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Welcome for Judge Justin Hannebery, County Court of Victoria

Welcome for Judge Justin Hannebery, County Court of 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 Justin Hannebery as 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 to any Elders with us today.

Your Honour, it is a pleasure to formally welcome you to this Court today, a Court where several graduates of the School of Bernie Balmer now preside.

Among them are judges Sarah Dawes, Patricia Riddell and now you – although Bernie Balmer suggests as many as half this Court’s judges did some early years in his busy criminal defence practice.

“Half” may be an exaggeration, but Bernie would be the first to admit he might have lost count.

We understand those two years Your Honour spent at Balmers, from 1996 to 1998, were a rollicking, hair-raising and fascinating introduction to criminal defence work.

But Law was not your initial ambition – on graduating from Monash University with a Bachelor of Arts and a Law degree, you wanted to be a journalist.

Indeed, in 1994, you managed to get published in The Western Times a profile of one Steve Bracks, who replaced former premier Joan Kirner in the seat of Williamstown.

You applied for a cadetship at The Age and, competing against a field of many hundreds, you ended up on the short list of 12 potential candidates.

But we suggest it was a very smart idea that you committed to the supplementary exams – as you did every year, apparently – and actually passed your Law degree – eventually – because Your Honour was judged not good enough for The Age.

You did your articles with your father, Tony Hannebery, at his legal practice, and when you went to work for Bernie Balmer you were given two files that had your young legal eyes popping out of their sockets.

One was for a young woman who faked her way through Law school, created legal credentials, passed herself off as a barrister, and scammed hundreds of thousands of dollars from various people.

As The Herald-Sun later said, “her unswerving belief in her legal ability was reflected in the fact she had sacked 10 lawyers whose advice to plead guilty did not coincide with her view of the case”

The other file was for a fellow who committed rape by pretending to be an ASIO officer.

And you would consider their plight and meet with your clients while sitting in an office that used to be a hairdressing salon, where the backdrop behind Your Honour’s desk was some kind of beach scene with a nude guy carrying a surfboard on his shoulders.

Your Honour has described those early years in Law at Balmer’s practice as “absolutely terrifying”.

We understand that was not so much due to the clients – though some might suggest as much – but because you had to think through issues quickly and carefully.

This was no longer Law in theory – it was Law as it applied to real people in sometimes chaotic circumstances.

And there were days when it all seemed a bit too “real” – like when one of the firm’s more notorious clients would randomly turn up at the office, as he often did – a little edgy,– and demand to know where Bernie was.

You had to think on your feet – and perhaps some of that skill came from your years as a schoolboy, when you had to commute by train across town from Williamstown to Kooyong station each day.

Now you might have been the son of the president of the Williamstown Football Club, and fairly athletic in your own right, but your rather fetching, highly-conspicuous, bright-red Scotch College blazer and your mandatory cadets uniform were stand-out attractions for every idle thug at Footscray station and beyond.

We understand that after being threatened by a couple of kids wielding nunchakus one day, you realised it was better to stuff that gleaming blazer and cadets uniform into the bottom of the bag and make a swift getaway.

Your Honour does a fine line in self-deprecation, but many people relayed high praise for you.

Your practice as a barrister and, from 2018 as a silk, encompassed much criminal law, occupational health and safety matters, inquests and professional disciplinary tribunal cases.

While Your Honour may claim to have felt out of your depth in your early years of Law, Bernie Balmer says you took to criminal defence work “like a duck to water”.

He says you are “a fellow of decency, a people’s person”, that you hate to see injustice and would go out of your way to make sure injustice is fixed.

He also says you were a wonderful support to others in the office, very enthusiastic and a good mentor.

Barrister Sarah Keating says that as a senior member of Crockett Chambers, you were approachable and generous with your time, your constant good humour was always “a great antidote to a difficult day in court”.

She says Your Honour’s advice, and your approach to trials, was pragmatic, thoughtful and “calculated to meet the human condition”.

Lastly, this Court is very well known to Your Honour, as you ran many trials here as a barrister.

Judge Greg Lyon, who shared chambers with you for some years and served alongside you on the Criminal Bar Association, did a few trials with you in this Court after His Honour took silk.

He says you were highly sought as a barrister and renowned for your efficient, economical and highly effective style of advocacy, but it was apparent to him that Your Honour was perhaps not that keen on being led.

You did have, though, what Judge Lyon says is a “true feeling” for the work of the County Court and a genuine understanding of the level of advocacy that is needed in this Court.

Judge Lyon told us that Your Honour will bring to this Court “an understanding, empathy and instructive aspect” to the young barristers who will appear you.

He says that is because Your Honour has “seen enough of life to know that some people deserve either a second chance or a bit of a break”.

On behalf of the lawyers of this state, I wish Your Honour a long and enjoyable career on the Bench.

May it please the Court.


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