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Encouraging a fair go


Cite as: (2007) 81(3) LIJ, p. 28

Magistrate Graham Keil is aiming to deliver the right mix of generosity and justice in his determinations.

The Australian culture of a “fair go” appealed to Graham Keil when he emigrated from Scotland and he is aiming to carry this ethos into the courts as a magistrate.

Mr Keil, 46, said he wanted to make a positive difference as a magistrate, by allow-ing and encouraging people to have a fair hearing.

“It is deeply embedded, as I see it originally as an outsider, as part of the Australian culture to give people a fair go,” he said.

“I suppose one of the reasons I was encouraged to emigrate was because it [Australia] prides itself on giving people a fair go.

“That’s a marvellous aspect and if that can be carried to the courts, that’s what I hope to encourage.”

Mr Keil said one of the greatest challenges as a magistrate was to obtain the “correct measure of generosity and justice – just to pitch it right”.

“I want to be just but I want to be generous as well. I want to rehabilitate people because there is no point in having prisons, as I see it, full of people who could be rehabilitated if they were in the community.”

He aimed to reduce any sense of alienation felt by those appearing before him.

“I suppose I am from the outside, coming from a different country and I, to a certain extent, know what it is like to be alienated.”

Mr Keil was born in Inverness, in the Scottish Highlands, but travelled the world as a child due to his father being a member of the Seaforth Highlanders regiment.

Despite attending 10 different schools in Germany, Singapore and the UK, living among an 800-strong Highland regiment meant Mr Keil maintained his Scottish accent. He also learned the bagpipes and played with the Colinton and Currie Pipe Band, one of the oldest civilian pipe bands in Scotland.

Mr Keil completed his tertiary education in Scotland, qualifying from Edinburgh University to practise law in 1982.

He initially did mostly criminal cases at a small law firm and later worked at the Law Society of Scotland on its Legal Aid Bill.

After coming to Australia with his wife in 1986, he spent a brief time in Tasmania before settling in Melbourne. He worked at a small law firm, WJ Morley in East Bentleigh, and then with a WorkCare agency before joining the Victorian Bar in 1991.

“At the Bar I initially did personal injury work, and after that moved on to crime and for the past eight years very serious County Court crime,” he said.

His work as a barrister had been about 70 per cent for the defence and 30 per cent for the prosecution, giving him a perspective on both views of the court system.

Mr Keil said he felt that his past reflected a “social conscience”. He had mixed with the “deep seated privileged” – his mother’s father was gamekeeper to the Queen at Balmoral Castle in Scotland – but he had also actively involved himself with those in greater need.

His voluntary work has involved laying linoleum in council estates in Scotland, legal aid work over 24 years, and volunteering at Bayside Support and Information Service (BSIS) for the past 19 years.

Outside the legal field, Mr Keil has pursued amateur theatre, soccer, squash, gymnastics and cycling.

Appointed last October to the Frankston Magistrates’ Court, Mr Keil said he was planning to cycle at least part of the way to work to help counteract the sedentary working day of a magistrate.

And he would continue with gymnastics, a sport he took up eight years ago following the involvement of his children, now aged 21 and 19.

“I got involved when my children were good at it and it was just lovely to see them have command of their bodies, doing aerials and things like that,” he said.

“So I got involved with them judging gymnastics. I became a qualified judge and then there was an adults class and I still go.

“It is a good stress release because you have to focus on what you are doing,” he said.

“When you do a spring off the vault, you really have to focus on it rather than be thinking about what is happening with a case.”


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