ALTA 2011 – Keynote

Chief Justice Robert French AC
Chief Justice Robert French AC

What follows is a personal account.  Michael Larvarch introduced Chief Justice Robert French AC High Court of Australia, who gave an interesting keynote speech beginning with the theme of legal education being a ‘never ending story’.

A very interesting historical summary of legal education followed, beginning with early English law and the development of the Inns of Court through the 19th century and 20th century reviews, up to the present day. From this I developed a sense of how academic training might be seen to have predominated practical skills.

French CJ observed that law is not just about rules and justice, and that ethical sensitivity and social awareness are also important.

Regarding statutory and common law rules, French CJ stated that these are subject to an ‘inescapably creative process of statutory interpretation’, and that interpretation of legislative intention is a part of the reality of legal choice-making.

Law graduates and lawyers should develop their own description of social justice taking into account not one but different conceptions of justice.

In the context of social justice, French CJ said that ‘just because you are on the side of angels does not mean you can neglect legal skills’. I thought the emphasis on the acquisition and maintenance of professional skills particularly noteworthy for law students and graduates undertaking practical legal training.

French CJ described the untidy nature of legal practice in which professional skills are exercised and contrasted that with undergraduate academic study; he endorsed the role of clinical legal education within the context of the ongoing debate about the balance between legal and practical skills.

French CJ observed that the new Threshold Learning Outcomes and the Priestly 11 is a ‘marriage yet to be made’.

A very interesting speech and I observe that French CJ spent much of the day attending sessional presentations and participating in questions.