2005 News Archive

Sydney Law School student wins 2006 Rhodes Scholarship

The winner of the 2006 NSW Rhodes Scholarship is Jonathan Bonnitcha, a University of Sydney graduate in Economics and Law.

The announcement was made today at NSW Government House by the Governor, Her Excellency, Professor Marie Bashir, AC.

Jonathan, aged 24, aims to use his Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford to undertake postgraduate study in law with particular interest in international economic governance. One of his special interests is International Labour Rights and he hopes to work at the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

He was educated at Hunter’s Hill Public School, Chatswood Public School and Newington College before entering the University of Sydney. During this year Jonathan studied International Economic Law and Human Rights at the University of Utrecht, in the Netherlands.

Jonathan is a very keen competitive windsurfer and sailor, and in 2003 was a member of the national Olympic squad for windsurfing. In 2004 he was named in the Shadow Olympic windsurfing team, and has his sights set on winning selection for the Australian Olympic Team to Beijing in 2008.

This year Jonathan came first in the Australian Sailing Championship (Mistral Class), and was ranked top in the Australian Olympic Class Windsurfing Rankings.

In 2003 Jonathan was awarded a Bachelor of Economics with First Class Honours and the University Medal and in 2004 he was awarded the University of Sydney’s Convocation Medal for outstanding academic achievement and significant contribution to the life of the University by an undergraduate student. Whilst studying he has worked as a volunteer at the Marrickville Legal Centre. He also has a university ‘blue’ in sailing.

‘I have a strong desire to achieve something for others as well as myself from my career and to excel in my chosen field,’ said Jonathan.

From the selection of this year's NSW Rhodes Scholarship finalists, two other participants will now go into the selection for the 'Australia at Large Rhodes Scholarship', which will be announced in Canberra later this year. They are Ani Satchithananda, University of Sydney Graduate in Commerce and Law and Richard Fleming, who is studying a Bachelor of Science in Business IT at the University of New South Wales.

Last year's NSW Rhodes Scholarship winner, Imre Hunyor who is currently undertaking medical research at Oxford, is also a University of Sydney graduate.
Previous prominent Rhodes Scholars include Malcolm Turnbull, Geoffrey Robertson, Kim Beazley and Bob Hawke.

Sydney Law School alumna appointed to High Court of Australia

Sydney Morning Herald
By Michael Pelly Legal Reporter
September 21, 2005

Don't tell Susan Crennan her appointment to the High Court is a victory for women.

When she was first touted for judicial office a decade ago, the Victorian said the feminists had it wrong when they complained about the paucity of women lawyers or surgeons. They wanted to play a blame game, when there were "biological imperatives" and huge demands on those who combined career and family.

"You make sacrifices. I don't think I've spent enough time with my children [she has three] over the years," she said in 1992.

"I've got a housekeeper and I see that as spreading my income around … The feminists wouldn't like that either because you're getting someone else doing your housework. They'd rather see the men doing it."

Other attempts to categorise the second woman appointed to the High Court will fail. "She can't be pigeonholed," the Commonwealth Solicitor General, David Bennett, QC, said yesterday.

His reaction was a recurring theme - she was a fine lawyer full stop. Not a woman lawyer. Not a black-letter lawyer. Not a leftie. Not a conservative. Not an Anglo-Celtic private school type who had done nothing but law.

The appointment of Justice Crennan, 60, who has been on the Federal Court for only 19 months, will nonetheless quell the disquiet over the fact that Mary Gaudron had been the only woman on the High Court.

Justice Crennan is a grandmother and a former teacher who turned to law after meeting her husband, Michael, himself a senior counsel. Her first job as a barrister was reading with Mr Bennett in Sydney in 1979 - when she was 34. "I thought she was good but you don't think someone will go that far," he said.

Within 10 years she was a Queen's counsel - a time frame reserved only for the exceptional. She achieved wider notoriety when she was counsel assisting the Victorian Government in the Tricontinental financial inquiry, which lasted two years. She was the first woman to chair the Victorian Bar Council, and the first female president of the Australian Bar Association. She served for six years as a federal human rights commissioner.

A former head of Pyramid Building Society, Bill Farrow, described what it was like to face her in court. "It's a bit like being picked for fullback against Gary Ablett … possibly [Garry] Hocking and a few others as well."

Justice Crennan's appointment was announced by the Attorney-General, Philip Ruddock, yesterday. She will replace Justice Michael McHugh, who challenged the Government last month to appoint a woman when he reached the retirement age of 70 on November 1.

But Mr Ruddock said he was appointing "the best person for the job" and that she would "make an outstanding member of the High Court regardless of gender".

Victorian barrister Kate McMillan, SC, said Justice Crennan was one of the last generalists - those who can tackle almost any area of law.

She joins Frank Gavan Duffy and Garfield Barwick as the oldest appointees to the court, where she will renew some old aquaintances. At Sydney University she was taught by Dyson Heydon and Bill Gummow, now two of the court's seven justices.

She has made few speeches, but at her inauguration in February last year, she acknowledged the view of the Chief Justice, Murray Gleeson, that "we live in a rights-conscious age".

Mr Bennett said he believed Justice Crennan would "bring a very great sense of balance to the court … She is very balanced; she does not have any great baggage or any biases."

He once described her as "not at all a frivolous young person" but those who have seen her beating a bodhran at her St Patrick's Day parties might think otherwise.

Indeed, Ms McMillan describes her as "a great stick".

"She has a great sense of humour. She will share a joke and they do like to celebrate the Irish national day." She said Justice Crennan was a beacon for the modern women who wanted to have it all, but not for those advocating affirmative action.

Justice Crennan said: "The problem with being a female barrister is that you don't have a wife. The wives of barristers do a terrific job. If they've got six kids and the husband wants to work three nights a week and one day on the weekend, well there's someone minding the children."

Sydney Law School Academic Appointed Chief Justice of Land & Environment Court

Mr. Brian Preston SC, a member of the Sydney Law School’s teaching staff in Environmental Law, was appointed as Chief Justice of the New South Wales Land and Environment Court recently.

“Brian has long been one of Australia's leading environmental law barristers,” said the Dean, Professor Ron McCallum.

“He has also made a significant contribution to the Master of Environmental Law (MEL) program over the past decade at the Law School and played an important role in the work of the Australian Centre for Environmental Law (ACEL).

“He was instrumental in setting up our Sustainable Development Law in China unit and is recognised by staff and students as a dedicated lecturer in Environmental Dispute Resolution and Biodiversity Law.

“We are hopeful that, as Chief Justice, Brian will still find the time to teach in the Master of Environmental Law (MEL) program and we wish him well during the term of his appointment.”

The appointment was announced on 7th September 2005 and Brian will take up the position on 14th November 2005.

2005 Prize Giving Ceremony

On the 19th of May 2005 Sydney Law School recognised the excellence of its students at its annual prize giving ceremony. The ceremony saw 200 guests comprised of prize donors, prizewinners and their guests and family attend . Law has the largest number of prizes of any faculty and this wonderful support reflects the close link that the faculty has with both the community and profession. Caroline Spruce, winner of the University medal, gave the student address at the ceremony.

Full Story

Medical Errors and Medical Litigation - the US Experience

The image of over-zealous plaintiff lawyers imposing a crippling burden on medical indemnity insurance markets is a common perception among parts of the medical profession. However, the reality is more complex, according to David Studdert, an Associate Professor in Law and Public Health at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Professor Studdert, an Australian, was the keynote speaker at a seminar entitled: “Medical errors and medical negligence litigation: the United States experience and implications for Australia”, hosted by the Faculty’s Postgraduate Health Law Program, on 20 April.

Professor Studdert drew comparisons between Australia and the United States, pointing out that a majority of the U.S. states are in crisis, judging by rising medical indemnity insurance premiums. In the United States – as here – rising insurance costs have prompted a political response. During the recent election campaign, President Bush declared “We are in a medical liability crisis because excessive and abusive litigation is driving up costs, decreasing access to quality care, threatening patient safety and leading to a badly broken system”.

In his address, Professor Studdert assessed the performance of the American tort law compensation system against its stated objectives of compensation, deterrence and corrective justice. Empirical studies in New York, Utah, and Colorado show that negligently-caused medical injuries constitute a vast pool of unlitigated claims. In fact, four to seven times as many patients are injured through negligence as eventually filed claims. On the other hand, of those who do sue, only one in six have suffered an injury actually cased by negligence.

According to Professor Studdert, the problem of “poor fit” between negligently-caused injuries, and compensation payouts, demonstrates that in so far as the tort law system is designed to compensate and to deter negligent conduct, it has a poor


Associate Professor David Studdert addresses the seminar.
performance record. Furthermore, with overheads and legal fees eating up 60% of each dollar of insurance premium, Professor Studdert does not believe that patients are well served by the tort system.

In Australia, as in the United States, tort law reform has focused on limiting access to the system, modifying the liability rules, and capping damages. In doing so, it shows little understanding of the empirical reality of medical injuries and their relationship with medical negligence claims. There has been little reform aimed at encouraging alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, including no fault compensation systems that respond to the needs of all patients injured through adverse events, regardless of the fault of their health provider.

Two commentators provided a thoughtful response to Professor Studdert’s paper. Professor Marcia Neave AO, the Chairperson of the Victorian Law Reform Commission, pointed out that a compensation system for the most catastrophically injured, and the pooling of risk categories, were important ways of smoothing out payouts and reducing premiums. Professor Neave recently chaired the Australian Health Ministers’ Advisory Council (AHMAC) Legal Process Reform Group which produced a detailed reform package on patient safety, quality improvement and law reform.

Professor Clifford Hughes AO, recently appointed CEO of the Clinical Excellence Commission, spoke of the need for systemic responses to adverse events, since medical errors are less frequently a function of individual error as lapses in processes and systems.

The seminar was chaired by Professor John Dwyer AO, Clinical Dean and Chairman of the Division of Medicine at Prince of Wales Hospital, and a well-known commentator on areas including HIV/AIDS, clinical governance, and structural reform of the health care system.

For further details about the Faculty’s postgraduate programs in health law and public health law, please contact Associate Professors Isabel Karpin (9351 0250), Belinda Bennett (9351 0213), or Roger Magnusson (9351 0211).

Professor John Harland Memorial Gathering

David John Harland was a fixture at the Sydney Law School for over 35 years. He died suddenly on 30 November 2004 aged 64. After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Sydney in 1960, followed by a Bachelor of Laws with First Class Honours and the University Medal in 1963 David was admitted as a solicitor in the Supreme Court of NSW and won a Shell Post-Graduate Scholarship that enabled him to study at Magdalen College, Oxford. He graduated from Oxford in 1965 with a Bachelor of Civil Law.

Transcript of the memorial gathering