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The Wright side of the law?

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Cite as: (2005) 79(9) LIJ, p. 39

With a diverse career path behind him, Richard Wright has embarked on a “voyage of discovery” as a magistrate.

A decision to “go bush” and move to Dunnolly in central Victoria was the catalyst behind Richard Wright’s decision to apply for the magistracy.

“I thought: ‘What could a bloke do in the bush?’ and clearly being a magistrate would be just what I needed so I applied,” he said.

“I have always done what I thought were worthwhile jobs and this was a worthwhile job ... so I went through the process and was lucky enough to get the nod.”

Mr Wright, 58, who was appointed a magistrate last December, will begin a placement at Bendigo Magistrates’ Court next January.

Since his appointment, Mr Wright said he had been on a “voyage of discovery”, covering the full spectrum of the Magistrates’ Court jurisdiction including coronial inquests and the Children’s Court.

Taking on new roles and changing tack in his career is something to which Mr Wright is accustomed.

His diverse career has involved the law and public policy, economic research and policy advice, information technology and management consulting.

As Civil Justice Review Project associate director from 1997 to 2001, he co-authored with Peter Sallmann the Legal Practice Act Review for Attorney-General Rob Hulls which led to the drafting of the Legal Profession Act 2004, which was expected to come into effect by the beginning of next month.

Mr Wright also co-authored with Professor Sallmann Going to Court, a major discussion paper on civil justice in Victoria, which was published in 2000.

He was chair and senior referee of the Residential Tenancies and Small Claims Tribunals of Victoria from 1992 to 1997, and executive director of the Law Reform Commission of Victoria from 1987 to 1992.

More recently, Mr Wright was director of research and communication at the Constitution Commission Victoria (from 2001 to 2002), which was responsible for the major reform of the Victorian Upper House, and chief information officer at the Department of Premier and Cabinet until his appointment as a magistrate.

“I had the background in the tribunals, I had done the review of civil justice, I knew how courts worked and ... I thought I had a chance to do something,” he said of his move to the magistracy.

“And I have always had a fond affection for the Magistrates’ Court because it is really the front line of justice in Victoria.”

Mr Wright said the Magistrates’ Court was the Court most members of the public were likely to see.

“It is the ability of the Magistrates’ Court to deliver justice speedily, effectively and efficiently that really determines how the judicial system is perceived in this state. So I thought this [being a magistrate] is important and worth doing.”

Mr Wright initially studied mathematical economics, econometrics and philosophy at La Trobe University from 1967 to 1970, and worked as a research economist at the Australian Tariff Board for 10 years.

But it was during his time as an assistant director at the Prices Justification Tribunal, where he was involved in legal issues and surrounded by high-profile barristers, that his interest in the law developed.

At the same time, the constitutional crisis of 1975 provided another impetus to get involved in the law.

“Politics seemed to lack the answers as to how a government could be dismissed,” he said. “In my view, only the lawyers understood and the law had the key. Consequently, an abiding interest and love of the discipline of the law was born. I enrolled at Melbourne [University] in 1976.”

Studying both part and full-time, Mr Wright completed his law degree at Melbourne University in 1981. He completed articles at Corr & Corr (now Corrs Chambers Westgarth) and was admitted to practice in 1983.

He was later involved in company law as a senior project officer with the National Companies and Securities Commission.

Mr Wright said he was loving his role as a magistrate and his new life in the country, where he and his wife were renovating an 1869 house previously owned by former colonial government minister James Bell.

A lover of classical music and biographies, the surrounding diggings and deserted towns of the old gold mining area also provides an interesting backdrop for another of his passions – road cycling.

A member of the Flemington Institute of Sport, Mr Wright said he participated in big rides including the “Round the Bay”, the 200km “Fruit Loop” to Strathbogie, near Violet Town, and the Mid-Autumn Day Ride, “The Mad Ride” at Yarra Glen.

“There is nothing better than climbing that big hill to Strathbogie, reaching the top and pointing the front wheel down towards Benalla,” he said. “Hitting and holding the speed downhill at 85km/h or more – that’s fun.”

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