Supreme Court of Tasmania

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Admission of Legal Practitioners to the Supreme Court of Tasmania - 11 August 2006

 Speech by the Honourable Chief Justice Peter Underwood AO

Today is a significant occasion for those of you who have successfully applied for an order for admission as a legal practitioner. Each of you have taken an oath or affirmation to honestly conduct yourself in the practice of a legal practitioner of the Supreme Court. By taking this oath and the entry of your name on the Roll of the Court, you become officers of the Court. This does not mean that all of you will practice the law in this court, or indeed, for that matter, in any court at all. Some of you may choose to practice property law, or banking law, or intellectual property law and so on. Some of you may choose to become academics and teach the law. Some of you may chose not to practice the law at all, but instead, work in unrelated fields, using the skills that you have learnt and that have qualified you for admission as legal practitioners. No matter how you apply your talents you will always be an officer of the Court – that is unless you are struck off – which I am sure will not happen to any one of you!

Whatever the future holds, each of you will therefore always be a member of the legal profession. The legal profession is no ordinary profession or occupation. It is a profession with exceptional privileges and exceptional obligations. If your chosen path is to practice the law you will become the client's confidante, adviser and advocate, whilst at the same time complying with a paramount duty to the Court. If your chosen field is not litigation or even perhaps not the practice of the law, you still carry the obligations that rest on all the members of the legal profession. Those obligations are to defend important principle, such as the supremacy of a democratically elected parliament, the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession, and basic human rights such as freedom of speech, freedom from arbitrary arrest and the right to a public trial in accordance with the law.

A few years ago, the Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia, the Honourable AM Gleeson AC, made this observation that you may think is relevant to this occasion.[1]

“Concern for human rights is most valuable when it reminds us of the need to protect the rights and interests of minority groups, the underprivileged, the unpopular, people whose legitimate concerns are at risk of being swept away by a majority. However, concern for human rights is misdirected if it merely encourages us to the relentless pursuit of our personal interests, ignoring responsibilities. A world in which the strong take what they want and the weak accept what they must, might satisfy the dictates of competition policy, but it knows little about respect for human rights and dignity.”

As members of the legal profession your duty is to be of service to your community. To be of service to the community as a member of the legal profession can at times require enormous courage, including the courage to speak out for unpopular causes and to challenge what you perceive to be an abuse of power. As lawyers, now admitted to practice, you are in a unique position to speak out on matters of public importance. It is your obligation to do so, even if this means taking up unpopular causes to challenge what you perceive to be an abuse of power.

You commence your professional life in a world beset by conflict and fear. This state of affairs calls for strong measures to defeat those who seek to destroy the values that underpin our way of life. Members of the legal profession have a duty to ensure that the implementation of these strong measures do not sweep away the very rights that are fundamental to our society, and to which I have referred, such as the right to a public trial in accordance with law and freedom from arbitrary arrest. Today, each of you took an oath or affirmation in public to honestly conduct yourself in the practice of a legal practitioner. On this important occasion I challenge each of you to assume your obligations as a member of the legal profession to protect and preserve those fundamental rights of which I speak.

Although this is a solemn occasion, today is also a day for celebrating and having fun. Although you probably often thought that this day would never come, it has finally arrived and exams and formal study are over. Each of you are to be congratulated on the hard work and dedication that has culminated in the success you have achieved; success, that I am sure was due in considerable measure to the support given you by your families and friends often, at considerable sacrifice on their part. So the congratulations go to them as well as to you.

To each of you I say "welcome to the legal profession, good luck and may each of you gain immense satisfaction and enjoyment from the pursuit of your chosen profession."

[1] The University of Sydney Graduation Ceremony, 7 May 1999