GUEST OF HONOUR: The Honourable Michael Kirby AC, CMG, former High Court Justice 1996-2009 and co-winner of the Gruber Justice Prize 2010, makes a point to the audience during Southern Cross University’s panel discussion on the ethics of law at Lismore City Hall last Friday.
GUEST OF HONOUR: The Honourable Michael Kirby AC, CMG, former High Court Justice 1996-2009 and co-winner of the Gruber Justice Prize 2010, makes a point to the audience during Southern Cross University’s panel discussion on the ethics of law at Lismore City Hall last Friday. John Waddell

Fighting for freedom, justice, equality, but not popularity

WHEN retired High Court Judge The Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG was a student at Sydney's Fort Street High he excelled as a student, topping the State in two subjects and receiving a maximum pass.

But do you think he could get a job in a law firm afterwards?

"The ethics of the law and lawyers at that stage in the good old days meant that I couldn't get a job and that was because my father was not a lawyer," Mr Kirby said at a Southern Cross University law panel discussion on whether 'An ethical lawyer is an oxymoron' on Friday afternoon at Lismore's City Hall.

"Talking about the good old days, when I studied the law there was never any mention of the word Aboriginal. It was the same for gays. The ethics of law is something we all should be aware of.

"The law and lawyers serve society, the court, the client, but the law is more than that - it is also about justice."

The panel included Stafford Shepherd (Senior Ethics Solicitor, Queensland Law Society); Richard Harris (Senior Lecturer, School of Law and Justice, SCU) and Yvette Holt (Lecturer, School of Law and Justice, SCU).

It perplexes lawyers no end that there are so many lawyer jokes yet hardly any about pharmacists, scientists or nurses.

Lawyers have led the fight for freedom, justice and equality yet, on a 2013 list of Australia's most trusted professions, they were down near the bottom with tow truck drivers, door-to-door salespeople and politicians.

Following the panel discussion, The Hon John Dowd AO QC, Chancellor of Southern Cross University, delivered the Eighth Annual Michael Kirby Lecture, an event hosted by the University's School of Law and Justice.

Mr Dowd is committed to advancing the global cause of human rights.

A former Justice of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, Attorney-General and Leader of the New South Wales Opposition, he holds a number of appointments.

He is Deputy President of the New South Wales Mental Health Review Tribunal; Vice-President of the International Commission of Jurists, Geneva; President, International Commission of Jurists Australia; Goodwill Ambassador, Cerebral Palsy Alliance; and President, ActionAid Australia (formerly Austcare).

Mr Dowd spoke about human rights and its evolution from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

He spoke about Australia's need for a Charter of Human Rights, but not a Charter of Human Rights that is interpreted by Judges in a court room.

He favours a system whereby the court, when it deems there is a case that deals with a human rights issue, makes a declaration to the Attorney-General, who in turn, takes it before Parliament for the Parliament to consider whether they would like to change something.

He believes a secondary benefit of this system is that human rights remains in the public domain, by way of the Parliament, and is therefore publicised regularly.



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