Graduation address given by Justice Peter M Hall
Justice Peter M Hall gave the following occasional address at the Faculty of Law graduation ceremony held at 9.30am on 24 November 2006 in the Great Hall.
Justice Hall graduated in Arts and Law from this University and commenced practice in 1970. A few years later he completed a masters degree and was admitted to the Bar. In 1991 he was appointed Queen’s Counsel. As a barrister, his main field of practice was common law and industrial law with a more focussed interest in issues of duress and unconscionable dealing in contract law. In addition, he was much in demand to assist or even conduct, Commissions of Enquiry – most notably perhaps the Royal Commission into the Building Industry and as an Assistant Commissioner of the Independent Commission Against Corruption. An outstanding career was capped with his appointment to the Common law and Criminal Divisions of the Supreme Court in 2005.
Chancellor, Dean of the Law School, members of the University, graduates and guests.
I thank the Chancellor and the Dean, Professor McCallum, for inviting me to participate in this Graduation Ceremony. I express my warmest congratulations to each of you upon whom the University has today conferred degrees, to whom it has granted prizes, honours and distinctions. Your success is well deserved - it is a reward for your personal effort as well as the contributions made by your families.
On a day over 30 years· ago now, I, like you, came to this place, the Great Hall, to have conferred my degree of Bachelor of Laws. No doubt, like many of your I had no idea what the future held for me, but uncertainty for the new law graduate brings excitement and the challenge that attaches to a career in the law and the possibilities that it may bring.
In today's fast-moving world, there are immense pressures on members of the legal profession. My own experience has been that both the law and its practice has changed in ways that no-one who was in this Great Hall that day some 30 years ago could have possibly predicted. The same you can be sure will continue to occur over the 30 years and more that lie ahead.
How the young lawyer today achieves that necessary balance between professional and family life is a question to which, I regret, I have not brought with me today any ready answer.
My own graduation class had within it a very small minority group - they were the women graduates! As I look before me at today's graduates, it is, I believe, appropriate and proper that no-one should ever again see women in the law as constituting a minority group. The profession, as in other areas of life, is going global. One of my daughters today practices law in Europe, something which. in my day, I doubt any of my colleagues would have even contemplated.
I would like to say just a few words on law, justice and values.
There is a distinction to be made between law and justice, though, of course, both are related. The law is complex and it, by one means or another, is always evolving. It is the law that regulates society and in which we find the source of people's rights, interests and obligations.
Justice has been personified as a goddess holding in balance scales and a sword - in a sense, both the human face of the law and the law in action. There is, accordingly, more to justice than the law itself. Whilst the law operates according to principle and statute, it also involves normative or discretionary decision-making and is administered or applied in accordance with accepted values and standards. The administration of justice, needless to say, demands of every lawyer, integrity of a high order.
In future years, those who will come to you - whether they be amongst the rich and powerful or the poor and broken - will place tneir trust in your hands in the hope that you will find the lawful solution to their problems.
The practice of law is not always thought of as a creative exercise. But in many respects it is just that. Hence, to identify and find in the preparation of a case the necessary evidentiary material or to conceive the legal argument from first principles supported by authority that leads to the hoped-for solution, will both fulfil the trust the client reposes in you and for the lawyer produces a great sense of satisfaction.
One of the most important values in our society is enshrined in what we refer to as the rule of law. Increasingly, lawyers are involved in ensuring that our systems of government promote, rather than undermine, the values for which previous generations of Australians have fought and died. It is essential in a liberal democratic society such as ours, that there be trust and confidence in our governmental institutions. To a very large extent, members of the public must rely upon the good faith and integrity of those entrusted with public power. It is sometimes forgotten that public officials, whether elected or appointed, are in a public law sense, trustees of public power. They are bound by fiduciary-like obligations to exercise it in the public interest and not for any extraneous purpose. They are, especially in that sense, the community's servants and not its masters.
But the rule of law, of course, applies equally as much to governments as it does to individual public officials.
This year, the United States Supreme Court by a majority of 5:3 held that the Executive in its establishment of a Military Commission to try those referred to as "enemy combatants" was bound to comply with the rule of law and had not done so. Whilst acknowledging the undoubtedly serious nature of the allegations involved in the case in the context of international terrorism, the Court was not dissuaded from holding that the Military Commission was without legal authority and therefore lacked the power to proceed. The Court in effect concluded that the Military Commission lacked the judicial guarantees recognised as indispensable by civilised people.
The Court, in particular, held that it was not within lawful authority for a tribunal to proceed by admitting multiple hearsay or the admission of evidence obtained through coercion or statements that were not sworn nor for an accused person to be
convicted based on evidence that he was excluded from seeing or hearing.
Recently in our own country. the Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia, Chief Justice Gleeson, AC, gave an address (on 6 October 2006) to the Judicial Conference of Australia entitled "A Core Value". In it he referred to some of the recent discussion about our community values and that some of that discussion has been light-hearted and amusing. The Chief Justice observed:-
"Australian values are sometimes presented as a box of soft-centred chocolates, pleasant and easy to consume. and offered in sufficient variety to satisfy all tastes. My purpose is to identify one, more of the hard-centred kind, and of particular concern to judges. It is not a value that figures prominently in the popular lists, but I believe that most Australians accept it. ... "
The Chief Justice identified the core value as "the rule of law in a liberal democracy".
The decision of the United States Supreme Court to which I have referred not only affirms the fundamental importance of the rule of law but it serves as an illustration of the important role that may be played by lawyers in our changing world. In a climate of fear the right balance must be struck.
Chief Justice Gleeson, again in his address, adverted to an aspect of law that leads to tensions between the political and judicial branches of government, namely, the law's insistence on respect for individual rights. The Chief Justice stated:-
"In a climate of fear and insecurity, the public's commitment to the rule of law, and its confidence in the role of an independent judiciary, may be tested in the furnace. "
The Chief Justice also observed:-
"The rule of law does not exist for the benefit of judges, any more than democracy exists for the benefit of politicians. Everybody has a stake in the rule of law. It supports the conditions essential for a free society; it provides the context for all political activity; it promotes trade and commerce, and sustains business and employment; and it means that government is something which protects people, not something from which people need protection."
Today, each graduation of students in law from this great University represents, in a sense, one incremental step in the process whereby my generation over time hands the baton to your generation. I am privileged today to be a part of that process. Your way of life in the law, I have no doubt, will be driven by the wonderful optimism and energy of youth. I have no doubt, equally, that you will be motivated by a sense of professional service and dedication both to the law itself and to those who will place their trust in you.
As demanding as the profession of law undoubtedly is, it need hardly be emphasised that time spent reading outside the law, being in the company of family and in the company of friends, all together constitute us as fully functioning members of our community and as well, more effective members of our profession.
I conclude by wishing each and every one of you a satisfying and rewarding professional life.