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Welcome for Justice Norah Hartnett - Family Court of Australia

Welcome for Justice Norah Hartnett - Family Court of Australia

By LIV Media



LIV president Stuart Webb welcomed her Honour Justice Norah Hartnett to the Family Court of Australia.

May it please the court.

I appear on behalf of the Law Institute of Victoria and the solicitors of this state to welcome Your Honour Justice Norah Hartnett to the Family Court of Australia.

We acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we gather and pay our respects to their Elders - past and present - and to any Elders with us today.

Your Honour’s start in the law was the uncommon case of a city girl moving to the country. You effortlessly engaged the honourable tradition of participating in and contributing to provincial life and was embraced in return.   

Articled in 1979 to the late Geoffrey Torney at Byrne Jones & Torney in Ballarat, your career has reflected his legal acumen, integrity and humility.

Then at Ford & Co in Melbourne from 1981, the firm’s senior family law practitioner Judith Lord closely guided you and Louise Jenkins – now a partner at Allens. She often took you both to the Family Court and conferences with counsel while Ms Jenkins remembers Your Honour quickly becoming part of the firm’s fabric.

Your wonderful sense of humour and ebullient personality enjoyed then endures today.  Such geniality was sorely needed on your appointment as a founding member to the Federal Magistrates Service in June 2000. A forerunner to the Federal Circuit Court, its first annual report noted that it had not yet been determined precisely how it would even go about its task.

They were, indeed, heady but often hard days. There was also some criticism, including disquiet expressed by the LIV and the Law Council of Australia who envisioned the court’s establishment could create confusion, duplication and extra costs to litigants.

But at your welcome in December 2000, LIV immediate past President Michael Gawler withdrew the imputations and admitted we had been wrong. No misgivings had been expressed about the quality of the initial appointments, a truth endorsed by Adele Byrne, the court’s first Registrar and its present Deputy Principal Registrar.    

Ms Byrne, a solicitor with you in Ballarat, knew the court needed a proactive figure like Your Honour who wanted to make a difference, had the courage to do so and was undaunted by the challenges.

There was also no acceptance of time wasting or such nonsense. In almost two decades on the bench, Your Honour has led by example, maintained a cracking pace and never flagged ... a Force 10 to be reckoned with and relied on.

In my time as manager of the migration law practice at Victoria Legal Aid, which brought us before Your Honour on many occasions, Your Honour’s decisions were well received as comprehensive and fair examinations of legal arguments before you, whichever way it fell.

Hailey Trudgen, now a solicitor at Kenna Teasdale who was Your Honour’s associate for five years, recalls your mentoring of colleagues and generosity for multitudes of law and work experience students.

Your unpretentious nature was encapsulated in insisting not to be called “judge” and also door-knocking yourself into court - and your unfussed manner in the face of some unpleasant courtroom litigants was as consistent as your kindness to staff.

Bonnie Chipp describes the chambers she joined after Ms Trudgen as fast-paced, vibrant and extremely productive – last year Your Honour delivered more than 100 timely judgements.

It was not uncommon, she says, for you to accept additional work under already heavy loads to assist the court or colleagues. If there was ever a request or a task needed doing the answer was always yes.

Your Honour’s present associate Karina Shnayder simply reckons she has the best boss … a composed, decisive and a tireless leader and supporter.

The LIV - and many other bodies – has long benefitted from Your Honour’s extensive external involvements at conferences or in presentations, from Torquay to Tanzania and Brisbane to Beijing.

Apart from absolute devotion to family, Your Honour’s other outside activities are notable for examples of determination and achievement.

Once bet $50 by barristerial colleagues that you could not complete a marathon, Your Honour entered the Frankston to Melbourne event. Your ever-supportive but also slightly sceptical husband Rick Horsley was stationed at the half-way point in Mordialloc with a support car. Passing steadily by, you dismissed his thoughtful offer of a ride home with “ … Bugger off – I’m finishing this”.

And you did, of course, although Rick jokes that by the time you reached the finish line it had been dismantled.

Swimming remains a passion. On circuit it’s said you have sometimes appeared after lunch with hair still damp from doing laps. One proud success was competing in the open water event at Cadaques (pronounced Card-a-Kiss) on the Spanish Mediterranean coast.

We understand Your Honour finished somewhere between those awarded trophies for the fastest and others as the wildest partygoers.

This appointment – somewhat overdue, it’s respectfully been observed – enhances the Family Court and secures for the community and the profession a judge of the highest quality.

May it please the court.  

LIV president Stuart Webb


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