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Welcome for Judge Anna Robertson, County Court of Victoria

Welcome for Judge Anna Robertson, County Court of Victoria

By LIV Media


May it please the Court.

I appear on behalf of the Law Institute of Victoria and the solicitors of this state to welcome Your Honour Anna Robertson as a judge of the County Court of Victoria.

We acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we gather, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation, and pay our respects to their Elders, past and present, and to any First Nation’s people with us today.     

Your Honour, we would like to start by telling you how genuinely thrilled so many lawyers and barristers are that you have been appointed to this Court.

Your reputation as an enthusiastic and meticulous practitioner, a patient listener, and an excellent and generous mentor has been stressed to us repeatedly by lawyers, barristers and senior counsel alike.

They say that, while you will be sorely missed, this is a natural landing place for the next stage of your formidable career – a career you have pursued since your very early years.

For, even while growing up in the regional Victorian town of Kyabram, Your Honour always wanted to be a judge. Or alternatively an astronaut…

While the finest dreams and ambitions of young children tend to fade over the years, you stuck fast to what you loved.

And all of us today are VERY pleased that your greatest love was NOT  defying gravity and tumbling through space, but setting your feet firmly behind this Bench, where you can best serve the community of this State …

Your Honour wanted to pursue Law because almost everywhere you turned, there were lawyers in your family – father, grandfather, uncle …

You are the oldest of six children of James and Ann Lally, both of whom are here today. To Jim and Ann, welcome.

Your Honour attended the local Catholic primary school, and then moved to boarding school.

We understand that when you were just sixteen, you met the love of your life, Peter, and you have barely left each other’s sides. Welcome, Peter – and also to your daughters, Emma and Molly.

Your Honour began a Science degree at the University of Melbourne at the age of 17, but transferred the following year to Monash University, where you continued with Science and took up a Law degree.  I believe I was there at the same time as you.

Even as a uni student, you were highly organised and generous. We are told you often photocopied your Law notes, highlighted the relevant passages, put sticky tabs on them, then took the bundle around to a friend to make sure she was well-set for her own exams.

On graduating from Monash in early 1994, you asked your uncle, Bill Lally, QC, for advice on what to do about articles and, without hesitation, he recommended you hitch your wagon to the legendary Bill Coady, the founder of Coadys.

Bill Coady taught you just about everything about Law. He was an extraordinary mentor: a genuine teacher of legal skills, technical and strategic skills, a strong supporter of young lawyers.

He stressed that the most important thing a lawyer could do was to research every single point until you knew it thoroughly and could argue it back.

To that end, you spent hours in the magnificent Supreme Court Library, dragging down legislation, case history and plumbing your way through the legal digest.

Bill also gave Your Honour every opportunity to work in court. After articles, you stayed on at Coadys and Bill would push you beyond your comfort zone, directing you to appear in car-smash cases in the Magistrates’ Court, to represent insurers, appear for a witness in a liquidator’s examination …

We are told your very first appearance was in the Supreme Court – where you appeared against the Victorian Solicitor-General!

Thankfully, it was merely a consent matter!

As a young lawyer, you also worked on complex and long-running cases, including Sir Andrew Grimwade’s appeal to halt a third criminal trial. That was after two previous trials had become so convoluted and protracted that appeals judges believed a third one would be “an affront to the administration of justice”.

In late 1996, you and Peter moved to England for about 18 months where you worked as a paralegal at Norton Rose, under the litigation specialist James Bagge.

This was an extraordinary opportunity for you. James Bagge, who was later to become the global head of litigation for Norton Rose, had already represented the Bank of England in the official inquiry into the collapse of Barings bank.

Then in 1998 you returned to humble Melbourne and Coadys in Bourke Street ...

You stayed until September 2001, when you left to join the Bar and began reading under Tony Kelly, now judge of the Federal Circuit Court.

You have built a stellar career at the Bar covering a diverse range of work involving common law and commercial cases.

One of the early ones was the seemingly interminable case of the two warring brothers in Apostolidis, which brought you into the orbit of Elizabeth Hollingsworth, now the judge in charge of the Criminal division of the Victorian Supreme Court. The pair of you have enjoyed a firm friendship over many years.

From about 2008, you took on professional negligence matters – firstly, representing the Boards of medical, nursing and psychology professions at VCAT as they sought to regulate wayward professionals.

Then you began to defend government agencies, institutions, insurers, statutory and regulatory agencies in difficult and complex, high-profile matters, including commissions of inquiry and class actions.

It is Your Honour’s work representing the Country Fire Authority in the Kilmore, Murrundindi and Harkaway bushfires class action cases that drew special praise from several counsel.

Wendy Harris noted the Kilmore case, which ran for about 18 months,  was hugely complex, both factually and legally, and it was emotionally charged.

In the Kilmore fire complex, 120 people lost their lives in horrific and chaotic circumstances, and members of the CFA were quite emotionally scarred by having to tackle the most enormous and fast-running fire any of them had experienced.

Wendy Harris says Your Honour brought to that case the qualities that will suit you perfectly as a judge. She says you are “compassionate, thoughtful, sensitive and kind” and you underscore it with deep legal knowledge and experience. You are firm, but always extremely fair and courteous.

Deborah Siemensma noted you visited Papua New Guinea a year or so ago with other barristers to assist with advocacy training. And you mentored a woman from PNG who came to Melbourne to complete her training.

Jenny Firkin of counsel told us that everyone loved working with you. Your Honour is “hardworking and competent, always cheery and friendly” and, no matter what, “unflappable”.

Jennifer Batrouney of counsel says Your Honour would give your last dollar to help anyone, and she expects you will have the perfect touch as a judge in dealing with self-represented litigants.

She says you’re the “Ash Barty of the legal world”! A humble, down-to-earth, modest, under-stated “superstar”!

You gained a reputation at the Bar as the ultimate “quiet achiever”, taking on a leadership role, eternally encouraging young female lawyers and barristers, and accepting an endless stream of readers.

One reader probably needed a bit more coaching when he told his client to wear his best suit for the judge. When the client sauntered into court wearing a bright, luminous-green suit, Your Honour could not stop laughing. Nor could you properly debrief your reader later for all the tears streaming down your face ...

Over the past 19 years or so, you have mentored countless young women and men – which led to you receiving the Bar’s Mentor of the Year award in December.

Fiona McLeod of counsel, who could not be here today, says you have been a passionate supporter of women in Law.

Your Honour, congratulations on this fine appointment! On behalf of the lawyers of this state, may you have a long and rewarding, thoroughly fascinating and satisfying career as a judge.

May it please the Court.


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