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Welcome for Judge John Cain State Coroner and Judge of the County Court Victoria

Welcome for Judge John Cain State Coroner and Judge of the County Court Victoria

By LIV Media


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 John Cain as State Coroner and a judge of the County Court of Victoria.

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

The Law Institute has a very special affiliation with Your Honour, an important and proud one. It is a privilege to be able to speak today on behalf of the LIV to regale just some of your achievements before family, friends and the profession.

Your Honour’s rise to the Bench was forged not from a career at the Bar, as so many are, but from decades of highly successful and innovative service to the people of Victoria as a legal administrator.

Rarely do we see someone, such as Your Honour, who has served in so many pivotal roles that focus on the important work of influencing and formulating policy and administering legal services to the community.

The Institute is but one of those institutions where you have served, and we will come to that shortly.

Your Honour graduated from Monash University with a Bachelor of Law in 1981 and a degree in Economics, and within a year you joined the firm of Maurice Blackburn.

Why law? Your Honour suggests it was like joining “the family business”.

We suggest it has been more like a legal dynasty, with your father John Cain, and his father John Cain, all practising law.

Indeed, your father served as president of the Law Institute in 1972 before becoming Premier and Attorney-General of the state of Victoria in the 1980s.

We acknowledge his presence here today, and note that you were greatly influenced to pursue law from a young age by constantly watching your father [QUOTE] “weaving his magic” for clients in the Preston Magistrates Court.

On joining Maurice Blackburn in 1982, you were inspired by the firm’s ethos of helping individuals get access to justice and helping the community.

Your former colleagues describe you as an intellectually sharp and very gifted lawyer, with maturity and leadership capability that belied your years.

That was manifested by your decision to move to Gippsland to open a regional office for Maurice Blackburn at Traralgon – part of a longer plan to bring comprehensive legal services to the people in communities outside the city.

You made many friends in the Traralgon region, and you would often tell your Melbourne colleagues as you prepared to head back to Traralgon that you were [QUOTE] “off to Paradise”.

You were made a partner after just four years at Maurice Blackburn and, more remarkably, in 1992 you were appointed managing partner of the firm at the tender age of 32.

For the next decade, you led Maurice Blackburn through a profound geographical expansion and significant diversification of practice.

Your Honour led the merger of Melbourne-based Maurice Blackburn with Peter Cashman’s Sydney firm – a move that helped strengthen the firm just as it, and other Victorian plaintiff law firms, were under pressure from the Kennett government’s reforms that curbed workers’ compensation claims.

Your Honour felt so strongly about the potential impact of the legislative changes on workers that you rallied colleagues by telling them: “This is the reason you get out of bed each morning”.

To mitigate the impact on the firm, and to assist potential clients, your Honour led further expansion into the suburbs and regional areas.

Indeed, you set up a New Areas Group, known as the NAGs.

We understand this was supplemented by a Dandenong Area Group (the DAGs), and a Geelong Area Group (the GAGs), and Warrnambool today is, of course, the WAGs.

You diversified Maurice Blackburn Cashman beyond personal injuries, union briefs and workers compensation cases, and set up vital areas of specialist practice – most notably Medical Negligence, which was spearheaded by Kate Booth.

You also led the firm into the emerging and high-risk field of class action litigation.

Your former Maurice Blackburn colleagues say you had an extraordinary ability to spy the talent in individuals long before anyone else.

You have high and exacting standards, and you expect the same from your staff and colleagues.

Yet you are widely recognised as warm and engaging, empathetic, loyal and supportive.

You are described as someone with a “burning passion” to ensure that access to justice is actually delivered, and not just bandied about as some kind of fashionable goal.

Delivering access to justice, especially for vulnerable people, requires absolute commitment to legal excellence – and that is why you insist on absolute excellence from people around you.

In 2002, you applied for the job as Chief Executive of the Law Institute of Victoria.

You saw an organisation that was ripe for reform, and you transformed it into a vigorous, viable and essential feature of the legal industry in this state, as we see today.

From 2002 to 2006, you overhauled almost every aspect of the Law Institute’s operations, and by 2003 it was again in surplus.

John Corcoran,  the then-president of the Law Institute who hired you in 2002, says you were obviously commercially astute and strongly supported the social justice policy initiatives that were important to the Institute.

Your Honour was particularly intrigued by the public policy aspects of the job, by the chance of strengthening the Law Institute’s voice in legal policy in this state.

Your appointment came after the Kennett government had established the Legal Practices Board, taking the task of professional regulation off the LIV and, thus, deleting the fund the Institute had received for regulatory work.

You brought energy, dynamism and innovation to the Institute, reducing costs, strengthening membership commitment and delivering professional services to members.

Though one of your most controversial moves was also one of the most revolutionary – closing the Institute’s own Snail ‘n’ Bottle restaurant and transforming the internal space into an education centre for lectures, seminars and meetings.

Your Honour believed then, as now, that the Institute should be [QUOTE] “feeding the brains of its members, not their stomachs”.

Canvassing some opinions of the past presidents of the LIV, still holding onto their membership tokens to this day, it was a sad day for the profession. But the LIV has moved on to be a leader in the provision of CPD for lawyers based on decisions like this.

There was more – you initiated a thorough refurbishment of the LIV building.

You cut back businesses deemed not essential to the LIV’s future.

You were committed to improving professional standards for members through further education, and you were not afraid to take such policy initiatives to then-attorney-general Rob Hulls.

And, with then-president Bill O’Shea, you set up a joint venture of the LIV with the Queensland-based College of Law to provide practical, online legal training for law graduates through the newly-formed College of Law Victoria.

Your connections to policymakers, aided by your family’s rich history in Labor politics and your skills at listening and lateral thinking, proved powerful in achieving change.

We thank you for that time, which marked the first step on an even more expansive career as a genuine servant of the public.

In 2006, you were appointed the Victorian Government Solicitor during a five-year period of extraordinary changes and reforms – you will hear more from the Bar in that regard.

And from 2011 to 2015, you led the merger of law firm Herbert Geer with Thomson Lawyers to form Thomson Geer.

Since 2015, you have been the Solicitor in Charge of the Office of Public Prosecutions, where you paid particular attention to the possibilities and limitations for the OPP in interactions with victims of crime.

The Director of Public Prosecutions Kerri Judd has paid tribute to you publicly, expressing gratitude and saying: “I could not have carried out my responsibilities in this role over the last 18 months without (Your Honour’s) wise counsel and support.”

Your Honour, we know, is a superior ocean sailor, having participated in at least eight Sydney to Hobart races, as well as several Melbourne to Tasmania races and leisure sailing with your wife, Jenny, up Australia’s east coast.

Dan Nestel, your sailing partner, says you are meticulous and exacting to a fault – though such finickiness has come in handy more than once.

You were together on the yacht, Tilting at Windmills, during the devastating race of 1998, when mountainous seas and hurricane-force winds capsized ocean yachts and six people lost their lives.

Tilting at Windmills was blown “almost halfway to New Zealand”, Dan says, yet it still managed to finish second-in-class in a final race up the Derwent River.

Dan Nestel says he does not believe the yacht and its crew would have survived without your extraordinary commitment, unwavering focus and exceptional sailing skills.

Your Honour, on becoming State Coroner, you will be positioned at one of the crucial intersections for anyone in judicial office – a point where the impact of death on families, friends and the wider community is ever-present and must be considered alongside policy implications.

We know you will bring to the office the immense leadership, vision and empathy that you have demonstrated in each of your roles so far.

May it please the Court.

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