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Welcome Justice Stephen Kaye


Cite as: (2004) 78(3) LIJ, p. 29

Recently appointed Supreme Court Justice Stephen Kaye was welcomed to the Supreme Court at a ceremony on 6 February 2004. Among the speakers was Law Institute president Chris Dale. An edited version of his speech follows.

Your Honour was educated at Scotch College and matriculated in 1968, a year of quiet revolution. Despite this, you received four first-class honours and a special distinction in Latin.

At Monash University, then a hotbed of political intrigue, your Honour avoided extracurricular activity of this nature and applied yourself diligently to your studies, graduating with a bachelor of arts and bachelor of laws with first-class honours and the shared Supreme Court Prize in 1973.

You completed your articles at Blake & Riggall and were admitted to practice in 1975. You practised as a solicitor for a year before following the call of the Bar and being admitted there in February 1976.

Your Honour has worked predominantly in the civil area, particularly since taking silk in 1991. The cases have involved the full range of commercial law and common law.

You have also appeared in criminal trials and in a number of appeals to the Court of Criminal Appeal.

At the Bar your practice was diverse, covering many jurisdictions. In an era of ever-increasing specialisation and narrowing of legal expertise due to the complexity of each area of law, the fact that you could command a knowledge in such broad legal subjects, before judge and jury, is remarkable.

But the Bar’s loss is the Bench’s gain, for you are ably equipped to perform a role in multiple divisions and lists of this Court.

But it has not all been the dry practice of the law. My inquiries among solicitors of your defamation practice have revealed that you developed a keen interest in this area while working as a junior to the late Neil McPhee QC. You appeared for some colourful characters, not all of them plaintiffs. Your defamation practice has even extended to defending that bastion of the freedom of the press, The Truth newspaper. Thankfully, perhaps, the records are sketchy and some of the editors are no longer with us to give clearer details of the stories saved from publication by your timely advice.

Over the years, your Honour has appeared in a number of long and landmark trials including the Toyota/Ken Morgan case, the Estate Mortgage case and the inquest into the Linton fires. In these, your prodigious capacity for work, yet calming influence, has been most evident to your instructing solicitors.

Recently, your Honour appeared on behalf of an official of the CFMEU who was the first unionist charged with offences under the Workplace Relations Act.

Occasionally you have taken up a cause for a client, but none so much as when you were briefed as senior counsel to advise the Hawthorn Football Club in the “no merger” campaign. This was a labour of love. As instructing solicitor in the case with a supreme ignorance of “the game”, I found your Honour’s occasional tuition on football matters remarkably instructive. Yet despite your obvious ardour as a Hawthorn supporter, you were able to dispense your customary wise and objective counsel. Thus your beloved Hawthorn Football Club was spared the hand of corporate rationalisation.

However, your Honour’s wide legal and general knowledge has not been without its lacuna. I mention here your apparent limitations in the classical musical field. I am told by members of the Bar that they became so concerned at one stage that you were put on an immediate course of remedial tuition, starting with Scarlatti. No doubt you took to this with your usual enthusiasm.

Your welcome has been delayed somewhat due to the legal vacation. Despite this, you have not rested but have sat providing assistance to the Court and the legal profession. I am told by those who have appeared before you that you have already demonstrated a natural judicial flair.

It is timely that you are being welcomed in the week of the opening of the legal year. This is a time to reflect on the meaning of the law in our community and the importance of an independent judiciary.

US Chief Justice Harlan Stone was fiercely tolerant and independent during his term. In praising the American jurist Justice Benjamin Cardozo, Chief Justice Stone observed that he “saw in the judicial function, the opportunity to practise that creative art by which law is moulded to fulfil the needs of a changing social order”.

In the same way, I am sure your Honour will go on to serve this Court with the recognition that the rule of law should be judged not only by its logic but by the extent to which it contributes to society’s welfare. In doing so you will follow in the fine tradition of the Kaye family.

May I congratulate you on your elevation to this Court and commend your appointment. On behalf of the Law Institute and the solicitors of Victoria, I wish you all the best for the future.


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