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Bar Talk
28 April, 2009  
Riordan v The Known World

Evidence of Vic silk quota … John Riordan says it’s Supreme Court “engineering” ... Latest round in Riordan’s war … There’ll be no surrender

Melbourne bar’s unsilked agitator John Riordan frequently says he’s giving up his fight to reform the senior counsel selection process.

Frankly, I don’t believe him.

There’s always one more letter in the locker, one more blast at the authorities.

imageHe told then bar prez Michael Shand in early 2007 that he’d hung up his gloves and “retired hurt”.

Then he said he was coming back onto the canvas one last time.

After he’d had a swipe at the bar council’s “review of the process” he again said he would “now leave the debate”.

By November 2008 he was back into it with his famous you can’t polish a turd letter to bar prez Lord John Digby (pic).

Following that he said he was finished with the issue.

Over two years ago he wrote to Marilyn (Earl) Warren saying the Supreme Court should withdraw from the silk selection process.

Now, after about five months of relative silence, he is back with a new missive to the Chief Justice – sent on April 21.

He had been seeking to sue Marilyn Warren to compel “the application of natural justice” to the selection of silk.

However, he discovered that the court is immune from suit under the Administrative Law Act.

imageIn this latest letter, which he describes as his “last best shot”, he told the CJ (pic) that his “excellence” as a barrister has been beyond doubt. “I remain wholly ignorant of any basis for my exclusion.”

“A breach in the secrecy led me to seek to launch proceedings to impugn last year’s decision. For the first time I was given reasons. They were brief but significant. They accepted my excellence but asserted that I did not meet the standard of the first 14 applicants.

“In other words a quota was applied… The application of a quota has been suspected for many years but never conceded by the court. It is only an extraneous form of court engineering.

“If proceedings were allowed, the exclusion would be struck down as wholly irrelevant and illegitimate.”

The old warhorse added that a “secret advisory committee” of judges was discovered to exist in 2006.

“We are not told the identity of the members of the committee. They must be secret. They are not answerable.”

He discovered that one of these judges who was “secretly” involved in the silk selection arrangements had expressed antipathy towards him after a “perceived slight”.

“Enormous advantages” flow from the award of silk. “A career cannot sensibly progress without it.”

Yet change or abolition of the system has proved impossible.

“A deep conservatism preserves this relic. It means the bar is not a truly independent body. It is beholden to the court…

“The court conducts the selection process at the request of the bar. As the court has demonstrated an unyielding reluctance to reform the process, it is appropriate for the bar to do so.”

That looks like where the new-old battle will next take place – the bar.

imageRiordan (seen here) had previously gingered up bar meetings for reform only to have to cancel them because he was outmaneuvered by his opponents.

A special general meeting was scheduled for November 1, 2007 to consider two reforms:

1. To allow an unsuccessful candidate to obtain feedback;

2. To allow an unsuccessful candidate to appeal.

The meeting was adjourned “in the light of recent developments”. Earl Warren gave way on the feedback idea, but she wouldn’t budge on allowing a right of appeal.

This bar council told Riordan that Warren would withdraw from the silk process if her decisions were subject to appeal.

A nervy bar “leadership” couldn’t cope and the meeting was canned.

Variously Riordan has agitated for the silk system to be reformed and redesigned, for Warren to be sued, for the court to withdraw from the process and for the appointment of silk to be abolished.

With the CJ holding the line at the Supreme, Riordan will redouble his efforts to get the rank and file of overlooked briefs to storm the barricades.

You can’t say he’s not gutsy, persistent and, often, spot on.

Last best shot? Never.

See: School prefects


Reader Comments

Posted by: Anonymous
Date: April 30, 2009, 3:18 am

Does this bloke know Frank Stevens? I think we should be told.
Posted by: Gavin Moodie
Date: May 3, 2009, 8:21 pm

While Riordan is no doubt right in saying that “Enormous advantages” flow to barristers from the award of silk, he is not right in thinking that “A career cannot sensibly progress without it”, for St Kirbs never took silk Riordan should accept that he's not wanted in the club, rightly or wrongly, and get on with his practice.
Posted by: Anonymous
Date: May 3, 2009, 8:21 pm

They just don't get it do they - people love going to parties and dropping the "my QC said ..." even if it costs a packet (although I suppose that might change if no-one can find the money)!
Posted by: Anonymous
Date: May 5, 2009, 12:07 am

Pure drivel from Gavin Moodie - 'it might be wrong but shut up and live with it'. I doubt that Kirby would have employed such a weak, defeatist philosphy often during his career.
Posted by: Anonymous
Date: May 15, 2009, 2:17 am

Riodan is a man of great courage and integrety.A sort of Martin Luther of the Bar.He has, at gereat professional cost, exposed the phoneyness of the so called silk selection system, not just in Victoria but everywhere.The sooner the bullshit of titles bestowed by lawyers upon other lawyers is abolished along with the equine hair wig the better. Why would he want to be an "eminent silk" ? Does he not remember that "eminent silk from Victoria who was found as dead as mortmain in some Adelaide hotel following a night of booze,broads and barbituates,and that "eminent silk" by the name of Cummins who decided he was too "eminent" to lodge a tax returns for 45 years and that recent "eminent silk" Einfeld who confused eminence with hubris and considered himself too "eminent" to pay a speeding fine.