Supreme Court of Tasmania

International Responses to Social and Justice Challenges Conference Hobart 15-18 August 2013

OPENING REMARKS by the Hon Chief Justice Alan Blow OAM — 15 AUGUST 2013

Your Honours, ladies and gentlemen. Fellow criminal lawyers.

I would like to begin this afternoon by paying respect to the traditional and original owners of the land where this hotel stands – the Mouheneener people – to pay respect to those who have passed before us, and to acknowledge today's Aboriginal community.

Welcome to the conference one and all, and welcome to Tasmania. I especially welcome our overseas visitors. There are speakers at this Conference from a total of ten countries – Canada, the USA, Scotland, India, China, Nigeria, South Africa, Malaysia, New Zealand and Australia. All going well, we will have delegates attending from six other countries. It is a very great pleasure to see so many people here from overseas and from other Australian States.

For those of you who do now know Hobart well, I recommend that you read the document in the Conference papers entitled "Hobart – A Guide for Innocent Mainlanders". The author is a retired Federal Court judge, the Hon Peter Heerey QC, who is now back at the Melbourne bar. If you are wondering where to eat or how to amuse yourselves, Peter's guide is at least as good as any guidebook available commercially.

Hobart is one of Australia's oldest cities. The first white settlement on the Derwent River was established in 1803. Hobart itself was established in 1804. The Supreme Court of Tasmania is the oldest court in the country. As the Supreme Court of Van Diemen's Land, it started hearing cases in 1824.

Melbourne, by contrast, was not thought of until the 1830s. The idea of establishing a settlement in that area was formulated in a pub in Launceston. Hobart actually has law firms that are older than Melbourne.

Tasmania has had some famous visitors. Charles Darwin came here on HMS Beagle in 1836, and remarked that the woods were untidy. He also noted that some of the local sandstones appeared to have been deposited under polar conditions, though the scientific community did not start thinking about continental drift until well over a century later.

The novelist Anthony Trollope came here in the 1870s. He said that, "Everything in Tasmania is more English than is England herself." He also said that Mt Wellington was "just enough of a mountain to give excitement to ladies and gentlemen in middle life".

Mark Twain came to Hobart on a lecture tour in 1895. He described Mt Wellington as being "massive and noble like his brother Etna". He spoke about the beauty of the Hobart region, but went on to say, "And it was in this paradise that the yellow-liveried convicts were landed, and the corps-bandits quartered, and the wanton slaughter of the kangaroo-chasing black innocents consummated."

Giuseppe Garibaldi passed through Bass Strait in 1852 and spent some time on Three Hummock Island, south of King Island. Years later he wrote, "how often has that lonely island in Bass Strait deliciously excited my imagination, when, sick of this civilised society so well supplied with priests and police-agents, I returned in thought to that pleasant bay …". Obviously he was a lot safer there than he sometimes was in the course of the political unification of Italy .

Field Marshall Montgomery spent part of his childhood in Hobart when his father was the Anglican Bishop of Tasmania. Errol Flynn also grew up in Hobart, before finding his way to Hollywood.

Those of you who come from other countries may find it somewhat surprising that Australia, a country of 23 million people, has nine separate systems of criminal law – administered by the six States, the two Territories, and the Commonwealth or national government. Although we have a population roughly the same as the Netherlands, there are opportunities for innovation in nine different jurisdictions.

In Tasmania, we have had a Criminal Code since 1924. It was modelled on Queensland's Criminal Code. A unique feature of our Code is that, for all crimes other than murder and treason, the maximum penalty is 21 years' imprisonment. The Tasmanian Parliament decided in the 1920s not to get involved in the business of fixing maximum penalties, but to leave all that to the judges. We are very fortunate in this State to be largely exempt from political discussion of sentencing matters. We do not see the phenomenon of the "law and order auction" that is sometimes evident at election time in some mainland States. And for that we are very thankful.

I would like to thank the members of the Conference Committee for all their hard work in organising this conference. I should confess that I have done none of the organisational work at all, apart from supplying a photograph of myself smiling benignly in front of bookshelves containing the Commonwealth Law Reports. The organisers have put together a very interesting program. I am sure that we will all benefit from attending the conference sessions, as well as the social activities.

I look forward to meeting as many of you as possible this evening at Government House. Thank you.