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Greste freed at start of legal year

Briefs

Cite as: March 2015 89 (3) LIJ, p.15

The release today of Peter Greste gives us much to rejoice and celebrate.

So said Justice Mordecai Bromberg, president of the International Commission of Jurists which hosted the community observance at Waldron Hall in the County Court. The release of the Australian journalist from a Cairo prison was a fitting start to the opening of the legal year on 2 February.

The 800th anniversary this year of the Magna Carta, the first charter to establish the fundamental principle of the rule of law, was also acknowledged by Justice Bromberg, who gave a warm welcome before speakers – Federal Court judge Deborah Mortimer, Year 12 students Julie Ly from Melbourne Girls’ College and David Vadori from Brunswick Secondary College, and comedian and law student Corinne Grant – were introduced.

“There is nothing more important to the success of our legal system than confidence in our legal system which is encouraged by events such as this which provide access to the law and its traditions,” Justice Bromberg said.

Justice Mortimer spoke about Indigenous disadvantage, including the lack of qualified court interpreters in many Aboriginal languages for court hearings involving native title.

“How can it be in 2014, 20 years after Mabo, that we do not give every determination in the native language? Why are we not encouraging the development of indigenous interpreter services?” Justice Mortimer asked.

She cited an array of “shameful” statistics which highlighted the parlous state of Indigenous experience in Australia. Indigenous men, women and children are many times more likely to die, be abused, hospitalised and jailed than non-Indigenous Australians.

Justice Mortimer said if an 18 per cent increase in breast cancer was announced, there would be a rapid response. “Yet, 18 per cent was the increase in the incarceration rate of Indigenous women last year,” she said, adding the flow-on effect was displacement of children.

“Too many Indigenous children are losing connection with family, culture and country all over again . . . there is not enough outrage about the disadvantage and gaps.

“They are the first people of this country and whatever we are doing, it is not enough. What I have sketched this morning is shameful.

“In the legal profession we are well placed to do constitutional reform and it’s easy to do pro bono, but all those things we do within our comfort zone. I venture to suggest it’s not enough.

“We move swiftly on terrorism, asylum seekers, the economy, yet change for Indigenous people comes at a glacial pace. When resources are cut back, we look away. Young people are taken into care and imprisoned and we talk and wring our collective hands. It’s an undignified Australian response and we are failing. If you look closely you will be outraged.”

Comedian and law student Corinne Grant was “ordered” to make the audience laugh and so she did. But it was the 41-year-old University of Melbourne student’s latterday passion for the law which was most evident.

Ms Grant said practising law was a practical way to make a difference and “still wear magnificent costumes”. “I love the wigs and robes. I love the costume because it’s a reminder that it’s bigger than us. It’s ruled by concepts. It took me 23 years to see the light. When my time comes I want to be an advocate for justice and fairness.”

Nola Karapanagiotidis was the winner of the John Gibson Award. The refugee advocate founded the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) in 2001 and has done a staggering 20,000 pro bono hours at the centre. She has also run public interest cases and donated $350,000 from wins, and trained 55 pro bono lawyers. “It is a privilege to work with asylum seekers.

They show extreme resilience and courage. I want to acknowledge the legal team at the ASRC, it is such rewarding work.” The secular event, now in its eighth year, was supported by the LIV, the Victorian Bar, the Victoria Law Foundation and Corrs Chambers Westgarth. Catering was provided by the ASRC and the Melbourne Lawyers Orchestra provided music.

There was also a multi-faith opening of the legal year event at Government House, hosted by Governor Alex Chernov. Chief Justice Marilyn Warren attended. A red mass was held at St Patrick’s Cathedral. On 3 February, an Eastern Orthodox service marking the start of the legal year was held at St Eustathios Greek Orthodox Church.

Over egg and bacon rolls, muffins and muesli at the Legal Laneway breakfast on 4 February, attendees heard Attorney- General Martin Pakula talk about this year’s legal priorities for the new state government. They included a commitment to evidence-based decisions to improve community safety. The Hardware Lane event concluded the opening of the legal year 2015. See “Court on Camera” p18.

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