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Obituary Peter James Jacobs (2/5/1950 – 31/3/2009)


Cite as: (2009) 83(06) LIJ, p.26

Well-respected Ballarat criminal lawyer Peter Jacobs will be missed by all with whom he worked.

Peter Jacobs came from a long line of distinguished lawyers. His grandfather and uncle were well-known barristers, another uncle was a master of the Supreme Court of Victoria and his late father was a respected suburban solicitor. The tradition continues through two of his brothers.

A University of Melbourne graduate, Pete was admitted to practice in 1976. He was articled to his father at the firm of Duncan Mackinnon & Co in Richmond and later joined his father as a partner in the firm.

From there he became a mentor at Leo Cussen Institute where he worked from 1980 to 1983. From 1983 to 1987 he practised in Ringwood East from offices which he shared with his brother. In 1987 he moved to Ballarat and practised in criminal law with Byrne Jones & Torney, now BJT Legal. He was briefly a partner at this firm before leaving to establish his own practice in Ballarat.

He spent the next 17 years practising primarily in criminal and traffic law, but also had a large conveyancing practice.

From 2006 to 2007 he worked as an instructor at the College of Law in Melbourne.

He returned to practice in Ballarat in late 2007 but his illness led to his retirement from practice in early 2008.

Late last year Pete was the honoured recipient of a certificate of service from the Law Institute of Victoria. A certificate of service is given to an LIV member who has demonstrated professional excellence or has made a special contribution to the legal profession. In Pete’s case, he had done both.

This rather dry recitation of the formal details of Pete’s life as a lawyer provides the merest hint of the type of practitioner that he was.

He was a lawyer whose practice of the law was founded on the principle of the importance of access to justice for all. He had a great intellectual appreciation of the law, its history and its place in society and he applied that love of academic learning to the practical realities of dealing with defendants of all kinds.

Pete’s great love was criminal law and one of his other great loves was criminal law clients. Some of his clients were absolute reprobates who were recidivists and without remorse. Pete would do the very best that he could for them professionally, no matter what crimes they had been accused of and no matter what he thought of them personally.

He frequently acted for impecunious clients without fee. He always provided the level of professional service that a case required, rather than the level of service to which a matter was funded by Victoria Legal Aid.

For many years he was an active member of the Ballarat Magistrates’ Court duty lawyer scheme and devoted hours to dealing with cases, sometimes of considerable complexity, as they walked in the door of the court on the day. It never ceased to surprise him that people charged with very serious criminal offences would assume that they could simply turn up at court and that a duty lawyer would then appear for them.

Pete was highly respected by the judiciary, police and court staff with whom he worked over the years. His expertise was such that he was one of the first practitioners to be appointed to Victoria Legal Aid’s indictable crime panel.

He was also a generous and committed mentor to junior practitioners. This was obvious from his work as a mentor at Leo Cussen, but was also displayed through his generosity with his time when junior practitioners needed his advice. His wise counsel about difficult Children’s Court issues, criminal matters, intervention orders or serious indictable crimes was invaluable to those who sought it and he was never too busy to help another practitioner.

Pete was the registered proprietor of the Jacobs travelling wig and gown which were regularly rushed across Dana Street from his office to the Ballarat courthouse by solicitors and barristers who suddenly realised they needed to be robed for their court appearance.

Peter’s humour, friendliness, expertise and professionalism will be greatly missed by his clients and by all members of the profession with whom he came into contact. He leaves a devoted wife, two daughters and a grandson, all of whom are deeply saddened by his passing.


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