Your honour, sir, madam, justice, or judge?

Our latest guide

Our latest, easy to understand guide.

Today the Victoria Law Foundation launches a new guide on what to call judges and tribunal members in Victoria.

Have you ever wondered what to call the judge when you are in court? Even for the most seasoned lawyer it can be confusing. Imagine being a new law graduate sent down to court for the first time with a million things to think about and Law and Order episodes running through your head. 

Developed in consultation with both Victorian and Federal courts and tribunals, What do I call the judge? is the definitive Victorian guide on what to call judges and tribunal members in court, at functions, in writing and when they retire. Questions that come up every day for those working in the legal sector.

The guide has been developed to make it quick and easy to use, including a quick reference section and commentary with detail and examples on the conventions.

It’s an essential reference tool for anyone in the legal sector who has contact with the courts including new graduates, solicitors, expert witnesses and support staff. It’s information that up until now has been difficult to find in one place.

Ultimately however it is designed to make the public more confident when they come into contact with the courts. Providing clear guidelines that take away some of the stress of being involved in the court process.

The guide is available free, online and in hard-copy. You are welcome to link to the guide online, or to order copies for yourself, for your organisation or to distribute to your clients, visitors and the public. To order, call us on 9604 8100 or visit our website.


Five things you’ll gain from an internship with the Victoria Law Foundation

Getting experience in the legal sector can be the difference you need to really stand out in the workforce once you graduate. With a Victoria Law Foundation internship, not only will you feel good about working in an organisation that makes a difference, but you’ll expand your networks and get a behind-the-scenes look at a range of alternative legal careers too.

Lizzy Tunnecliff

Lizzy Tunnecliff tells all about her internship with us.

But don’t take just our word for it. We spoke with one of our past interns, Lizzy Tunnecliff, who told us what she got out of her Victoria Law Foundation internship last year.

Lizzy worked mostly in our grants area, looking at the best ways to evaluate the work our grants support, and making recommendations based on best-practice across the philanthropic sector.

So without further ado, here are Lizzy’s top five take-aways from our internship program.

 1.      Adapting skills for the workforce

The internship was fundamental in helping me make the transition from academic to professional writing. I gained a greater awareness of the importance of ensuring your writing meets your employer’s objectives, is reflective of resource limitations or public sector pressures, and incorporates your employer’s preferred style.

 2.      Getting to know who’s who in the legal sector

During my internship I spoke with a number of legal and philanthropic experts from a variety of organisations, including: Victoria Legal Aid, Public Interest Law Clearing House and Deakin University. I really valued their generosity in sharing their expertise and experience in project evaluation within the legal sector. Also, t

he foundation was great at connecting me with eminent members of the legal community. After completing my internship, I began volunteering at an environmental community legal centre which was another great development opportunity.

 3.      Bettering networking skills

My communication skills also developed during the internship. Whether it was attending meetings with potential grant recipients, assisting with the annual Legal Laneway Breakfast, or liaising with legal organisations, I now feel confident when engaging with stakeholders in my current role.

 4.      Dealing with organisational constraints

It was always challenging to hear so many excellent grant proposals from organisations, knowing that the foundation wouldn’t have financial capacity to fund all of the projects.

 5.      Insights into alternative legal careers

The internship program helped me see breadth of career opportunities available in the legal sector in government, not-for-profit and community organisations. After my internship, I was lucky enough to continue working at the foundation in a part time capacity. I had further exposure to the work of the foundation and its impact within metropolitan and rural Victoria. It helped me realise how much I enjoy making a tangible contribution to the community while making use of my legal skills.

 So where is Lizzy now?

After her internship, Lizzy stayed on at the foundation in casual employment; and since finishing her degree she is now gainfully employed in the Australian Public Service graduate program in Canberra. With her experience at the foundation behind her, she’s now working across legislative compliance and interpretation, health and social policy development, as well as having a stint in a Ministerial Office in Parliament House.

How to intern with us

We are now taking applications from current Victorian law students who’d like to join our internship program for 2014/15. To apply, just visit our website or contact us today. Applications close Monday 10 February 2014.

Lizzy’s tips for applying

Aside from academic marks and analytical skills, remember to communicate other qualities such as energy, enthusiasm and an ability to work productively in a collaborative environment, which can be just as important.

To find out more, visit: www.victorialawfoundation.org.au

What’s human rights got to do with it?

Back in January, we nominated one of our grant projects – the establishment of the Human Rights Law Centre – for Australia’s Top 50 Philanthropic Gifts, a celebration of our country’s most significant and influential gifts. The centre is a great example of what can be started and achieved with one of our grants. Now is your chance to have a say in the Public Choice Awards – Top 10 Philanthropic Gifts. Help us make sure the Human Rights Law Centre is recognised in the top ten. To vote, visit http://www.probonoaustralia.com.au/top-50-philanthropic-gifts. Meantime, here’s a little reminder about what the centre does and why their work is important.

Victoria Law Foundation

Tomorrow as a part of Law Week, Executive Director of the Human Rights Law Centre, Hugh de Kretser, will get up on his soapbox and have a good rant about Selectivity in Australia’s Human Rights Protection. It’s a free lunchbox/soapbox session at Melbourne’s Wheeler Centre, so come along and bring your lunch: 12:45pm – 1:15pm, Thursday 16 May 2013.

As a preview Hugh spoke to us about the work of the Human Rights Law Centre and his vision for human rights in Australia.

What does the Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC) do?
We protect and promote human rights in Australia and through Australian foreign policy. We do this though a combination of evidence-based advocacy, strategic litigation, research and education.

What was your background before joining the HRLC?
I started my career in corporate law at Mallesons, but for the past decade I’ve been working in community legal…

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Law reform in the spotlight

Attorney-General Robert Clark MP in the crowd at the Law Oration 2012

Attorney-General Robert Clark MP in the crowd at the Law Oration 2012

Victorian Attorney-General, the Honourable Robert Clark MP, was in the crowd at last year’s Law Oration. This year it’s his turn to take to the stage to share his views on law reform in Victoria. Book today to make sure you nab a seat at the Law Oration 2013 on 3 October and encourage your colleagues and the people in your local community to do the same. Everyone can participate in law reform and this event is your chance to better understand the issues and join the debate.

In the meantime, this guest blog by the Victorian Law Reform Commission will bring you up-to-date with what’s happening in law reform, and the role of the Commission, the Attorney-General and the community in this process.

Law reform for all Victorians

Anyone who comes into contact with the law knows that the law is not perfect. Sometimes laws can be out-of-date, inefficient, unduly complex, or out of touch with the lives of real people.

Values change. Community standards change. Technology alters our lives in ways once unimaginable. Sometimes, laws don’t do the job they were supposed to do. When that happens, the law needs to be reformed.

Over the last ten years we have seen changes to the laws around adoption of children conceived through assisted reproductive technology, abortion decriminalised in Victoria, a massive increase in the use of public and private surveillance devices – and much more.

All of the above have been the subject of reviews by the Victorian Law Reform Commission, which is the main agency responsible for advising the Victorian government on law reform. The Victorian community had extensive input into all these reviews.

The Commission’s principal work is the fulfilment of references made by the Attorney-General. The Commission also undertakes community law reform projects, which it initiates, often based on suggestions from the public or community organisations. These projects are of more limited scope, as required by legislation.

The Commission has a full-time chair and seven part-time Commissioners, all people of great legal experience. They are supported by a staff of around 15, who provide research, policy, communications and administration support.

The Commission aims to be inclusive, independent and innovative.

Inclusive means that when the Commission reviews a law or set of laws, it doesn’t just consult lawyers and professionals, but consults widely with the community. We seek the views of all Victorians, regardless of where they live (city or country), age, cultural background or socio-economic status. Anyone can make a submission to the Commission, which will be taken into account when the recommendations are written.

Independent means that the Commission’s recommendations are independent of government, the courts and interest groups.

Innovative means being open to new ideas and approaches, while also staying aware of past approaches and solutions and knowing what works.

The Commission conducts reviews of civil and criminal law, across a wide range of areas, making recommendations that are relevant, succinct and achievable. However, the Commission does not itself change the law – that is up to the government of the day, which chooses when and how to act on the Commission’s recommendations.

The Commission recently completed a major reference on succession laws and delivered the report to the Attorney-General. Two other references are well advanced: our review of the Crimes (Mental Impairment and Unfitness to be Tried) Act 1997 and jury empanelment. As part of our jury empanelment consultations, we are keen to hear from people who have been called for jury service, so if that is you, please email the Commission.

A community law reform report on birth registration and birth certificates was delivered to the Attorney-General in July 2013.

The Commission gives close attention to education, particularly in schools and in regional and rural Victoria. Presenters visit schools to speak on unit 3 of the VCE curriculum – law-making – and join with Victoria Law Foundation in the twice-yearly presentation of Law Talks to rural and regional year 11 and 12 students.

The Commission’s work contributes to building a fair, just, inclusive and accessible legal system for all Victorians. The Commission is governed by the Victorian Law Reform Commission Act 2000.

Find out more from the Victorian Law Reform Commission about how you can get involved in law reform, by suggesting a project or making a submission.

The Attorney-General’s oration will be followed by a QA session, facilitated by Victoria Law Foundation Chair the Honourable P.D. Cummins, who is also Chair of the Victoria Law Reform Commission. Book your seat at the oration on 3 October 2013.

Law Week – what’s it really all about?

We’re all busy rushing off to Law Week events this week – heck, it’s the biggest community event about the law each year, packed full of fascinating, challenging, confronting and even spooky events. With so much going on, it’s easy to forget what Law Week is really all about. Our Executive Director Joh Kirby shares her thoughts.

Joh Kirby at the launch of  Law Week 2013 with our 2011 Chief Justice's Medal winner Hugh Crosthwaite.

Joh Kirby at the launch of Law Week 2013 with our 2011 Chief Justice’s Medal winner Hugh Crosthwaite.

Happy Law Week! If this is your first Law Week, don’t be fooled into thinking Law Week is about promoting lawyers. Far from it, in fact!

Law Week is about providing opportunities for Victorians to find out more about the law and their legal rights, participate in debates about current justice issues, and gain an insight into the workings of the legal sector.

It’s about encouraging an interest and participation in our legal system. And, while lawyers are obviously an integral part of the legal sector, research shows that most people don’t seek their assistance when they have a legal problem. More often than not they prefer to rely on the support of family and friends. Sometimes they don’t know where to start looking for legal help, or maybe they’re intimidated by the system, its processes, size, language and the perceived cost.

But the better Victorians understand the law and the less intimidated they are by the legal sector, the more likely they are to seek appropriate help for their legal problem. That’s why Law Week, and the interest it sparks in the community, is so important.

Building legal knowledge and confidence is difficult but Law Week’s program offers lots of opportunities to dig around behind the scenes of our courts and legal institutions and to meet the many amazing, dedicated people (not just lawyers and judges) who work in the legal sector.

Once again, the legal sector has pulled out all the stops, offering a fantastic program of Law Week events – from court tours and debates to seminars on a wide range of legal issues and even cemetery tours that touch on Victoria’s criminal past.

All of the organisations involved, and the many individuals who help with events throughout the week, donate their time and resources to help us make Law Week bigger and better every year.

Courts Open Day, on Saturday 18 May, is always one of the highlights of the Law Week, and 2013 will be no exception. Held in Melbourne’s court precinct, near the corner of Lonsdale and Williams St in the city, Victorians this year will have the chance to explore the Supreme Court, County Court, Magistrates’ Court and Children’s Court. VCAT and the Coroners Court will also be participating. And, of course, the foundation will be there too!

If that’s not your cup of tea though, I encourage you to visit the Law Week program of events – there really is something that will interest everyone.

Our Victoria's Legal System booklet

Our Victoria’s Legal System booklet

And remember, even if you don’t get a chance to attend Law Week, the foundation has lots of great information to help you better understand the law and legal system. Start with our great publication, Victoria’s Legal System, which can be downloaded from the foundation’s website, and work your way through our many other easy-to-understand booklets and guides.

Stay tuned. Tomorrow morning we’ll give you an overview of Wednesday’s Law Week highlights. Or visit the Law Week program of events. You can also follow Law Week on Facebook and join the Law Week conversation on Twitter.

US National Archives says no to mindless zombies

The introduction of the US Plain Language Act in 2010 required federal agencies to use ‘clear Government communication that the public can understand and use’. This was followed up with executive orders which called for regulations to be ‘accessible, consistent, written in plain language, and easy to understand’.

Whether you agree or disagree with the introduction of such a law, there’s no denying that it’s given some organisations the push they needed to improve the way they communicate.

We’re particularly fond of these plain language tips from the US National Archives (no mindless zombies here, thanks). And we’re encouraged by the growing number of organisations and politicians who are speaking out in support of plain language and seem to understand its benefits for people who use government services and for the services themselves.

In 2011, after completing a Churchill Fellowship on best practice in community legal information, our Executive Director called for similar legislation for Australia.

What do you think?

When is duplication okay?

Every Christmas we are bombarded with information about how we should behave over the festive season. Much of this is about safety – drink in moderation, be safe on the roads, swim between the flags, how to survive Christmas day with the in-laws. It’s also often about our legal rights as consumers or employees such as knowing when are you entitled to a refund or exchange or your right to holidays or overtime.

 Sometimes you will hear the same message over and over again from different sources, so why the duplication? Executive Director Joh Kirby tells us about efforts to better coordinate legal information in Victoria.

“Last week the Attorney-General Robert Clark convened a working group to consider how the legal sector could better collaborate on online resources. The aim was commendable. In essence, he wanted to look at how to reduce duplication of effort and resources, and increase the quality of services to the public.

The spectre of the forum made me start thinking about why duplication exists.

In one view of the perfect world, life for the information seeker would be easy: one source of information with answers to everyone’s legal questions, available right here on your computer at the push of a button. But take a glance out of the window or a stroll down the street and it becomes clear that we are not a homogenous society. Different cultural backgrounds, age, education and literacy levels can all have an impact on the type of information that we need and want, and where and how we seek it out. And so duplication of information often serves an essential purpose.

But what about when there is no purpose to duplication? When it happens as a result of poor coordination or when organisations get wrapped up in themselves and lose sight of what their audience wants.

Better using existing information sources and expanding information-sharing forums will help to improve coordination. But it takes a commitment by organisations to bring about change in this area. Perhaps the first step for all organisations is to look to see what others are doing before embarking on a project. Organisations need to ask themselves: does anyone else produce this information, should my organisation do it and why, and could we collaborate to better serve the needs of our audience?

In the arena of legal information, the focus should firmly be on how we can best provide the legal information that people want, when, where and how they want it. Having this focus can bring you into conflict with people whose primary concern is to protect an organisation’s position in the marketplace. Focusing on the audience may sometimes mean sharing information to make it more widely available (even if it results in less clicks to your website!), taking a back step on an issue, and not viewing websites primarily as a marketing tool but rather as a means of providing information to the public.

The outcome from the forum was positive and I suspect it made us all look a little bit closer at how we approach our work.

A working group is to be established in 2013, which will include a range of individuals and organisations from across the sector. While the Attorney-General has his work cut out, with the right attitude and commitment, this is a working group that could really improve the way we help Victorians who need legal information and services.”