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LIV awards: Champion of the downtrodden

LIV awards: Champion of the downtrodden

By Eu-Jin Teo


Twenty-three years on from its inception, the Paul Baker Award remains a fitting embodiment of the legacy of a man who continues to be sadly missed in all his areas of endeavour.

Born in 1956 and a student from 1974 to 1979 at the University of Melbourne, Paul Damien Blake Baker graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (majoring in history) with honours and a Bachelor of Laws, going on to complete a Master of Laws in 1991. He established his own practice in the Melbourne CBD in 1994 under the name of Baker & Armstrong. Previously he had been a consultant at Juliano Ford and Minter Ellison, and an associate at Phillips Fox.

When Paul Baker was hired by the partners at Phillips Fox in the mid-1980s (now part of the firm that is DLA Piper), they were looking for a bright young person to help guide the firm’s public interest practice. He came across as cheerful, keen and articulate, a brave and passionate lawyer who worked in the specialised fields of refugee, trade, customs and immigration, and gender equality law (before some of these practice areas were in vogue).

Driven by a deep conviction that government intervention in the lives of ordinary folk had to be scrupulously regulated and monitored, he successfully litigated myriad ferocious test cases in the immigration law arena, and in September 1992 he was recognised as an LIV accredited specialist in immigration law. Dedicated to raising the profile of administrative law, he was also determined to ensure that those who were unable to articulate their rights for some reason or other had someone to stand up for them. He often did precisely that, regularly speaking out in relation to refugee and other immigration issues.


Paul was unstinting in the giving of his time for professional activities beyond his practice, serving on various committees at the LIV, the Law Council of Australia (LCA), the International Bar Association and the South Pacific Bar Association. For instance, from 1989 to 1991, he was a member of the LIV Specialisation Board. He also served terms as chair of the LCA Customs Committee, and as chair of the LIV Administrative Law Section Executive Committee and Migration, Customs, and Nationality and Residence Committees.

The establishment in 1990 of the Victorian Immigration Advice and Rights Centre also owes much to the efforts of Paul Baker, and he remained on its committee for a number of years.

Other contributions

An outstanding representative of, and contributor to, the profession, Paul also found time (in addition to his practice and committee work) to teach at the Leo Cussen Institute from 1984 to 1990, as well as organise seminars for immigration lawyers and deliver papers at such seminars. He also penned numerous articles for the LIJ, chiefly on administrative law but also on subjects as diverse as taxation, industrial and intellectual property law. Further, he was not reticent in making known to parliamentary inquiries and to the media his views on various matters in relation to which he was passionate and eminently qualified to proffer comment.


Paul’s deep commitment to, and dedicated involvement in, the profession was nothing short of salutary. So it was that, when, on 17 October 1997, he unfortunately succumbed in his battle with a long illness, our profession was left much the poorer.

In order to honour Paul Baker’s immense contribution, the LIV Council in 1998 instituted an annual award in his memory, which bears his name. Specifically, the Paul Baker Award is bestowed for “the significant achievement or outstanding contribution of a person in the field of administrative or human rights law”.

Counted among the esteemed recipients of the Paul Baker Award to date are:

  • Emilios Kyrou (the inaugural awardee, before his appointment to the Supreme Court of Victoria, and subsequently to the Supreme Court of Victoria, Court of Appeal)
  • Eric Vadarlis (of Ruddock v Vadarlis [2001] 110 FCR 491 ("Tampa Case" fame)
  • Robert Stary (criminal lawyer extraordinaire, who has represented numerous politically unpopular defendants)
  • David Manne (who, reportedly, is yet to lose an asylum seeker case in the High Court)
  • Carina Ford (who succeeded in effecting an in-air plane “turnback” of a would-be deportation flight)
  • Tim McCormack (expert consultant on the law of war to the defence team in the trial of David Hicks before a United States Military Commission at Guantánamo Bay) 
  • Debbie Mortimer SC (before her appointment to the Federal Court of Australia).

The award continues to be a fitting embodiment of the legacy of a man who continues to be sadly missed in all his areas of endeavour.

Nominations for the LIV Legal Awards are open 1-30 April. ■

Eu-Jin Teo, senior academic at the University of Melbourne, is Principal Examiner of the LIV’s Administrative Law Specialist Accreditation Scheme and a member of the committee that recommends to the LIV Council the candidates for the Paul Baker Award. This tribute has drawn on personal recollections provided by Erskine Rodan and John Bolitho (see, eg, “Vale: Kenneth John Clements and Paul Damien Blake Baker” (1997) 71(12) LIJ 29, 30), practitioners who were contemporaries of Paul Baker. The author thanks the LIV’s Legal Policy and Library staff for research assistance and facilitating access to relevant archival material.

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