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Welcome Chief Justice Diana Bryant

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Cite as: (2004) 78(9) LIJ, p. 31

New Family Court of Australia Chief Justice Diana Bryant was welcomed at a ceremony held on 28 July 2004. Among the speakers was Law Institute president Chris Dale. An edited version of his speech follows.

On behalf of the Law Institute of Victoria and its solicitors, I have much pleasure in welcoming your Honour to this Court.

Your Honour was born in Perth, educated at Firbank Grammar School in Melbourne and attended both Melbourne and Monash Universities.

You were admitted to practice in Victoria in 1970 and later admitted to practice in Western Australia in 1977.

During your time in Perth, your Honour worked as a solicitor and counsel specialising in family law. As a partner with Phillips Fox you helped build the firm’s family law practice into what was at the time one of the biggest practices nationally.

Your skills in managing people were honed in your many years as a solicitor.

In addition to the positions held on the boards of Australian Airlines and the Royal Perth Hospital, you were regularly invited to present papers on family law and related issues.

On returning to Melbourne in 1990, your Honour signed the Bar roll and took silk in 1997.

You were appointed Chief Federal Magistrate in 2000 and forged the initiation and growth of the Federal Magistrates Court.

With your appointment as Chief Justice of the Family Court, your Honour not only follows in the footsteps of former Chief Justice Alastair Nicholson but also the Court’s first Chief Justice, Elizabeth Evatt, who was the first woman to head a court in Australia.

After nearly 30 years of the Family Court’s operation, a new phase is about to commence.

As you are no doubt aware, the Court is by its very nature subject to criticism.

The daily caseload ultimately impacts on the lives of individuals and is therefore often the subject of great debate.

The need for a court to be adequately resourced is not unique to the Family Court, but is an important factor in improving the confidence of lawyers and litigants in the ability of the Court to hear and determine matters.

Your Honour has indicated a key priority for you will be to improve the Court’s reputation and understanding of its processes.

Dramatic social developments in the past 30 years have led to changes in the Court. The introduction of child support legislation and the referral of state powers to the Commonwealth in relation to ex-nuptial children are just some of the key developments.

And there are more challenges on the horizon, including the much debated Families Tribunal and the introduction in December of new rules that will revolutionise the Family Court’s powers to make orders affecting third parties.

The Family Court will undoubtedly benefit from your leadership style and consultative approach. Indeed, the unique understanding your Honour has of the Federal Magistrates Court and the experience you gained in developing that Court will no doubt stand you in good stead to achieve similar success in your new role.

The value you place in hard work is aptly described by a colleague who said, “She’ll work incredibly hard and she’ll ask a lot of her judges – but she’ll never ask a judge to do something that she herself wouldn’t do”.

Your Honour is referred to as a “genuinely nice person, hardworking and conscientious – with a twinkle in your eye”.

But there are stories.

On a trip to South Africa in 1994, while working on a case, you were described as being a “fearless ringleader”. Despite the recent bombing of the Soweto police station, you allayed any fears of your travelling companion and bravely led the excursion into Soweto.

Solicitors who worked with you praised your “great legal mind” and recalled your ability to interact and earn the respect of clients.

Your work ethic is greatly lauded. Described as a “working Trojan”, your Honour is said to “roll up your sleeves and get in there to get the job done”.

A case in point to illustrate:

While working as a barrister your Honour was successful in obtaining an Anton Piller order on behalf of your female client.

The subject of the search was a large sum of money believed to be hidden by your client’s husband in a suitcase.

Accompanied by your instructing solicitor, your client and the opposing counsel, your Honour proceeded to assist in thoroughly searching the flat for the alleged suitcase. On bended knee you scrounged around, diligently searching through the cupboards, underneath the bed and even beneath the mattress.

May I once again congratulate your Honour on your elevation to this honourable Court and commend your appointment.

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