Court of Appeal Reflection

 

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RMIT JD and VU law students with Court of Appeal Associates and other members of the legal profession
By David Gilbert, RMIT JD student

From the moment we entered the Supreme Court of Appeal, it was clear that the judges and staff saw our attendance as an opportunity to invest in the future direction of the legal profession. The internship was extremely well organised and structured providing a comprehensive insight into the machinations of the Supreme Court of Appeal and the Trials Division. A significant amount of time was afforded to us by judges and staff. Their commitment to ensuring that the internship was a rewarding experience was inspirational in the sense that it demonstrated the caring and mentoring culture of the legal profession.

Exposure to the diverse range of hearings that took place over the four days was invaluable. Two of the three hearings were criminal matters and the other was civil. The manner in which the appeals were argued by both parties was of particular interest, especially how the barristers interacted with the three judges at the bench. It was clear that the Supreme Court of Appeal judges were well prepared to hear the matters coming before them, to the point where it appeared they were alert to the strategies barristers were likely to deploy in their submissions. This was reassuring and demonstrated the integrity of the judicial process.

The most valuable lesson from this student’s perspective was that it is pointless trying to sell a dodgy car to a Supreme Court judge. The barristers in each matter put their best arguments forward dutifully representing their clients. The clarity of logical thought coming from the bench was strikingly apparent, leaving little scope for barristers to make headway by means of flamboyant advocacy skills supported by questionable legal principles or the cherry picking of facts.

The internship was inspiring, commanding all the respect the Court deserves.

My week at the Fair Work Commission

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RMIT JD Students Olivia Dean and Jack Faine
By Jack Faine, RMIT JD student.

Having spent a semester studying Labour Law I was looking forward to the week at the Fair Work Commission. Like other placement opportunities throughout my degree, the FWC placement brought my understanding of the law in to the real world. It coloured between the lines of my knowledge, giving meaning and practical understanding to the legislation I’d spent the last few months trying to get my head around.

The Fair Work Commission is immense. The first day we spent amongst the Registry learning about the the diligence of the team in reviewing the Modern Awards, the team analysing every EBA to assess whether employees are indeed ‘better-off-overall’ under the new agreements, and the team that produce the bench books. The enthusiasm of the young staff working in these teams has definitely sparked my interest in a job at the FWC after graduation.

The rest of our week was spent alongside Commissioners and their Associates hearing all manner of matters – ranging from a mediated general protections matter from a local Fish ‘n’ Chip shop, to a mediation between parties for breach of an EBA clause, to a two day unfair dismissal hearing involving cross-examinations and impressive advocates from both sides. After this we spent a morning with mediators who brought a delicate diplomatic touch to their job assisting negotiations between parties in unfair dismissals and general protections matters.

Both Olivia and I appreciated the time and effort put in by everyone at the FWC. They ensured that we were constantly exposed to different components of the FWC, and we were never short of people to sit down with and run through questions.

The CIJ placement opportunities are fantastic as you are exposed to professionals within different practice areas. I have learnt a great deal through conversations, questions, watching and just generally soaking up the realities of the legal profession.

My week shadowing Magistrate Ann Collins

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By Amy Nolan, RMIT JD student

I recently read an article by American Professor, William P. Quigley entitled ‘Letter to a Law Student,’ where he quoted one of his students who stated that ‘the first thing I lost in law school was the reason I came.’ This quote heavily resonates with me, with the experience of undertaking a law degree diluting my initial career goals and aspirations to practice social justice lawyering. With such a high emphasis on your Grade Point Average and with success defined as gaining employment in a top-tier commercial firm, I questioned my future as a law student during the first-half of my degree. After consulting some wise individuals who insisted that the practice of law could not be more different from the drudgery of studying law, I heavily immersed myself in the practical application of law through various internships and voluntary positions, rediscovering my original motivation for studying law; the desire to help people who are most in need. Having now volunteered and worked in the community legal sector over the past two years my passion and commitment to act with and on behalf of those who are suffering due to societal neglect, social decisions or social structures and institutions has been strengthened.

Many of these opportunities have arisen through the Centre for Innovative Justice (‘CIJ’) including my most recent internship, having the privilege to shadow Her Honour Magistrate Ann Collins, sitting on the Assessment and Referral Court (‘ARC’) list.

What has been described as ‘a little patch of green,’ the ARC list is a progressive example of where therapeutic justice meets the judicial system to provide a positive intervention for offenders coming before the Courts.

By addressing offenders’ mental health, housing and addiction issues among others by establishing a support network around the accused to help rehabilitate them into becoming a functional member of the community, the Court significantly reduces the inappropriate incarceration of seriously ill offenders and provides them with an opportunity for change. This heavily contrasts to the penal approach of the mainstream court system. By addressing the multitude of factors underlying the cause of the offending, recidivism rates significantly depreciate, with ARC presenting a ground-breaking blueprint to help break that cycle.

However, despite having a success rate of around 80 per cent, the ARC List is currently only implemented in the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court, limiting its availability to persons who live within this catchment. Questioning Magistrate Collins on why this model is not implemented in regional Courts, it appears it is simply a matter of funding. Due to the ongoing supportive nature of the ARC List, offenders may be monitored for up to one year on a suspended sentence, appearing before the Magistrate monthly to assess the offenders progress and to provide any further support systems if necessary. Here, politics prevails over common sense, as the long-term reduction in recidivism and subsequently contact with the Courts and prison system clearly outweighs the costs of running the ARC List. Therapeutic justice presents a better financial model, irrespective of the clear societal benefits I observed.

I would strongly encourage all students undertaking a law degree to engage in such opportunities, as they offer an invaluable insight to the true workings of the justice system and may also introduce you to less conventional professional legal pathways.