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Bar Talk
1 November, 2007  
CJ sinks Vic silk selection reform

Reform of the Victorian silk appointments system scuttled for now. Special general meeting cancelled as the bar puts the word out that Marilyn Warren CJ would withdraw from the silk selection process

imageAll of a sudden this evening’s (Nov. 1) special general meeting of the Victorian Bar is off.

The bar council has told silk reformer John Riordan that Chief Justice Marilyn Warren (pic) would in all likelihood withdraw from the SC selection process if a motion was passed permitting unsuccessful candidates to apply for reconsideration of the CJ’s decision.

That was the death-knell for the proposed reform of the way each year’s crop of new silk is woven.

This morning John Riordan circulated a memo saying that the meeting was “adjourned” till February next year.

imageHe was only told of the chief justice’s position when he met vice-chairman of VicBar Paul Lacava last night. Lacava (pic) was to have chaired this evening’s meeting because bar chairman Peter Riordan was ruled ineligible owing to his brotherly relationship with the campaigning John.

John Riordan’s memo put it this way:

“The bar council advised me last night, for the first time, that it would inform the meeting, in debate on the second motion, that it did not expect the Chief Justice would continue to administer the silk system if her selection was subject to any form of review.”

He added that the potential loss of the CJ’s participation “has dramatically changed the scope of the debate”.

It’s now back to the drawing board for Riordan J.

It seems the wording of his memo may have been expressed too mildly because the bar council email system was being used to distribute the message. The “expectation” that Chief Justice Earl Warren would withdraw her services is believed to have come from discussions she had with bar n’ grill elders.

In fact, they left her chambers with much more than an “expectation”.

Warren last week gave half-an-inch by agreeing to give feedback to the bar president on the process by which new silks were chosen, but not the merits of each application.

Her concession is quite useless as all the crestfallen rejects really want to know is why their applications failed. A chat about how fabulous the process was goes nowhere.

According to its most recent defence of the current selection system the leaders of the Victorian bar are wedded to the idea that the Supreme Court must make the appointments for silk:

“If the institution of senior counsel is to continue to be respected, the appointments must be made by the court. The appointment is a mark of excellence as an advocate and that excellence is best judged by the judges.

“The only practical alternative is appointment by the bar council and that would open the institution to criticism due to perceptions, fair or otherwise, of cronyism.”

In NSW silk are not selected by the CJ.

In fact, there is a strong case that members of the bench should have nothing to do with the process as, arguably, it creates a preordained prejudice towards barristers appearing before judges who have been instrumental in blackballing their elevation.

Certainly, the High Court judges have made it clear they want no part in anointing the worthy.

As of last night (Oct. 31) John Riordan’s was about 25 to 30 proxies behind the old guard in support for his motion. Everything depended on the meeting itself, and with the attendance of many young turks the final vote would have been line-ball.

As things now stand the bar dares go nowhere without the say so of the Chief Justice.

You can read our correspondent William Collins’ missives on the previous kafuffle about the appointment of Victorian SCs and how the bar council also won the day on that occasion – Solidarity forever on the old silk road and Vic bar n’ grill girds for today’s showdown.


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