The usual hugs and handshakes of solicitor admission ceremonies – a no-go in a socially distanced world – have been replaced by a “pandemic special” YouTube address by NSW Supreme Court Chief Justice Tom Bathurst.
The Supreme Court’s recent embracing of the digital sphere reached new heights with a live-streamed admissions ceremony held on August 18 for the state’s freshest crop of solicitors. The Chief Justice offered advice for the young legal eagles in a candid and wide-ranging speech that covered social movements like Black Lives Matter and #MeToo.
“This is not the admission day you had imagined,” Chief Justice Bathurst said.
“You would be more familiar watching cat videos, beauty tutorials or food hacks on YouTube, rather than your admission ceremony. This is as strange for you as it is for me. I didn’t know what a vlogger was until last week, but I guess I am one now.”
The Chief Justice took the opportunity to speak frankly on a global issue of 2020 – the Black Lives Matter movement and a worldwide reckoning with the criminal justice system’s treatment of people of colour.
“I am the first to admit that there are more people that look like me in senior positions in the law than look like anyone else in the community,” he said.
“Systemic barriers, inappropriate workplace behaviour and prejudices continue to hinder women and those from diverse cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds from fully and equally participating in the legal profession. This must change.”
In his remarks he acknowledged; “the Black Lives Matter movement has brought the racism, inequality and abuses of power that have haunted our nation for so long to the forefront of public consciousness”.
“I acknowledge that our laws failed to recognise the cultural heritage and rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples for many decades and the dispossession and disempowerment this caused.
“This year marks 250 years since Captain Cook first landed in Australia. Despite this significant passage of time, the Black Lives Matter movement has exposed that our criminal justice system remains a tool of injustice for Indigenous Australians, who are one of the most incarcerated people in the world.”
While observing the more light-hearted side of the pandemic – where “dining tables have become the new bar tables [and] family dogs the new courtroom security” – the Chief Justice said the profession can lead the way in transforming the social lessons of 2020 into meaningful reform.
“The Black Lives Matter and #MeToo movement present a challenge for our profession to ensure that calls for change do not pass without systemic reforms,” he said.
“As lawyers, we are called upon to ensure that our justice system is in fact just for all.”