A covenant of women


Cite as: (2005) 79(7) LIJ, p. 24

The Women Lawyers Achievement Awards last month continued to recognise the support of women for women in the legal profession.

Three women with at least one achievement in common – a record of blazing new trails in the law – were recognised by their peers for their outstanding contribution to the legal profession.

County Court Judge Felicity Hampel, plaintiff lawyer Dr Vivian Waller and Fiona McLeod SC were the winners of the 2005 Women Lawyers Achievement Awards held at Parliament House’s Queen’s Hall on 2 June.

Judge Hampel and Dr Waller won their awards in the experienced practitioner section, while Ms McLeod won the “rising star” award.

More than 180 people, mostly female solicitors and barristers, attended the function.

The awards, a joint function between Victorian Women Lawyers and the Women Barristers’ Association (WBA), aims to honour three women every two years for their contribution to the legal profession, and this year, managed to achieve something rare for an awards ceremony – choose winners to universal acclaim.

Ms McLeod received her “rising star” award for her contribution to the advancement of women barristers in Victoria.

She has been a past convenor of the WBA and a member of the Victorian Bar’s Equality Before the Law Committee. She has also had involvement in the Leo Cussen Institute and the Public Interest Law Clearing House.

Ms McLeod said she was overwhelmed by the award, especially considering that she was in a room with so many women who contributed in their own way to the cause of women lawyers.

“We just did what we saw had to be done,” she said.

“Sometimes it was hard, sometimes it was joyful. I’ve been called a nagging shrew and leader of the coven.

“Sometimes we got it wrong, but mostly we got it right.”

She said that despite the good work that has been done in regards to equality, “insidious and systemic issues haven’t left us entirely”.

Judge Hampel received her award for her contribution to the Victorian Bar, the judiciary and advancing the cause of women lawyers, human rights and law reform.

After completing articles at Meerkin & Apel in 1979, Judge Hampel signed the Bar roll in 1981 and read with now Federal Court Justice Ron Merkel.

While at the Bar she practised in criminal law, commercial law, human rights and administrative law.

This year she was appointed to the County Court Bench.

Between 1991 and 2005 Judge Hampel was instrumental in numerous influential organisations.

She was a member of the Australian Advocacy Institute’s teaching faculty from 1991 to 1998 and a board member of its committee of management. She was a founding member of Australian Women Lawyers in 1996, the same year she took silk.

She was convenor of the WBA in 1997 and a member of the Human Research Ethics Committee at RMIT from 1997 to 1999.

In 1998, Judge Hampel became Liberty Victoria president and in 2001 was appointed part-time commissioner of the Victorian Law Reform Commission and adjunct professor in law at Monash University.

She currently holds positions at the Castan Centre for Human Rights, the International Institute for Forensic Studies, the VicHealth Centre for Tobacco Control and Musica Viva.

A surprised Judge Hampel, who was unaware she had been nominated for the award and had only agreed to attend the function at the final minute after some cryptic convincing, said she was honoured by the award.

She told the crowd she had been “enormously lucky and enormously privileged” during her life in the law.

“I really do feel so honoured and overwhelmed. What I do is not remarkable. I do what everybody does in their own way and in their own context.”

Dr Waller’s award was greeted by a standing ovation from sections of the crowd.

She received her award for her work in the area of sexual assault.

Dr Waller, a consultant with Maurice Blackburn Cashman, established the Sexual Assault Unit at that firm in 2003. The unit acts for people who have endured rape or other forms of sexual assault.

She has been a passionate voice for reform in this area and has worked with groups such as Centres Against Sexual Assault, Victorian Women’s Trust, the Women’s Legal Resource Centre and Positive Women.

According to former Victorian Premier Joan Kirner, who nominated Dr Waller for the award, her work is courageous and her energy inexhaustible.

With state Attorney-General Rob Hulls standing behind her after handing her the award, Dr Waller launched a scathing attack on the government for its reaction to the Court of Appeal’s decision days earlier not to allow two women to proceed with civil suits against former ATSIC chair Geoff Clark.

The Court of Appeal ruled on 11 May that the alleged crimes had taken place more than 20 years ago and therefore the statute of limitations had been reached.

Dr Waller said the after-effects of this decision were already being felt.

“In the wake of the Clark decision, we have received 12 or so letters from defendants inviting me to withdraw all of those matters on the basis that each ... is statute barred.

“I’m sorry to say that the defendant in most of those matters is the State of Victoria and I got those letters from the Victorian Government Solicitor saying they wouldn’t allow those matters to go ahead to be heard on their merit.”

Jason Silverii


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