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Welcome for Justice Lisa Nichols Supreme Court of Victoria

Welcome for Justice Lisa Nichols Supreme Court of Victoria

By LIV Media

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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 Lisa Nichols as a judge of the Supreme 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.

The high praise that has been afforded Your Honour by the Victorian Bar this morning has been a constant throughout your career and is richly deserved.

You graduated from Monash University with a Bachelor of Law with Honours in 1997, taking out the Supreme Court prize that year, and you soon joined law firm Slater and Gordon.

The firm had a very substantial personal injuries and workplace compensation caseload, and it was just emerging as one of the two main plaintiff law firms tackling the relatively new field of class action litigation.

Margaret Kent of Slater and Gordon can clearly recall heading up the steps alongside you on that very first day at Slaters, the pair of you being “like preppies”.

You were, she says, “extremely intimidating intellectually” – a compliment, Your Honour – and outstanding for your work ethic, rigor and exactitude.

That was affirmed in 2001, when, just three years after being admitted as a solicitor in Victoria, you were made a partner of Slaters and began working on two of the biggest class actions at that time in Australia.

In this pioneering era of class action, almost every new case prompted important developments in group litigation procedure.

The Esso/Longford class action, for example, involved multiple plaintiff law firms and countless potential claimants across the state of Victoria.

It was during this time that you became close friends with Rachel Doyle of counsel, who recalls very long hours that led into months working together as junior counsel.

You also appeared in the High Court in the case of Mobil Oil v State of Victoria, where you were led by Jonathan Beach, QC (now Justice Beach of the Federal Court).

The basis of the Mobil case was a batch of contaminated aviation fuel, but it resulted in the High Court affirming the legitimacy of Victoria’s Part IV (part four) regime.

Perhaps the biggest and most emotional of all the class action cases, though, was that of Rolah McCabe, who was dying of lung cancer.

Ms McCabe, with you at her side, took on the Big Tobacco companies in a ferociously hard-fought case in which the defendants vigorously litigated every point to the very end.

Your former colleague Margaret Kent says it takes a very special person to pursue those cases, someone who is more than hardworking.

Indeed, it requires someone who has a particularly strong sense of fairness and justice.

Your Honour was fighting for a person who, while dreadfully ill, was pitched against immense global commercial interests.

Ms McCabe needed in her corner a litigator who would be very brave, fearsome, tenacious and utterly rigorous.

At the same time, the case demanded a lawyer with the emotional sensitivity to cope with the complex personal issues that Ms McCabe and her family were enduring.

You, Margaret Kent says, “have all those qualities in spades”.

While at Slaters, you developed a significant Commercial practice for the firm – an important diversification for a partnership that previously had focused on claims by workers and consumers.

Building disputes and commercial disputes flowed your way.

In 2005, you began corralling potential claimants for a securities class action against developer Multiplex, which had delayed telling shareholders the full extent of huge losses incurred on its British construction projects, including Wembley Stadium.

Rachel Doyle recalls the very long trial of Premier v Spotless before Justice David Byrne in the Supreme Court.

This case, which spanned 2006 and 2007, involved the alleged dumping by the Spotless dry-cleaning business of toxic materials on a site in Brunswick where property developers later built apartments.

You were junior at the time to one John Dixon of counsel (now Justice Dixon of this same Court) – who we know is bursting with pride today that you, also, are here now.

The two of you are celebrated as some of the finest and most convivial hosts around, with Your Honour renowned for cooking generous and elaborate lunches and hosting fabulous dinners and parties.

Your Honour and His Honour always leave guests delightfully full of the most excellent food, the best wine and the wittiest conversations.

In 2007, Your Honour left Slaters and commenced a very busy practice at the Bar.

This included being a junior to Jack Rush of counsel as he led a formidable team assisting the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission.

Your Honour had carriage of the insurance aspects of the inquiry, and you were substantially responsible for pursuing the evidence regarding fires that started due to faulty power assets.

Your colleagues on the Bushfires Royal Commission say you handled all aspects of the inquiry, including dealing with the people affected by the fires, with great compassion and skill.

Throughout 2018, you assisted Paul Anastasiou of counsel (now Justice Anastasiou) in what turned out to be one of the biggest and lengthiest commercial cases seen in this Court – the matter of Cargill v Viterra.

You took over the lead for the plaintiff, Cargill, when His Honour was appointed to the Federal Court a year ago.

Also in 2018, you appeared for the Australian Securities and Investments Commission in the Hayne Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry.

And to underscore your exceptional ability to multi-task, you served this year as the senior counsel assisting the Victorian Royal Commission into the Mental Health System.

Your Honour has been lauded as the “go-to person” for royal commissions and Commercial work in this state.

On a separate note, your friends say you have an exceedingly dry wit, and your “killer lines” have been delivered in highly covert, long and rambling, three-way email messages with Rachel Doyle and Kate Burke of the Bar, who has been your junior.

All three of you are equal partners in the high crime of excellent, sharp and entertaining legal “observations”, which are usually inspired by a judgment, a media report, a message from the Bar or a report about someone at the Sydney Bar – an eternally justifiable cause of hilarity in Melbourne.

We are led to believe these three-way missives (miss-ives) usually include “You will never believe what so-and-so just said!” – and here, insert name of leading silk …

Or “Her Honour has just said what we were all thinking about … ” Insert name of barrister …

These email threads will, sadly, have been destroyed. We weep.

More importantly, Your Honour has been widely acclaimed as someone who is “whip-crack smart”, compassionate, nuanced and intellectually rigorous – someone who possesses an abiding sense of fairness, equity and justice.

This state could not ask for more in a judge of this Court.

May it please the Court.

 


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