Law Oration

Hear some of Victoria’s most interesting public legal figures discuss hot-button issues at our annual Law Oration.

Every year, between 2005 and 2019, we invited one of Victoria’s leading legal minds to discuss contemporary issues facing our justice system for the VLF Law Oration.

Held in the Supreme Court’s iconic Banco Courtroom, we heard some of Victoria’s most interesting public legal figures discuss hot-button issues. The free, public events, delivered in-person and in recent years streamed online, usually lasted around an hour.

On this page you can access previous Law Orations such as presentations from 29th Governor of Tasmania Kate Warner AC, and President of the Court of Appeal, the Honourable Justice Chris Maxwell AC.

VLF hosts public events, like the Law Oration, as a way for all Victorians to engage with the justice system.

You can subscribe to our newsletter to hear about for future public events and booking details.

Past Law Orations

2019: President of the Court of Appeal, the Honourable Justice Chris Maxwell AC

Equity and good conscience: the judge as moral arbiter and the regulation of modern commerce

Justice Maxwell began the Oration with a quote from Jiminy Cricket, ‘Let your conscience be your guide’. From here he investigated the concept of unconscionable conduct – how it is understood in law and what its implications are for judges, lawyers and the business world. His aim is to highlight the implications of our continued use of this powerful but elusive concept of good conscience.

‘The shocking reports we have all read about large-scale and widespread unethical behaviour in the financial services industry would tend to suggest that not very much moral reasoning has been going on there. The dictates of good conscience do not appear to have held much sway when decisions have been made by service providers about what sorts of transactions to embark on, which sorts of customers to engage with or what marketing and selling techniques are to be adopted.’

‘Is that a failing in the law, either as enacted or as applied? Even if it is not, could the law — meaning, in particular, judges and practitioners — do more?’

Download the Oration

2018: Her Excellency Professor the Honourable Kate Warner AC, Governor of Tasmania

Are Courts soft on crime? Lessons from the Victorian Jury Sentencing Study

Sentencing and related issues frequently make news headlines and can be politically controversial. In particular there is often a perception that some sentences handed down by judges are lenient and are not representative of community views.

The Victorian Jury Sentencing Study, led by Her Excellency the Honourable Professor Kate Warner AC, took a closer look at the differences between judges’ and juries’ sentences.

Download the Oration

2017: The Honourable Robert French AC, High Court of Australia

Rights, freedoms and the rule of law

On 9 February 2017, just days after retiring as Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia, the Honourable Robert French delivered the Victoria Law Foundation Law Oration. His paper shone a light on contemporary legal issues, including the role of the courts in upholding the Rule of Law.

Download the Oration

2016: Justice Mark Weinberg, Supreme Court of Victoria, Court of Appeal

Of Mozart, modern drafting and the criminal lawyers' lament.

The Honourable Justice Mark Weinberg was admitted to practice in New South Wales in 1974, and in Victoria in 1975, and his name was entered on the roll of barristers and solicitors of the High Court in 1979.

In 1975 he joined the academic staff of the University of Melbourne, where he held various positions in the Faculty of Law, culminating in Dean of the Faculty from 1984 to 1985. He was appointed Queen’s Counsel in 1986 and was Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions from 1988 to 1991.

Justice Weinberg was appointed to the Court of Appeal, Supreme Court of Victoria, in July 2008. His Honour was a judge of the Federal Court of Australia from 1998 to 2008 and previously held the following appointments: Deputy President, Federal Police Disciplinary Tribunal; Non-resident Judge, Supreme Court of Fiji; Judge, Supreme Court of the Australian Capital Territory; and Chief Justice, Supreme Court of Norfolk Island.

Download the Oration

2015: Laureate Professor Emeritus Cheryl Saunders AO

Australian federal democracy

Laureate Professor Emeritus Cheryl Saunders AO is the Director of Studies in Government Law and Co-Director of Studies in Public and International Law at the University of Melbourne.

An expert in Australian and comparative law, Professor Saunders is a President Emeritus of the International Association of Constitutional Law, a former President of the International Association of Centres for Federal Studies, a former President of the Administrative Review Council of Australia and a senior technical advisor to the Constitution Building program of International IDEA. She has a chevalier dans l’Ordre National de la Legion d’Honneur of France.

Download the Oration

2014: The Honourable Justice Susan Crennan AC

Magna Carta, common law values and the Constitution

Justice Susan Crennan was appointed in November 2005 to the High Court of Australia, which is both the ultimate appeal court in Australia and the original jurisdiction under the Constitution. She had then served for almost two years as a judge on the Federal Court of Australia. In 2010, her Honour became an Inns of Court Fellow attached to the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, University College, London.

Before appointment as a judge, Justice Crennan was a barrister for 24 years, 14 of them as Queen's Counsel. After being appointed as Queen's Counsel, Justice Crennan became Chair of the Victorian Bar Council, then President of the Australian Bar Association. She was the first woman to occupy each of those positions. Also, Justice Crennan was for some years a Commonwealth Commissioner for Human Rights.

Download the Oration

2013: Victorian Attorney-General, The Honourable Robert Clark MP

Tradition and reform in the law

The Attorney-General is the Member for Box Hill and is also the Attorney-General, Minister for Finance and Minister for Industrial Relations in the Victorian Government. Before entering Parliament, he was a solicitor practising in commercial, financial and labour law.

Download the Oration

2012: Robert Walker, Justice of The Supreme Court (UK)

Developing common law: how far is too far?

Lord Walker became one of the first Justices of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom in 2009. He sits as a non-permanent justice of the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal, and has sat in the Bahamas and Mauritius on occasional local sittings of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. Over the past five decades, Lord Walker has lectured or conducted advocacy training in Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, India, Malaysia and New Zealand, as well as in the United Kingdom.

In 2013, a modified version of this paper was published in 37(1) of the Melbourne University Law Review.

Download the Oration

2011: Mr George Brouwer, Victorian Ombudsman

Achieving integrity: Do we judicialise too much?

At the time of presenting the oration, Mr Brouwer was the Victorian Ombudsman. He was appointed to the position in 2004. His term expired in March 2014.

Mr Brouwer has over thirty years experience working in the federal and state public service and statutory authorities in Australia and abroad, giving him experience in public policy, strategic development, and change management at senior executive and chief executive levels.

Mr Brouwer has worked in the Commonwealth Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet under Harold Holt, John McEwen, William McMahon, John Gorton, Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser. At state level, Mr Brouwer has worked as Chief Executive in the Victorian Department of Premier and Cabinet under John Cain and Joan Kirner, and in the Department of Business and Employment under Jeff Kennett.

Download the Oration

2010: The Honourable Chief Justice Marilyn Warren AC

Does judicial independence matter?

A Judge of the Supreme Court of Victoria since 1998, and Chief Justice since 2003, the Hon Chief Justice Marilyn Warren was awarded the Order of Australia Medal in 2005. This honour recognised her service to the judiciary and the legal profession, her service to the community in areas affecting the social and economic conditions of women, and to forensic medicine internationally.

Download the Oration

2009: Professor the Honourable Gareth Evans QC AO

The responsibility to protect: ending mass atrocity crimes once and for all

Professor the Honourable Gareth Evans AC QC FASSA has been Chancellor of the Australian National University since January 2010. He was a Cabinet Minister in the Hawke and Keating Labor Governments from 1983 to 1996, in the posts of Attorney-General, Minister for Resources and Energy, Minister for Transport and Communications and – from 1988 to 1996 – Foreign Minister.

During his 21 years in Australian politics, he was Leader of the Government in the Senate (1993–96) and Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives (1996–98). From 2000 to 2009, he was President and CEO of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, the independent global conflict prevention and resolution organisation.

Download the Oration

2008: The Honourable Chief Justice of the High Court, Murray Gleeson AC

The meaning of legislation: context, purpose and respect for fundamental rights

The Hon Murray Gleeson AC was the Chief Justice of the High Court of Australian between 1998 and 2008. Chief Justice Gleeson delivered the Law Oration just prior to his retirement. Prior to his appointment to the High Court, he was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of New South Wales (1988–98). He was admitted to the New South Wales Bar in 1963 (QC 1974), was President of the New South Wales Bar Association (1984–85) and was Lieutenant Governor of New South Wales (1989–98).

Download the Oration

2007: The Honourable Michael McHugh AC QC

Does Australia need a Bill of Rights?

The Honourable Michael McHugh was a Justice of the High Court of Australia from 1989 to 2005. Prior to his appointment, he was a Judge of Court of Appeal and Supreme Court NSW (1984–89), President of the NSW Bar Association (1981–83) and President of the Australian Bar Association (1983–84).

Download the Oration

2006: Lex Lasry QC

Defending unpopular causes in a climate of fear

At the time of presenting the oration, Lex Lasry QC was a prominent Australian barrister; he has since been appointed a judge in the Supreme Court of Victoria.

Lasry is the former Chair of the Victorian Criminal Bar Association. In August 2004, he was appointed as the independent observer representing the Law Council of Australia at the trial of Australian Guantanamo Bay detainee David Hicks. He attended Military Commission hearings at Guantanamo Bay in August 2004 and March 2007.

Download the Oration

2005: Professor Tim McCormack

60 years from Nuremberg: what progress for international criminal justice?

Tim McCormack is a Professor of Law at the Melbourne Law School and the Special Adviser on International Humanitarian Law to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Tim is also an Adjunct Professor of Law at the University of Tasmania Law School.

Tim was the Foundation Australian Red Cross Professor of International Humanitarian Law (1996–2010) at the Melbourne Law School and also the Foundation Director of the Asia Pacific Centre for Military Law (2001–2010) – a collaborative initiative, established in 2001, between the Melbourne Law School and The Australian Defence Force Legal Service.

Download the Oration