Peter Jopling Portrait

Oral Histories

Peter Jopling AM KC

You’ve got to be strong to be a barrister. You’ve got to be brave and you’ve got to be bold.

Bar roll 1980 Silk 1996


Interview conducted by Juliette Brodsky

Q    Juliette Brodsky speaking with Peter Jopling QC for List G and I’d like to thank you very much for making time to talk with me.

A     Pleasure.

Q    I had an irreverent thought about you (!) – given that you’ve had so much experience in the arts world – you couldn’t be by any chance related to Jay Jopling, the well-known English art collector? There must be a gene here, maybe?

A     There’s a distant connection, but it’s funny you should raise it. I’ve met him and had drinks with him in Sri Lanka in January 2018. I was checking into my hotel, a very small hotel in Galle when the chap at the desk said I’d already checked in.  I said, “What do you mean? I’ve only just arrived.” He said “No, no, no – you’re here in room 3 with your children.” I said, “I don’t have any children”, and then I said, “Oh, have you got my cousin Jay Jopling here?”  He said, “Oh, that’s exactly who’s here!” Anyway, we had a chuckle. Later in the early evening – it’s a very small hotel – Jay walks into the bar with his gorgeous wife and three of his kids. He walked straight up to me and said “Peter Jopling, I presume” (a la Stanley Livingston and voyage of the Nile).  It was extremely funny. I had met him once before – I had also met his father a long time before –

Q    Baron Jopling.

A     Yes, and that’s where in discussions with him and with my father, we’d worked out a connection, but my father has no interest in family history.  Just encountering him as recently January 2018 and (now) you beginning this interview…

Q    So, what are you – second or third cousins?

A     Something like that.

Q    In any case, there’s a definite arts gene.

A     Er, well yes….

Q    Maybe?

A     Maybe – I don’t know about that.  He’s enormously successful in the art world.

Q    I do want to touch on that subject of your involvement in the arts and we’ll come back to it.  I want to go back now to your early years. You mentioned before your father not being interested in history – so he wasn’t a lawyer?

A     No, he was a scientist, so not interested in law. But I had an uncle who was a barrister and who died a year or so ago. He’d practised here at the Victorian Bar, my mother’s only sibling and a great influence on my life. I had no scientific or mathematical background, so couldn’t possibly contemplate that sort of career but my father used to say I’d cut my options pretty finely and that was my choice. I’ll never forget what my uncle said when I was in form 3 (year 10) – “Come into town and have a look at how a trial is conducted”. I thought, fantastic. It was either the May or September holidays, so I trundled into town – we’re talking about 1970 – I’ve got on smart camel trousers and camel sweater and my Henry Bucks viyella shirt. I rock up and he has a catatonic fit: “You can’t possibly come to court dressed like that – this is outrageous!” I’m telling you this story, because the world has so dramatically changed. He made me get on the tram and go all the way back home. I’m a schoolboy in year 10, being screamed at, and I could hear him screaming down the telephone at Mum – “how could you have sent him dressed like this?”  I had on my Fletcher Jones Harris tweed jacket – having regard to what people look like today in court, I looked perfectly respectable. I went all the way home on the tram, got into my school uniform (because I didn’t have another suit) and came back in my Camberwell Grammar school uniform. By the time that all happened, I only got to see half a day; I can’t remember anything about the trial –

Q    Understandably.

A     Other than my uncle screaming at me. There you go.

Q    What was your uncle’s name?

A     John Roberts.

Q    So, other than his screaming at you, nothing of his approach rubbed off on you at all?

A     He did personal injuries work and I’ve never done that.

Q    So, he didn’t play any kind of mentor role to you then?

A     He moved my admission as junior to David Bennett QC.  He did have a big influence on me. He’d been at Ormond College at the University of Melbourne and said to me I should go to Ormond College, so I followed his path.  When I started at the Bar, he was interested in what I was doing, but because I was in another field (at the Bar), he didn’t play a huge role. Funnily enough, he had a huge circuit practice and was so busy that he couldn’t attend my admission ceremony.

Q    Do you think he’d be proud of you now?

A     Oh… I don’t know.

Q    It could have been an unfortunate introduction.

A     No, I was extremely fond of him; he was very kind to me.  In the lovely way of the Bar, when he died, he hadn’t been practising for some time.  Somebody rang me from the Bar News and said, “I’ve been told that John Roberts is your uncle. We need to write an obituary because we write obituaries about all our members”. He had ceased practising about ten or fifteen years before that, but I thought it was just an exemplar of the wonderful collegiate spirit of this place, that people had remembered and wanted to record his place in the Bar history. I said it would be better that a dear friend of his who was a barrister wrote the obituary, than me, because the dear friend had had chambers opposite him and had then gone into parliament. They’d been bosom buddies and he would be a better reflector of John’s history and he wrote a beautiful article and I took great pride in reading it. I gave it to my cousin who’s not a barrister (but married to a lawyer) and she was delighted that the Bar had remembered her father in that way.

Q    Which edition of Bar News is it in? I’d love to read it.

A     Oh, three or four years ago.

Q    Ok.

A     Bar News is a great institution and it’s had a great group of men and women who’ve been its editors over the years. It just grows and grows as a publication.

Q    It’s changed a lot too - I remember the Bar News being a tiny publication when it started –

A     A lot stiffer –

Q    Typewritten, even.

A     But the Bar was smaller and stiffer. Now it’s huge, dynamic and diverse and much less rigid and stiff. I say that not only because I’m at the end of my career, I’ve climbed to the top of the greasy pole, but it was a daunting place to a newcomer when I started and not overly friendly. It’s a much more open and friendlier place today.

Q    We’ll certainly come back and talk more about that.  I just wanted to get more of an idea of the kind of student you were, both at school and university.

A     I was geeky, boring and hardworking, determined to get my marks up to get into law school. I didn’t think of any other law school other than Melbourne University. I loved school, I loved university. I loved being in Ormond – I was lucky to be there when Davis McCaughey was the Master. It was a golden period and a subsequent gold period was under Rufus Black who’s only just retired as Master of Ormond - I said to Rufus he was like the Second Coming. But Davis was a remarkable figure – he went on to be the first moderator of the Uniting Church of Australia – he really was at the forefront of its establishment - then the Governor of Victoria, and fathered remarkable children who’ve done many things in this state and internationally. I feel blessed to have been there when Jean and Davis were in charge. Jean, who died five or six years ago, was an equally remarkable person. She sat on the Henderson Poverty inquiry all those years ago. They were a very remarkable couple and had a profound impact on Victorian and Australian society, and gathered together a really remarkable group of young people.

Q    You were one of them?

A     Well, I don’t know about that….. I made great friends at Ormond (College) and many of those people are still my friends today – people like Hilary Charlesworth, and Sarah Stephen.  Some really interesting people.

Q    Were you a debating type of boy?

A     I did debating at school and at Ormond. Yes, we won the debating competition at Ormond by default because the opposing team, Trinity didn’t turn up – they forgot the night. The people at Trinity thought that they were far superior to us, and they probably were, but we won the debate. I’d forgotten all about that until you asked the question.

Q    Out of interest, were you the first speaker or the summing up speaker when you did debates? What was your strength?

A     I think I was the summing up person.

Q    You mentioned Hilary Charlesworth before – (she is) very eminent in the legal profession –

A     Who’s only recently come back to the University of Melbourne law school.

Q    Did she give signs even then of an august career?

A     Oh, she was a remarkable person and you had a sense of that, and so too, Sarah (Stephen) who’s a leading public servant here in Victoria.  Great policymaker. There were many others: Jacquie Healey who’s one of the great art historians and has a big role at the University of Melbourne, Frank Parry, Mary-Jane Crabtree who’s a very senior partner at Allen’s and about to become chairman of Epworth Hospital – a remarkable group of men and women.

Q    Davis McCaughey is like a statesman, I suppose.  Were you influenced by his approach?

A     When you say he was a statesman, he was extremely modest and always sought to bring out the best in everybody and encouraged them to be the best they possibly could be. I’ll never forget - there was a chap there, Shane Finnegan, and we became good friends. There was a revolution of sorts in the dining room, because people complained about the food. It was appalling, and Davis said “Well, let’s have a commission of inquiry into the food”. Shane and I were given the job of conducting this commission of inquiry into the food. We had to interview students, staff and people in the kitchen.  Then we had to write a report and deliver it to Davis. My memory is, things did change. That was Davis training us up for legal-type jobs. He just encouraged you to be the best you could possibly be. I came from a very conservative background. He might have given the appearance of being conservative but he was anything but. He challenged my political senses and tried to introduce me to new thoughts and ideas. I thought that was exhilarating. I feel blessed to have been in Ormond and influenced by him and by Jean. She was equally remarkable.

Q    What about the law professors there when you started – what were they like?

A     When we started, Professor Mary Hiscock was in charge of legal process, so you rocked up to your first class. You’d passed your HSC and got into law school and success was assured, so thought stupid me. She said, “By year’s end, 45-50% of you will have failed”. I thought, “What do you mean?  I’ve just sweated my life’s blood to pass HSC, I’ve got a Commonwealth scholarship and got in here and now you’re telling me I’m a 50:50 chance to fail?!” She went on and on – “This is a very difficult degree, you’ve got to reflect on it, you’ve got to be serious and some of you just won’t pass muster...” She put the fear of God into us; most students thought they just had to rock up to university for the next four years and get themselves a degree at the end. “This is going to be hard!” She had a great influence.

Then there was Sandy Clark who was the dean of the law school. He was an extraordinary figure, still alive today, has been a partner at Ashurst’s, and a powerful figure on the Council for Legal Education and setting the agenda for what students needed to pass in order to gain admission. We’ve connected at many points because of the work that I’ve done on the Legal Services Board and the Admissions Board. I was president of the Law Students’ Society in my day so I had quite a lot of contact with him. Then there was Mark Weinberg, now Justice Weinberg of the Court of Appeal of the Victorian Supreme Court. He lectured me in jurisprudence and a remarkable figure, probably the best lecturer that I ever had. Really had quite a profound impact on me. Then I had a lecturer in constitutional law, Gareth Evans whose main ambition at that time was to gain admission into politics. He regularly cancelled classes and was a figure in absentia, a huge disappointment. There he is (now) as Chancellor of the ANU so I hope he’s a bit more involved, a bit more focused. But to my generation of constitutional law students at the University of Melbourne, he really didn’t deserve to have his role. Then we had a really uninspiring lecturer in contract law, who perhaps I shouldn’t name. So, in some respects, a mixed bag.

Q    During all that time, when did your urge to excel kick in? Was it a consequence of that speech about the failure rate?

A     My parents had always instructed me to be the best I could possibly be. There’s always a fear of failure, I think that drives a lot of people, but I’ve always tried to do the best I possibly could.

Q    Were you infected by any of the pervasive radicalism that was floating around at University of Melbourne?

A     In what sense?

Q    Oh, well – students in the law exploring other avenues…

A     I was never a radical – most of my friends were on the left side of the equation. I’m on the conservative side but with, I like to think, an open mind about things. No, I was involved in student politics and sat on the university council as a student representative. I had friends on the students’ representative council who were much more radically inclined and on the student newspaper, but I had to get my degree and work hard at that.

Q    By that time when you got your degree, were you considering as a matter of course working your way in by doing articles or were you thinking of being a barrister by that point?

A     Look, I always wanted to be a barrister because I was influenced by this uncle – my parents had a few solicitor friends, but not many - I just wanted to be what John was. I started work as an articled clerk at age 21. I didn’t know where to go for articles so my uncle arranged articles for me. So I went off to the firm, and I didn’t like it one bit.

Q    Which firm was that?

A     I went to Wisewoulds Schilling Missen and Impey. It wasn’t so much that I disliked the firm - I just didn’t like what I was being asked to do as an articled clerk.  In the room next door to me was Linda Dessau, now Governor of Victoria, who I’d known from day one. That was the year that Menzies died. My grandmother had been a friend of Menzies. I wanted to accompany her to the funeral and I asked for permission to go. The principal of the firm was a socialist and loathed Menzies. He gave me a lecture as to why I couldn’t go. I thought that was singularly inappropriate so I just snuck out and went.

I didn’t like the experience (of articles). My father said “Well, you’ve got to do it because if you haven’t got your articles, you haven’t got your ticket”.  So I finished (articles). I had a great friend at the law school, Sally Walker who had been associate to Sir Keith Aickin.  She knew I wasn’t enjoying articles and she said “Why don’t you apply for this job? I have absolutely loved it (she’d been at Gillett Moir and Winneke, which has now been merged into Minter Ellison).  Keith Aickin is a wonderful human being – you will learn so much from him, as I have.” So I applied and was very lucky to be offered the job to work with Keith. It was life-changing. I told Wisewoulds I was leaving and they were shocked.  There was a new senior partner by that stage and he came around to my house and said “You can’t leave”. I said, “What do you mean, I can’t leave? I have, and I am and I will,” so that was really bizarre. So that was behind me. They never gave me a brief.

Q    That was a bit petty.

A     They didn’t do my sort of work.  My uncle, interestingly, told me that “No-one that you went to school with, no-one you’ve been to university with, will ever give you a brief”.  That’s been 100% correct. So, I worked for Keith, who was such a generous individual - such a knowledgeable person. A figure of intellectual strength and capacity, and one of the great Australian legal minds.

Q    I interviewed the late SEK Hulme who was an admirer of his, and (who) said he had a beautiful mind.

A     Yes. (Sir Keith) was a very generous person to young people and invited you to do drafts of judgments and then would politely tell you what was wrong with them, but would be very encouraging of you.  In those days, the (High) Court was very peripatetic, because they weren’t based in Canberra and so they moved around the country. You were regularly inter-state and I just got into the pattern that all barristers get into – of working every evening.  We’d come out of court, do work until 6.30, have dinner for about an hour and then come back and work until 10.30, and Keith would give you a lift home. I’ve been in that routine for 40 years. I became very close to his family – his wife was a remarkable woman.  Lady Aickin or “Liggy” went on a trip to South Africa with him. She saw the jabots that were in use there, and she came back and designed the jabot that was used by the High Court, and it’s been adopted by barristers and judges alike around this country. I became friendly with the family, and through their daughter, met my late wife, so the ties and connections are strong. There’s this beautiful photo of Sir Keith – taken by Athol Shmith – which Keith gave me (on) the day I left his service and which has sat in my chambers ever since.

The day I left his service, I was meant to come to the Victorian Bar.  In those days you could rock up to the Bar, knock on the door and start practice.  I had arranged to read with Michael Black because Sir Ninian Stephen had an associate, John Middleton who I became friendly with.  John, who’s now Justice Middleton of the Federal Court, was nine months ahead of me, in the associate position, and had gone to read with Michael Black.  I didn’t know who to read with; my uncle wasn’t all that helpful with names and then John said “Michael Black’s sensational”. So I asked Michael, he said yes, but then the Bar changed the rules.  The Bar introduced the first Readers’ Course and I was in the first group, with people like the now-Justice Cavanough of the Supreme Court, to go into the Bar Readers’ Course. We had a set specific date that you could come, and it was the first of June. There I was, finishing up with Keith and he’d already arranged for someone to succeed me and that was Gary Maloney, who’s now at our bar. The caravan was moving on, so what was I going to do? Next minute, there was a knock at the door and Hilary Charlesworth who was associate to Sir Ninian came in and said “Ninian would like to see you”. I toddled upstairs and Sir Ninian said, “I’m in need of a second associate – will you come and work for me?” I was blessed to work with Ninian for another six or so months, before the Bar Readers’ Course started, and that was another extraordinary individual I worked with. He left us only recently. I remain a good friend of his wife.

Q    What do you feel you most learned, from Sir Keith Aickin and then from Sir Ninian Stephen?  Very different people, I know.

A     Very different people, but they were both good friends, who held each other in high regard. I’m the lesser intellect by a million miles but what I learned from both of them was that it’s all about application. You needed to know your facts and the law that could be applied to those facts. You needed to spend an inordinate amount of time, knowing your brief.  Keith would say, “X or Y in court didn’t know their brief and that was evident from questions posed or the way the case was generally conducted”. Attention to detail, I think, was what I observed and learned from both of them.

Q    SEK Hulme also mentioned that Sir Keith Aickin had the ability to get to the salient points and then he could dismiss the rest as extraneous.

A     Both of them had that skill.

Q    Do you have that?

A     I don’t know - I think that’s the great skill of a barrister; to receive acres of material and to condense it to four or five salient points. The advocate who goes to court with 50 or 60 points, especially in 2018 where you’ve got the poor judge who has a 21 year old associate fresh out of university, and no-one else helping them and they’ve got a backlog of cases and judgments that have to be written (and looking forward, an equally horrendous lot of cases) – s/he needs all the help in the world that they can get.  Reduce your case to the 5 or 6 main points and then speak to them in plain prose, in simple language. Keith would always say to me, “If you can’t express yourself in simple language and reduce your propositions to simple prose, then you’ve got a problem”. That’s how I’ve always tried to present cases to courts, knowing that a judge would favour someone who is able to say “I’ve really only got 5 points”.  When someone’s got 55 points, their good points get lost. Judges are human beings - before they were a judge, they were a barrister, struggling with a brief! So, they need all the help that they can get. They like someone who can deliver it up to them in a simple and succinct way.

Q    Despite all that, there’s so much paperwork – it’s got worse. Everyone I’ve interviewed says it’s much worse now.

A     Yes, but the skill is narrowing down the contest.  Always narrow down the contest. I’ve just finished a four month trial – that’s a long time to be running a trial.  At the end, we had 400 pages of final submissions, but you could still drill it down to a series of simple questions, answers and propositions.  If you can’t, then you’re failing your client. That’s the role of the advocate; to be able to sell a series of propositions. I tell people it’s no different to selling soap powder.  How do you sell this so that the judge will get to the point and understand what you’re trying to say? Because the person who talks on and on and you get lost in it…well, the judge is going to get lost in it as well….

Q    I see what you mean.

A     How lucky for you to have met and interviewed the great SEK Hulme.

Q    Oh, he had very worthwhile anecdotes about many people.

A     Like Sir Keith, SEK was one of the great commercial barristers who was also (like Stephen Charles, and I think they’re the only three) sought out for the boards of premier public companies.  Sir Keith sat on the board of BHP – I don’t think there’s been a barrister since who’s done that. Stephen Charles sat on the board of Macquarie Bank and SEK Hulme was chairman of, among others Joe White Maltings Ltd, one of the big suppliers to Carlton United Breweries.  We’ve only just managed to get a photographic portrait of SEK for the Bar portrait gallery. That’s been one of the joys of my life, tracking down his wife so that we could pay due respect to him. She gave us this photographic portrait, because you can’t get a good artist to paint a deceased person – they won’t do it.  She is alive and vivacious and charming and well. She said to me, “I’ll show you this portrait and you’ve probably never heard of the artist”. I looked at the portrait and it’s this swashbuckling 30 year-old man. It could have been used for an audition photo for Metro Goldwyn Mayer. It’s an extraordinary photograph and it’s by Helmut Newton (who was living in Melbourne at that time). One of the world’s great photographers, there’s a museum in his honour in Berlin where he’s left his archive, and we now have this beautiful portrait of SEK by Helmut Newton.

Q    I can’t imagine (Helmut Newton) would have photographed many barristers either.

A     No, but there was quite an arty set in Eltham and SEK was part of that, apparently. It’s a very handsome young man, captured by Helmut Newton.

Q    SEK the model. It’s always nice to know there’s other sides to people at the Bar… Well, then, turning to your early years at the Bar – having done the Readers’ Course in the early 80s -

A     And not only the Readers’ Course - prior to that, you could nominate the clerking company you wanted to join. Everyone in my day wanted to join Foley’s (List) and my uncle was on Foley’s and said “You should join Foley’s List”. But the world changed: not only could you not come to the Bar on a day of your choosing, but you couldn’t choose your clerk.  The Bar had decided to set up a new clerking business. They’d given a licence to Ric Howells, who had been in stockbroking, and Mr Howells was given all the new readers intake. Poor Mr Howells – he wasn’t given a bevy of senior juniors and silks – he was given 40 readers. How was the man going to make a living? He had 40 pups. I stayed on that list for a very long time and Ric is a lovely man (who has) only recently retired.

Q    So how did he make ends meet with a group of pups?

A     It was a different era. The magistrates’ courts were alive and flourishing and we all seemed to be busy, doing bash and crashes. I was getting on the train and heading down to Sandringham or up to the hills, doing bash and crashes forever and a day. It would be interesting to get Ric’s take. Maybe the Bar promised him a flat retainer but I don’t think so. It must have been enormously hard but he decided to take the punt. In the end, it became a great business for him and I assume he’s retired a man of good means. He was wonderful to all of us. But when the Bar had set up lists in the past, they’d put young people on them but had given the clerks older people as well so that they had a secure source of revenue from day one. He didn’t have that luxury.

Q    You never got to meet Jim Foley, did you?

A     No, he was the legend of his day, as Mr Dever is today. I never had the privilege of being on his list. But we’ve turned List G into a powerful list and I think it’s one of the great lists of the Victorian Bar. It’s one of only three lists that are owned by barristers. The bulk of the clerking companies are not owned by barristers.

Q    You played a big role in getting List G going. What led you to do that?

A     List G had been set up maybe twenty years before by the likes of Tim Smith who later went on to become Justice Smith, (the late) Ron Castan (one of the great barristers of the Victorian Bar) and Alex Chernov who went on to become -

Q    Governor.

A     Justice Chernov of the (Victorian) Court of Appeal and Governor of Victoria and who was another great barrister and mentor to me.  It was a great list and run by Glenda McNaught who had known all those gentlemen and had worked for some of them. Glenda was drawing near to the age of retirement. I led a discussion with her, which asked what plans she had. The principal assistant I had in that endeavour was Michael McDonald (who’s gone on to become Justice McDonald in the Supreme Court) and Martin Scott, Don Farrands and Peter Wallis, but we led a discussion and raised the funds to buy out Glenda McNaught. I had and still have a very remarkable accountant, Anthony Jackson, and without him, it wouldn’t have come together as a proposition. He guided us on how to finance the acquisition of Glenda’s business.

Because that was going to be a difficult discussion, we were aided by Alan Goldberg and Peter Heerey. I invited Peter to represent the interests of the new list, and Alan to represent the interests of Glenda.  Glenda had great faith in Alan, who’s recently passed away. Those two, because of their age and they’d been judges, were able to facilitate an outcome that Glenda was happy with, and that we were happy with. I think the list owes a great debt to them. It was a really wise decision to engage them in the process of the deal-making. So, we were then able to move on. The list had reduced in numbers, a number of people had left of their own volition, so something needed to be done. It would have been easy - I was counselled by my great mentor to walk away, but that’s not something I’ve ever liked to do.

So we then set about to find a clerk. We found Jane King, we set up a new list committee and set about aggressively growing. We went out into the marketplace to make ourselves attractive to young people wanting to come to the Bar. We offered commission-free periods, which had never been done before. We also offered young people the opportunity to have an interview with us within seven days of application. We undertook to make placement offers within seven days of that interview, conditional on them passing the Bar exam. Young practitioners responded extremely well to that, because it ticked a box and got rid of the problem early on. But the Bar hadn’t encountered anything aggressive like this before and suddenly other lists started complaining. People started saying we were getting the cream of the crop, and came complaining to me. I said “That’s called competition – there’s nothing to stop you doing exactly the same thing”. So, what happened? The Bar introduced a new rule – like the articled clerks’ rule - and that is, you could only make offers to barristers to join lists on a date specific. But it didn’t matter by then: we’d been in the marketplace several years, and had grown aggressively. It had been hard at the beginning. That’s why we had to offer the commission-free period. Judges weren’t referring their associates to us – they were preferring other lists. We had to really struggle, and so we had to make ourselves appear youthful, competitive and resourceful. We created a website, like no other, and a list of services provided by us, like no other. We were the list where you didn’t have to do anything other than be a barrister. If you needed your dry cleaning done or your car serviced, Jane would attend to that. Everything would be attended by the clerking office, and you would just do your work as a barrister. It worked really well and we grew, and we have the most wonderful group of young practitioners.

The challenge however is, whenever things are perfect, it’s when you have to be most vigilant. So, now the challenge is, how we’re going to continue to grow and still meet the individual needs of the 120 people who are on the list. So, there needs to be some thinking about that. I wanted to put independent directors on the board, and that didn’t find favour with people: I thought that would help grow the list. I don’t think barristers know the answer to everything – I don’t think they know the answer to much in business. I had some pretty pre-eminent people willing to sit on the board. The large law firms have external people the likes of people like David Crawford who’s been on the board of BHP – chairman of Lendlease - sitting on their boards. That was a step too far - maybe in time, that’ll come about. But it’s been a really exciting period. We offer the cheapest commission rate of any of the lists at the Bar; we return an annual dividend. Most lists have a dinner but they charge people; we don’t charge people. When I started, all the lists had a black book in which you wrote fees, and the clerk came around and collected your black book.  We were one of the first lists to introduce an automated system that had been devised in England – we brought it out here to Australia. We don’t charge people for that service: we absorb much of the costs and we’ve just had the biggest profit we’ve ever had. We like to keep work on the list. On our automated billing system, when you enter a new matter, you have to advise whether it’s been a matter that’s come to you from your clerk or come to you from an internal referral. A lot of the work seems to come from internal referrals, which is splendid. Because we’ve got such wonderful young people on our list that when you’re looking for a junior or you can’t do a matter, you can refer it to a colleague and the profit stays on the list, and we drill that into people. It’s been an exciting thing, to see this list grow.

Q    Did you innovate this model, or did you get ideas for it from elsewhere?

A     List A existed before us, the great commercial list that has David Andrews as the clerk and was established by Allan Myers and Alan Archibald, the leaders of the commercial bar in Australia in 2018.  That was a model that I aspired to copy.

Q    Now you’re a leading commercial law list, and the vision is to be as such –

A     Commercial, public and intellectual property law - those three fields of endeavor. You only need to look at the current banking Royal Commission and those (Rowena Orr) playing the lead roles in it.

Q    I suppose none of this was on your mind as a baby barrister, that you would ever be instrumental in getting a list up.

A     No, not at all.

Q    So were you a young man in a hurry?

A     I was just a young man who was eager to be a barrister. I read with Michael Black, who was a very generous person, and you watched him at work.

Q    What was his approach, his style, like?

A     He did have a lot of style, great attention to detail and a focus on the client’s needs. One of his great clients was the ACCC, which in those days was called the Trade Practices Commission.  He’d been in a matter and judgment needed to be taken. He wasn’t going to go across and take judgment as a senior junior – “I’ll get Jopling to do that”. So across I went for about $20, and took judgment and established a rapport with the people at the TPC and remained with them a good many years and did a lot of interesting work for them.

Q    What made you decide to work in equity and become a whispering barrister (not that you’re a whispering barrister)?

A     I had an interest in things commercial. I loved corporations law and I had the legendary Harold Ford as a lecturer (I didn’t pay due regard to him earlier). I loved corporations law and was very involved in establishing the Harold Ford scholarship at the University of Melbourne in recent years, to honour his great legacy. That’s what I wanted to do. But in the beginning I had to do the hard grind of the magistrates’ court – the crash and bash. So Michael Black took silk, and in those days if you took silk, your reader had to exit your chambers immediately.  So Michael arranged for me to conclude my reading with the wonderful Graham Uren. Completely different in style – Michael was a bit flamboyant while Graham was much more reserved and conservative. Both wonderful masters and I felt privileged because I could see the world from two different lenses.

Q    Where were Graham’s chambers at that time?

A     Both were in Owen Dixon: Graham’s were on the fourth floor, while Michael’s was on level 10.

Q    Did you do any devilling for either of them?

A     Yes I did a little bit, but we were busy doing the (Readers’) course in the beginning, and then life was busy doing the crash and bash work. I had got into work with the Children’s Protection Society, which was confronting but very good for learning how to be a cross-examiner.

Q    In difficult, delicate cases.

A     In those days, the Children’s Court was in Batman Avenue (which doesn’t exist now because you have Birrarung Marr Park), and the road came all the way up to Swanston Street. I remember a case where the family took an instant dislike to me and tried to lunge at me in the courtroom, and at the conclusion of the case a policeman had to take me out the side door, put me in a police car and brought me back to chambers.

Q    For your own protection.  What did you do to upset that family?

A     I can’t remember…they were being confronted with the ugly truth of how they’d harmed their child. In fact, I do remember: this child had black marks across their buttocks and we alleged the child was being held against a three-bar radiator. I can’t remember the child’s gender. I have liked being a cross examiner and getting to the bottom of the truth ever since. That’s the thing I enjoy most – cross-examining, because there’s a lot of people who get into the witness box who aren’t properly prepared and a lot of people who get into the witness box who are liars.

Q    George Hampel wrote a great deal about the art of cross-examination. Was he influential for you?

A     No, not at all. The great influence was (Neil) McPhee (QC) – one of the great barristers of the Victorian Bar and one of the great cross-examiners.  I had the privilege to be his junior and to watch him. I also had a great run as junior to the equally legendary NSW barrister, Tom Hughes (QC), who was one of the world’s great cross-examiners. I once was in a case where they were both in it, almost the commercial trial of the century. (Royal Commissioner Ken) Hayne was in the case, (Ray) Finkelstein, David Bennett QC, (Julian) Burnside - there were so many barristers in the case, we were sitting in the jury box and the press box. The case involves the Bank of Melbourne and it’s before Justice Norman O’Bryan, one of the great judges. His sons are great silks at the Bar, and his father had been a justice on the Supreme Court. His daughter is a registrar.

Q    It’s a dynasty.

A     An absolute dynasty. The Bank of Melbourne (case) was a great case of its day, involving lots of interesting characters and I’m acting for one of the independent directors who was a whistleblower. I wanted to disprove a whole thesis about how someone did something because their timing was all out. I’d spent hours preparing it and had a million and one questions. It’s fair to say I was a little bit anxious, because there’s all these stars (of the Bar). McPhee’s furiously cross-examining the witness before me, and finishes a stellar performance. But I’m not focused on him, because I’m up next and I’m focused on me. McPhee finishes, collapses all his papers down and in typical McPhee style, wants to go out for a cigarette. So he packs up all the papers, shuffles them altogether and charges to the exit. Well, he’d bloody well packed up all my papers as well. I’m about to start cross-examining from the press box, and I’ve got nothing left! I haven’t got a junior and McPhee’s juniors have gone. Norman O’Bryan could see I was in an absolute panic and said, “Mr Jopling, I think we might have a break”. Victorian judges don’t have a morning tea break, let alone an afternoon tea break. “Yes, your Honour.” So I bolt out of the doors and I see McPhee (having a cigarette) – “what the fuck – where are my papers?”  “I don’t know”. There’s his papers sitting in a pile on the table, so I’ve got to sort through them. You might well ask, what on earth were my papers doing anywhere near his? Well, we were cheek by jowl in the press box. In the press box, you didn’t have a table. It was like being in church, with a slanting lectern where you could get a bible propped up but nothing else.  Anyway, there were my papers, and I found them and we went back in. Those two (counsel) had a remarkable impact on me, because of their style and the way in which they got to an answer. I really felt I learned from them, I’m nowhere near as good as them, but I watched and observed from them, and I love cross-examination.

Q    So, how do you go about getting to an answer?

A     You just have to know the facts.

Q    That’s all?

A     You have to know the facts and because of the wonder of discovery, and we live in an era where everyone emails, morning, noon and night - the records are there.  People think they can destroy the chain, but clever people can go in and interrogate computers and call back documents. People commit far too much to email and so you can pinpoint the hour, minute and second of the day when people are communicating, and what they’re really thinking and feeling. They don’t write long and flowery communiqués – they are candid and to the point. So, you track through the story.

Q    I wondered if you were also going to say something about what a person doesn’t say, do you elicit more….?

A     You’ve worked out the chronology of the complete story, and they haven’t. Because when they’ve drafted a witness statement and they haven’t given you the complete story or because they want to hide something, they don’t think you’ll pick it up.  I remember in the Centro case, which was a very big class action litigation running in front of Justice (Michelle) Gordon of the Federal Court and who’s now on the High Court. I was for the Centro group of companies who were in the gun, but there were other parties who should have been in the gun and weren’t coming to the party, to contribute. We had to cross-examine Price Waterhouse such that they would be convinced that they needed to come to the party.  The man they put up as the Price Waterhouse representative – we tracked through his story and after several days, I feel certain he probably wished he hadn’t got into the witness box. They made their contribution and the case settled. People often don’t know their stories. I did litigation against Visy – there was a 155 inquiry. The owner of the business I think had never before had to answer to people. He was in his own way a legendary figure and had built a very dynamic and strong business -

Q    We’re talking about the late Richard Pratt.

A     Yes, but the ACCC had the view that he’d breached the law and so he had to be interrogated. He didn’t enjoy that. He wasn’t across the detail of what had happened and he either didn’t want to tell the full story because he thought we didn’t know the full story but of course the Amcor people – in order to get amnesty – told us everything that they knew.

Q    And he continued to deny any knowledge of a cartel arrangement.

A     People think they can continue to hide, but in the end, the truth always wins out.

Q    So, you get to play Torquemada a bit, don’t you?

A     Yes….

Q    That must have its compensations, because by revealing these arrangements, you get to effect change in public policy.  

A     I don’t think that’s our role.

Q    No, but it has a knock-on effect?

A     It might. The press report a case, they take up a cause and then the politicians might be persuaded to take it up because of the public outcry.  But that’s never been my goal as a barrister. You’re there to do a job for an individual case, keep the profile low because it’s not about you, and do the best you can to secure an outcome positive for the party you’re acting for.  But it’s never about you and it’s never about an agenda, other than what you’re prosecuting in that case. People say at the time of the (Visy) cartel litigation, there were no criminal sanctions. The law was the law - it wasn’t my goal or aim to change the law – I just dealt with the law. That’s not the role of a barrister, when you’re in that case.

Q    Which of all the many, many cases you’ve done are you proudest of?

A     Oh, I don’t know…. it’s just about me doing my job. I’ve been blessed to have been invited by some remarkable solicitors to work on matters that have had a public interest.  Along the way, I’ve met some very interesting characters – none of these characters’ names mean very much in 2018 because the caravan moves on. Alan Bond, Christopher Skase, Robert Holmes a Court, George Herscu, Richard Pratt, more recently (Pankaj and Radhika) Oswal – they’re all interesting people.  In some cases, I’ve acted for and against them. In some cases, they haven’t been my direct client. I acted for Holmes a Court, I acted against Holmes a Court. I acted for Bond, and against Bond. I acted for Skase, and against Skase and I acted in one case where Skase and Holmes a Court locked horns with each other. I acted for Mrs Oswal but not against her.  I’ve acted for and against most of the banks. That’s the beauty of the Bar – it’s the cab rank principle, provided that it’s your field of endeavour. The brief comes along and you take it.

Q    I wanted to ask you about George Herscu, a colourful figure of his time.  

A     I acted against him.

Q    Was this to do with paying a bribe to Russ Hinze, the (former) Queensland police minister?

A     No, no, it was one of the property transactions. (Herscu) was a very colourful character – I think he’s passed away - he had a fine, focused solicitor who acted for him for many years and served him well. There’s lots of colourful people that one encounters. I mean, the Bank of Melbourne case – I can’t remember the name of the scoundrel who caused the whole drama.  He didn’t turn up for the trial but he communicated with the judge. Months into the trial, the judge got a letter, which he then read out to all of us in court. I can’t remember the fellow’s name now – he was living abroad –

Q    You mean, absconded?

A     It was a very funny case, but no-one would remember it. There was the Estate Mortgage Collapse. The Palmdale Insurance Collapse – there’s a great story there.

Q    Tell me.

A     The Grollo Group was being pursued by the liquidator, Ernest Niemann. He was Mr Liquidator in the same way Korda Mentha are today. He was pursuing Grollo for workers’ compensation premiums that he said hadn’t been paid. Vast sums of money. I was acting and did a lot of Palmdale work in those days. We had one particular case and Grollo was going to take it all the way. In those days, you could still go to the Privy Council. (Alex) Chernov was leading me in this case, and we were going to go to the Privy Council, which was pretty exciting for a young barrister. We were all set to go, I’d filed our submissions, I’d got my suitcase packed and Chernov comes bursting in and says, “We’re not going to London”. “What do you mean, we’re not going to London?” He said they’d turned up early and the Privy Council knocked them out.

It transpired that the Grollo people had got to London a week or so early. They’d gone in to the Privy Council and were nosing around and the court said, “Why are you here?” and they said they’d got this case coming on. The Privy Council said, “That’s not until next week.” The next day, they turned up again and the Privy Council said “You’re back again? You’re not here until next week, but by the way, we’ve looked at these papers and we’re not going to allow the application”. So my great chance to go to the Privy Council was defeated.

Q    It would have been interesting for you. I wonder if under all of this, you’ve done a lot of governance work. You sit on so many organisation boards – you mentioned Menzies before –

A     I’m chair of the Menzies Foundation.

Q    I’m interested to know, where along the line did you become attracted to governance roles?

A     When I went to university, Whitlam had been elected to office and university was free. I think you’ve got an obligation if you’ve had a free education, to give back. My parents instructed in me that if you were fortunate enough in life, you had a duty to give back – that’s always been their mantra and guided me. I’ve been blessed to have some very close friends outside the law, who play a very substantial philanthropic role. My closest friend is Martyn Myer, who is president of the Myer Foundation and my other close friend is Naomi Milgrom who runs the Milgrom Foundation. And Charles Goode, chair of the Potter Foundation – I feel blessed by their friendship and their example. They, along with my parents, inspired me that if you were able to, it’s very important to give back. This city, more so than any other city in Australia, has that heritage of extraordinary figures who’ve given back.

I had a seventeen year association with the Howard Florey Institute, which is now the Florey Neuroscience Institute. I was their vice president and Martyn their president, and Charles before him was president. It was established by Nugget Coombs and Ken Myer (Martyn’s father), Hilda Stevenson, Pansy Wright and Derek Denton, the founding director. It’s one of the great research institutes of this country. I found it immensely satisfying and rewarding to bring one’s legal skills to that process. The Menzies Foundation – my connection with that came about because they wanted to honour Sir Ninian Stephen who’d been chair. They wanted to establish a scholarship in his name. Justice (Susan) Kenny sort of put me in it – she said “Go speak to Jopling – he’ll help you raise money”. They came to me and we raised quite a substantial amount of money. It’s a non-political foundation. When (Julia) Gillard was prime minister, she contributed a million dollars of the Commonwealth Government’s money to the Ninian Stephen Foundation scholarship, which makes clear the non-partisan nature of that foundation.  After helping them raise money for that scholarship, they then asked me if I would go on the board and this year, I became their chair. I think it’s very important to give back. I’ve been blessed by my association with the University of Melbourne and as a consequence, I’ve served as a director of the Melbourne Business School. And now I’m chair of the Potter Museum.

Q    And of course, it’s been your role with the arts and collections committee for the Victorian Bar council that the portraiture gallery has got going -.

A     Yes, that’s been exciting. My friend Justice McMillan, when she went to the bench said I should become chair of this committee. So I did. The Bar had a collection of portraits –

Q    There were a few –

A     Quite a few but they were scattered hither and yon, and you didn’t have a sense they represented a collection. They were in the foyers of the various buildings we owned, some were in the Griffith library, some in broom cupboards.  I don’t think people had a sense of the story around the portraiture of the Bar. I said it was important to bring these portraits together and put them in one location. There was a space that was available and the-then chairman of BCL, Michael Wyles generously agreed that we could make use of that space and then he very generously agreed that we could have it redecorated. The then-chairman of the Bar, Will Alstergren generously committed the Bar to three portraits.  Because before then, we’d really had a struggle to get commissions. I had a huge struggle to get the Bar to commit to Sir Ninian Stephen’s portrait by Rick Amor. It was at the funeral service of Sir Ninian – it sat on the high altar. The then president of the Bar sought a compromise: if we’re going to do Stephen, we should do Daryl Dawson. I said “I’m thrilled to do two”. Then Will Alstergren comes along and says they’re going to commit to three portraits. We then set about creating the charter and established a foundation. University people and medicos have foundations for portraiture, so why couldn’t we? We could then get tax deductible donations for commissioning of portraits. We set ourselves up with the guidance of Herbert Smith Freehills (John Emmerson), so we’ve now got that tax-deductible status. I’m thrilled that we’ve been able to raise several hundred thousand dollars and commit to serious portraiture. Great international photographer Bill Henson took a photograph of Ken Hayne just as he was retiring from the High Court. We’ve committed to portraiture of heads of jurisdiction who’ve been members of our Bar and also all members of the High Court who’ve been members of our Bar.

Q    Sir Owen Dixon and others…

A     And on it goes. Michael Black’s portrait by Louise Hearman, which is spectacular, will be unveiled in the next few weeks.  We’ve also committed, because our history is rich, to painting all our vice regal appointments. We’ve got Governors-General, governors, prime ministers and attorneys-general. So, we’ve committed to having all those portraits. As I speak, portrait work is underway on Sir James Gobbo and Brook Andrew’s doing that, and David Rosetzky is doing Alex Chernov. We’ve also made commitments to commission works of our leading barristers.

Last week, we unveiled a splendid joint portrait of (Robert) Richter and (Philip) Dunn. We will commission in the near future a portrait of the legendary Alan Archibald who’s retiring later this year.  I hope in time there will be others. (Ross) Gillies’ portrait was unveiled late last year – another legendary barrister figure and so too the portrait of Brian Bourke which he gifted to us on his retirement. It’s important each generation honours the men and women that their generation is proud of, because if they don’t capture the moment – people are forgotten.

Q    I believe Ken Hayne was very happy with his portrait. It captures him looking simultaneously mischievous and serious.

A     Henson is a distinguished artist and he captures Ken so beautifully. Ken didn’t hesitate in having Henson do the work – I think Ken enjoyed the process.

Q    You’re going to need a lot more room for all these portraits.

A     We’re expanding. I had a meeting only last week with BCL and the new chair of BCL, Paul Anastassiou has generously agreed that we could have two extra rooms.  When we were hanging the collection, a friend of the Bar, gallerist Jan Minchin who owns Tolarno, came and advised us on how to hang the works. She asked, “What are you going to call this space?” I said, “What do you mean? It’s just where we’re going to hang the paintings.” She said “No, no, no - you’ve got to name it after someone who’s been important to the Bar.” So in an instant, I realised we had to name it in honour of Peter O’Callaghan who was responsible for Owen Dixon West. He was generous and accepted that.

About a year after the gallery opened, I went to Allan Myers, a friend of Peter O’Callaghan, and said “I can’t have a gallery named in honour of Peter, one of our great barristers and not have his portrait”. Just like that, Allan said “Who do you want to have paint it? Send me the bill.” So, Rick Amor painted Peter and Allan was the donor. It’s one of those great Allan Myers acts of philanthropy and generosity. Now we’ll have extra rooms. Hartog Berkeley was a great leader of this Bar and his widow Anna has agreed that a room will be named after him. That’s exciting and that’ll happen later this year.

Q    I’ve seen pictures of Owen Dixon West (Chambers) when it was first opened – the building has evolved a great deal.  Now you’ve given a new dimension to it. You really do wish walls could speak.

A     Yes, it tells a lovely story. We’ve appointed a curator, we’ve got an Instagram site, the Law Institute has written articles about it.  My absolute aim would be to take the works to Canberra, to the National Portrait Gallery and put them on display.  Why? Because it tells a beautiful, aspirational story to young people. Why when people go to that gallery, should they only see movie stars, football stars, swimming stars and business icons? Why shouldn’t they look at Robert Menzies, Ninian Stephen, Sir Owen Dixon, Sir Zelman Cowen and many more and say, “That could be me”?  So we’ve been in long discussions with the National Portrait Gallery about that. I’m thrilled that a member of our Bar has recently been appointed to their board and I hope they might be persuaded to take that on board. Former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Marilyn Warren was an enthusiastic supporter of this project.

Ours is a beautiful college with a proud history. We will in 2020 – 2021 publish our history and I’m thrilled that BCL has supported that huge project and we’ve appointed Dr Peter Yule to write the history of the Bar.  I think it’s one of the most exciting things that I’ve been involved in. We’ve got a wonderful committee. An eminent junior at this Bar, Charles Parkinson who is also an historian is on the committee; Ken Hayne, Wendy Harris, Siobhan Ryan, Eddy Gisonda – it’s a marvelous group of people.

Q    So, I guess through all these activities, you get to fulfill your artistic leanings, interest in history….

A     No, it’s not like that for me. I think it’s very important that you tell the story, so that future generations will know and understand the importance of the story and hopefully continue the narrative in their own decisive way. We’re going to have a photographic exhibition opening on the 6th September and it’s going to show the Bar in the 30s when it was basically 150 good white men, the Bar in the 1980s at around the time of its centenary when it was 400-600 people, and mostly men, and the Bar today which is nearly 2100 people. There are only 240 people from the centenary year who are still in practice. We are such a dramatically different (Bar) in the same way Victoria is dramatically different and we are but representative of the community we serve. It’s really important to document points in time, if you are proud of your college and proud of your history, so that others who come after you will be equally proud of that history and will want to engage with it.

To that end, 25 years ago, we started the Victorian Bar Legends Awards. That was to recognise remarkable men and women who’d made contributions to the Bar and made the Bar the splendid place it is. It’s mentioned in their welcomes, farewells, obituaries, and it’s taken a life of its own. We do the reverse of a judicial welcome where the Bar turns up and roasts the candidate. Here, we invite a judge to come across and roast the 10-12 people who are inducted into the Legends’ hall. That’s been an exciting project too. It’s all part of making men and women proud of this college.

We have Barristers Chambers Limited, where there are no barriers to entry. If you go to the Bar in NSW, you’ve got to take out a mortgage to buy chambers. You’re invariably young, you’re planning a home and children and it’s tough. Not the case here – you give a month’s notice and you’re out – you don’t have to put up a bond.  It’s a splendid institution – it’s the legacy of the men and women who came before us. We own Owen Dixon East and West. We have our own cafeteria, our own library, our own floor of meeting rooms where the induction courses for barristers are conducted and where the CLE lectures can be given, if you choose to take them in person rather than online. We’re the envy, I think, of other Bars in this country, because of the groundwork of people before us. People like Peter O’Callaghan who built Owen Dixon West, people like Allan Myers who chaired BCL and ensured that it survived during a very rocky period in its history when they were brave and bold and didn’t sell the assets. We own three buildings – we own Menzies (Chambers) as well.  That’s an incredible legacy and it can be shared by everyone who comes to the Bar.

Q    Will the role of Sir James Tait be mentioned? He was a formative figure –

A     Absolutely - there’s a great portrait of him.

Q    With a cigarette.

A     It’s called “Smoker’s Corner” – Tait’s there and also Sir Henry Winneke smoking. Jan Minchin when she was hanging the works said “Ooh, call this ‘Smoker’s Corner’”.

Q    I must ask you about the role of technology in the evolution of the Bar – you would have witnessed quite a lot of change – remember the fax machine, anybody?  Long gone.

A     That changed things dramatically because briefs were delivered by fax. You stood there as reams of paper were spat out at you, like a lavatory roll. It’s only thereafter that it became individual sheets. Who’s got a fax now?

Q    Nobody.

A     But I remember putting a fax in at home, because you had to. It’s all about service. But the greatest change is the makeup of the people coming here, and the diversity.

Q    There’s much more diversity now.

A     Much more. I think under a certain age, the numbers of men and women are almost equal but the overriding thing is this extraordinary talented pool of people (in my field). So the Bar is in very good shape, and importantly the bench will be in good shape because of the talent that can be drawn to the bench.

Q    Peter, you didn’t aspire to the bench yourself?

A     That’s a political game…. I think you know where your talents best lie. I’m reaching the end of my career and I’ve loved every day of the job that I’ve done – there’s not a day when I haven’t enjoyed coming to work. I have absolutely loved being a barrister – it’s a privilege to be a barrister. It’s 38 years this year and it’s been an absolute delight.

Q    You say the end of a career – you don’t see yourself continuing? A lot of people do.

A     I don’t - no. I don’t have an end date, but I have very firm views about the judiciary who seek to come back and take an active role at the Bar, they seek to rely on their seniority to get rooms and get back into court practice. I don’t have an issue with them being arbitrators or royal commissioners or mediators, but coming back into active practice and appearing – I just think is wrong. Someday, someone in Canberra is going to ask ,why are we paying these people an indexed pension when they are back in active practice earning big money? They need to reflect on the impact their decisions may have on politicians. Once you take away the indexed pension it will be very difficult to attract talented people to the bench. They suffer from relevance deprivation syndrome. There are so many things in the community that they could do – it’s just a pity they can’t think outside the square box they’re in. I don’t have an end date, but I’m not going to be here at 70 years of age. It doesn’t interest me – there are lots of things to do.

Q    It sounds like you’ve got plenty to do. You mentioned arbitration before – you’re an arbitrator as well – what drew you to it? It’s a natural extension of all your work, as a commercial silk.

A     Well, it’s just another role as part of the line of work that you’re involved in.

Q    I only ask because arbitration has had an upsurge in recent years.

A     There’s a lot of work out there, across all fields. There’s always a role for the barrister, whether it’s in the traditional court environment, the mediation environment or in the arbitration environment. A lot of people like arbitration because it’s private. Disputes aren’t drawn to the attention of the press who might take a prurient interest in your affairs and cause harm to your company or to your person. And also, people have grown dissatisfied with delay in the court system and so it was seen as a speedy way to resolve matters. I’m not certain that’s always the case. It’s all very well to be dissatisfied with the pace of the courts, but the courts need to be properly resourced. It’s one of the hardest gigs being a judge; these people always have extraordinary workloads. They don’t get enough professional assistance – as I said before, they have associates fresh out of university – that model is so antiquated and should be the subject of review. They should have more research assistants. When they finish a case, a big case, they should be told, “You can have three months off to write the judgment”, but more often than not, they start another case the next day. I don’t think the public understand that. That’s an almost impossible task.

Q    Have you tried to push for reform in any of these areas?

A     I think that’s the role for the Bar Council; I don’t think individuals per se unless they’re deeply connected to the Attorney (General) of the day, have much power. These are the sort of things Bar Councils take up and they do. But look, spending money on courts doesn’t win many votes. The crime issue wins votes, but that’s putting more police on the streets and legislating mandatory sentences for various crimes. That wins votes. To the credit of this state government, this state Labor government of Andrews, in the last budget they allocated for the appointment of an additional Supreme Court judge. I can’t remember when that last happened, but they could probably do with another five. Then, they could all do with two associates each, and why not adopt a different model with associates? Why not look at the associate’s job and offer it to someone of five years’ standing, who might not necessarily want to come to the Bar or might after five years at a law firm want to come to the Bar but before that get some practice watching counsel in practice? I just think people who are a little bit older, a little bit wiser, a bit more worldly, might be of more assistance to the judge. It’s not to say that young women and men aren’t extremely able –

Q    It’s a more nuanced approach to their work.

A     It hasn’t been the subject of any review. We live in a changing world and things need to be constantly reviewed and constantly updated, and the court process shouldn’t be excluded from that. They regularly, as judges, change the way trials are conducted, they introduced in my time commercial lists and rocket dockets at the Federal Court – all these things to speed it up and they’ve all done a great job, but politicians need to help them as well. And they don’t want to spend the money.

Q    So, in conclusion, you’ve enjoyed every day at the Bar - no regrets?

A     There’s no point having regrets, even if I did – you can’t go back. Of course, I’ve had my share of personal disappointments and you lose some cases, but that’s life and it makes you stronger. You’ve got to be strong to be a barrister. You’ve got to be brave and you’ve got to be bold.

Q    Thank you very much, Peter Jopling.

A     Thank you.