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Welcome of her Honour Justice Maree Kennedy

Welcome of her Honour Justice Maree Kennedy

By Steven Sapountsis


Address on the occasion of the welcome of her Honour Justice Maree Kennedy  at the Supreme Court of Victoria by Steven Sapountsis, president of the Law Institute of Victoria on Thursday  28 July 2016 at  9.15am in Banco Court, Supreme Court of Victoria

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 Maree Kennedy as a judge of the Supreme Court of Victoria.

I apologise in advance for some of the language in this welcome, and I trust that it is taken for what it is- a fair rendering of the earthiness of some of Your Honour’s friends and colleagues. 

When Your Honour’s appointment was announced by the Attorney-General Martin Pakula a month ago today, it was widely welcomed in the legal community and beyond.

There was little surprise at Your Honour’s elevation to this Court, and one friend expressed the light-hearted sentiment shared by others: “It’s about bloody time.”

But, with great respect to Your Honour’s popularity and standing, it wasn’t exactly front page news in the media- and perhaps thankfully so.

In just one of the rare examples of the coverage, it was reported in brief by the online site “” that offers the latest news, breaking stories and something called “trending topics”.

The item – lifted from the Government press release - was strikingly headlined: “County Court Judge Appointed to Supreme Court”, followed in brackets by “Premier of Victoria”.

Nothing outrageously tabloid there. But for weeks, until recently, placed prominently between that headline and the opening paragraph about The Attorney-General’s announcement, were large, adjoined and uncaptioned colour photographs of Donald J.Trump and US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Your Honour’s appointment had coincided with Justice Ginsburg’s out of court remarks that were sharply critical of the Republican presidential nominee, but, in the layout,  the website’s sub-editor had not differentiated the story from the photographs on the page.

There is of course, no possible way that the reasonable  jury, being properly instructed, could confuse our chief law officer (or the Premier, for that matter) and Mr Trump, nor Your Honour for Justice Ginsburg.

But Your Honour does have some traits in common with Justice Ginsburg, and with many other women - the ability,  toughness, talent and determination to survive and succeed in a male-dominated legal world.

Fran O’Brien QC may have been within in earshot in 2002, when then-Justice Mary Gaudron of the High Court of Australia, enquired of Your Honour’s background during a gathering of new silks,  and was told: “Nothing very significant, Your Honour, just bog Irish really.”

But even then, Your Honour’s record would have belied that wonderfully self-deprecating remark, and the record has been greatly enhanced since.

Today, Ms O’Brien recalls Your Honour’s intellectual confidence and independence as a barrister who did not  tell solicitors what they wanted to hear,  but what Your Honour thought they should hear - and I am confident my colleagues in our branch of the profession would have appreciated that advice- even if that appreciation was not immediately apparent. 

Ms O’Brien also admires Your Honour’s qualities as a judge, which she nominates as being; a phenomenal output of work, clarity of thought and a direct, persuasive path to the point.

As my role is to represent solicitors today, I request some latitude to boldly suggest that, but for Your Honour’s dazzling and quite brilliant 12 month’s articles with Arthur Robinson and Hedderwicks, and in particular being articled to Mr Guy, we may not be here this morning.    

Less bold is any statement of reasons why the profession is not surprised to see Your Honour robed and on the bench of this beautiful courtroom. 

In Your Honour’s swearing in as a County Court judge, Your Honour swore, to “give equal justice to all who appear in front of me” and that oath has been well met over the past nine years.

Your Honour’s achievements there have earned widespread respect for Your Honour, as these observations by friends, colleagues and practitioners attest:
“Huge capacity for work … calls a spade a spade … humble … understands people … exceptional legal mind … decent person … willing listener … fair … approachable … respectful of opinions … has a practical nature … no tickets on herself …”

As I think Chief Judge (and now Justice) Kidd may have expressed, one can readily understand how this appointment is a great loss to one jurisdiction, and an immense gain to another.

As we have heard, Your Honour has an admirable reputation for promptly delivering judgements - many have been announced within weeks, and sometimes even days, of the hearing.

We venture to speculate that a major reason for such timeliness is because Your Honour has appreciated that for most litigants the litigation process is stressful and costly, and they can benefit from the certainty that prompt decision making delivers.

In this month’s Law Institute Journal, Your Honour, together with County Court Judicial Registrars Sharon Burchell and My Anh  (Mee-anne)  Tran, wrote that the County Court’s Commercial Division aimed to provide low cost, high speed alternatives for the resolution of disputes.

That article also explained the Court’s emphasis on reducing the need for appearances, holding trials within six months of a first administrative mention and trials being conducted by a judge with experience in commercial law.

Your Honour contributed to achieving those aims, by prodigious effort and capacity for work, which must have been enormously satisfying, and perhaps a little exhausting.

The volume of work there administered by Your Honour did produce some moments of disorder - notably when the court computer system collapsed during a 30-case directions’ list and Your Honour’s desperate but unsuccessful efforts to get the system to back-up forced court associate Pip Kelly to resort to gently caressing her computer screen.

In all that, the irritation of a mobile phone sounding in court was gently met by Your Honour advising that “I prefer classical music, thanks”.

In a recent farewell speech for Your Honour, Judge Graham Anderson recalled Your Honour eagerly joining the 2007 push to establish a County Court Commercial List, and being a determined colleague who was focused on all aspects of list administration that helped create a “powerhouse of innovation”.

Judge Anderson also often relied on Your Honour’s wise advice – from legal issues and problems with participants to internal court issues and in “tough fights” over resources.
“The smallish amount of blood on the floor was entirely justified,” said Judge Anderson, after, at Your Honour’s insistence, you and he won a bruising battle for four judges to be allocated to the Commercial List. Judge Anderson, trying to take a gentler, less ambitious “whole of Court” position would only have asked for 2, perhaps 3.

In that speech Judge Anderson also acknowledged Your Honour’s willingness to hear the hardest, most difficult cases. His Honour said, and I quote “If her cases end[ed] up in the appellate courts, including the High Court it [was] invariably because of the nature of the cases and their complexity. It is difficult to recall a case where the appellate courts have been critical of Maree’s legal analysis.”

Your Honour’s long serving Tipstaff, Bob O’Neill loyally did himself out of a job by suggesting that your Honour would be better having two, legally qualified Associates, rather than one and a Tipstaff. And it was also Mr O’Neill who said proudly  “We rarely got rolled.”

A judicial colleague admired Your Honour’s facility with statutory interpretation, as, and I quote “quite brilliant”. 

As an example of Your Honour taking on the hard cases, Judge Anderson recalled the numerous proceedings issued in 2008 in relation to investments in the company Alyssa - tax avoidance matters that included a claim for about $2.5 million against Steve Irwin's ( the so-called "Crocodile Hunter")  Australia Zoo.
It was more than 10 times the court's previous (but  recently increased) monetary jurisdictional limit.
Your Honour agreed to manage the cases, Judge Anderson said, and delivered a speedy judgement in a test case that quickly saw the remaining cases settle.

To help cope with the Court workload , Your Honour enjoyed some comforts outside court– such as family, a passionate book club and conjuring puff pastry from scratch. There was also the blessed relief of the dropping out of phone reception while heading to that out-of-range weekend in the ranges.  But even then, by 7 the next Monday morning – and most other mornings for years - Your Honour was first in chambers with all lines of communication open.      

At the bar, Your Honour was a mentor, leader and role model for young lawyers. Perhaps as testament to that, we note that five of Your Honour’s female associates became barristers.

Your Honour was also instrumental in creating the work-share roles for Ms Burchell and Ms Tran. Such support for sisters in the law was most helpful to achieve balance in the profession, and was respected by all.

One senior male solicitor regards Your Honour as having “every attribute I want to see in a judge” while another male practitioner says Your Honour is a “stand out” judge.

The community and the legal system are fortunate indeed that Your Honour’s expertise is brought to this Court and the Law Institute of Victoria and the solicitors of this State wish you well in what we know will be a rewarding new career.

May it please the court.


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