Christmas Greetings Ceremony

Wednesday 13 December, 2017 | Supreme Court of Queensland

President’s speech

May it please the Court.

Milo – not the sweet chocolate belly warming beverage, Milo Yiannopoulos, the ultra-right wing political commentator, has garnered significant press recently.  He was in Australia to spruik his version of society.  His presence drew angry violent crowds both in support and against.  It makes for sensational news.

Anger, hate, bad news – it sells. Why? Because numerous studies have demonstrated that humans respond far more readily to the threat of bad things over the prospect of good things, regardless of what the objective, independent, verifiable, evidence might reveal. Experts contend that our Neanderthal brain has hardwired into us, a strong sensitivity to negative triggers, hair triggers if you like, far in excess of positive triggers. Fear kept our ancestors alive, their survival depended on the ability to predict threats and attacks, and we haven’t lost that fight or flight response.

Modern humans remain constantly on alert for bad news. And there are no end of people, politicians, media outlets and dare I say Lawyers, who have no qualms in opportunistically exploiting this base human trait, for their own agendas and personal gain, all too often ignorant, careless or worse still seeking the damage it does. The problem is, bad news produces fear and each time we experience fear, our bodies release stress hormones – Cortisol, Norepinephrine, Adrenaline. We know that stress hormones are bad for you, but there is one that we do tend to like – Adrenalin. Adrenalin gives us a buzz, it motivates us, it excites us.  We can become addicted to it and quickly find ourselves in a state of permanent negative arousal.  This is not good for us. After a prolonged period of exposure, our immune system begins to break down and we get sick.

As we prepare to overindulge at Christmas, I propose we all go on a diet.  One that has us stepping away from the smorgasbord of bad news, and peddlers of anger, hate and fear served up at every turn.  Make every calorie count. Choose from the a la carte menu of life, it serves an abundance of peace, kindness and love.  With that in mind, I am reminded that I started this year in this spot, with a comment that struck fear into the heart of this esteemed bench when I uttered this phrase:

The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers

I invoked that quote not from a desire to evoke fear, nor, importantly to see lawyers wiped out-but because this famous Shakespearean line is actually the Bard’s recipe for chaos. Despite our reputation, lawyers form a noble profession that in Queensland makes a fundamental difference to legislative development in particular, but also the broader community. We are an essential part of the checks and balance in our democracy. To that end, I am honoured to have lead the most esteemed side of the profession as president of the Queensland Law Society, the third largest peak Legal body in this Country and I am sure Mr Hughes has equally enjoyed leading his colleagues.

My interactions with Mr Hughes have been collegial, if not touching.  I congratulate Mr Thompson QC on his election as the Bar’s President and a special congratulations to Ms Rebecca Treston SC on her election as Vice President. It is to be hoped that if she does not ascend to the bench, that Rebecca will become, in the fullness of time the first female President of the BAQ and finally make some ground on the Queensland Law Society’s five female presidents. I take this opportunity to wish all members of the Bar Association a very happy Christmas.

In fact, I think I picked a good year to be President, because Donald Trump is also a president-sort of-this year. That means that no matter what I tweet, no matter who I offend and no matter how bad a hair day I am having, I can take heart that there is at least one President whose appearance is more often spoken about.

Indeed that may be the true dividing line between the two halves of the profession-one side needs to wear wigs to have good hair, the other doesn’t.

I digress, we do indeed form a noble profession and one which does in fact stand between order and chaos. And that is a positive message, to celebrate and protect the rule of law. That is the point of Shakespeare’s famous line-he is not saying the elimination of lawyers is a good thing; the character quoted, Dick the Butcher, suggests this as the best way to overthrow the government. Of course, this was before we realised we could do it by raising questions about their citizenship.

In any event, it has certainly been a stellar year for the Queensland Law Society. I have been fortunate enough to welcome many new judges, magistrates and members of various courts and tribunals. Now that I think of it, many of those I have welcomed started their careers as solicitors-I probably should have mentioned that at the time. Not to worry, I am sure there will be plenty more opportunities to welcome solicitors to judicial ranks, as our astonishingly talented members are destined to fulfil.

Looking back on this year, I hope I can be forgiven for being immensely proud of the Solicitors branch and what the Queensland Law Society has achieved in 2017. Those new magistrates and judges of whom I spoke were appointed following continuous and tenacious advocacy from QLS, and I can assure the Attorney-general that success in this area has only emboldened the Society. Queensland has incredibly talented and very hardworking judges, magistrates and tribunal members, and the only thing that could make our system better is if we had more of them. The society’s ranks are flush with excellent candidates for such roles, and the sooner they are appointed the more diverse and inclusive our justice system will be.

We also saw long-desired reform of the Trusts Act, a particular passion of mine, and the Society has continued to advocate for good law, good lawyers and the public good, with in excess of 165 submissions made to parliamentary committees and numerous appearances before those committees. That advocacy will need to continue, as the rights of Queenslanders remain fragile and vulnerable.

I have enjoyed seeing many personal projects thrive this year- our Elder Abuse Awareness campaign; the digital wills registry working group, and our stand outs, the Society’s Modern Advocate Lecture Series goes from strength to strength with the last session garnering more than 600 viewers on Facebook. I thank our esteemed members of our judiciary for your wonderful support of this initiative, Justices Appelgarth and Atkinson and Judge Kingham, and in particular your Honour Chief Justice Holmes for leading the charge. I am particularly pleased to announce that we have a complete program ready to roll out in 2018. And I am equally pleased to announce that Her Honour the Chief Justice of the High Court, Susan Keifel will present at the series next year. Our profession is truly blessed with the generosity of our Judiciary. To that end a special thank you to his Honour Chief Magistrate, Judge Ray Rinaudo, who generously supported the launch of the newly released QLS solicitor advocacy course. It is so popular the first program was sold out in 4 days and we have a huge waiting list for the next.  The success of these initiatives is a source of great pride-pride in the wonderful staff at QLS and the hard work of the Society’s members who supported me, but importantly it is a success born of true collegiality, collaboration and mutual respect.

Indeed, one of the great joys of my time as President has been working with the society staff. There is a wonderful collegiality at QLS, and the society’s successes all depend in large part on the way in which the staff go above and beyond on a regular basis. Their efforts are admirable and empowering, and certainly make it seem like anything is possible; I thank them all for their unyielding support and sterling efforts over the year.

The idea of a group of people working together for the good of society is particularly apt at an event like this, because in essence that is what our profession does. Solicitors, the Bar and the bench all work together to create the justice system, and I think it is fair to say that we can be proud of the one we, together, create. Our system is fair, robust and efficient. Everyone, from pauper to Prime Minister, is both equal before, and held to account by, our court system. There is no fairer court system in the world, and we can all be proud of the part we play in delivering such even-handed and righteous justice.

At its core, ours is a profession based on collegiality, and that is central to the successes of the system. I spoke at the start of the year of a symphony, many elements combining to make music, and-although there may have been times when we were more Sex Pistols than Tchaikovsky-the record will show that the vast majority of the time we get it right. I am very proud of the work our profession does as a whole, and I thank my members, my colleagues at the bar and the esteemed lawyers at the bench for their wonderful efforts in making this system work, and work well. When we focus on the values of the profession-fidelity, service, courage, respect, courtesy and collegiality-we do indeed make beautiful music.

So now we come at last to what we often refer to as the silly season, although there really isn’t anything silly about it. The idea of coming together with our families and loved ones to reflect on the good things in our lives and to wish each other well is not silly, it is one of the best ideas anyone ever had.

Ours is a hard-working profession, and one of the downsides to that is that sometimes we cannot spend as much time with our families as we would like, or we don’t take the time to appreciate our support staff and colleagues. Christmas is the time to correct that, and I urge all of us to do so. Spend time with loved ones, thank your staff for their efforts and enjoy the fruits of the year’s labour. make sure you take the time to enjoy the things that matter, the people who sustain you throughout the year and are the reason you go to work every morning.

It has been a privilege to represent the Queensland Law Society’s  13 000 members, (I’m not sure I have mentioned that before). I wish all members of the Courts, their Staff who tirelessly work to ensure that the work of the Court is done efficiently, your associates and of course all of your families and friends who support you in your Public Service you all a wonderful, safe and happy Christmas and a prosperous and fulfilling New Year.

May it please the Court.