Welcoming the new legal year with the 21st Legal Laneway Breakfast

Members of Victoria’s justice sector gathered this morning for the 21st annual Legal Laneway Breakfast to welcome the 2024 legal year

Thursday, February 8, 2024

Melbourne’s iconic Hardware Lane was bustling with more than 300 members of the Victorian justice sector. There was food for thought and for hungry stomachs with breakfast snacks accompanying the speeches, and great conversation.

We also had over 50 people watching our livestream of the event, reaching people across the state.

While catching up over hot coffee and bagels, a mix of judges, magistrates, lawyers, and many others heard first-hand from key sector leaders. Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes MP, Legal Services Board CEO and Commissioner Fiona McLeay, Victoria Law Foundation Research Director Professor Nigel J. Balmer as well as Executive Director Lynne Haultain welcomed the new year and addressed what is to come in 2024.

Victoria Law Foundation Chair the Honourable Justice Greg Garde AO RFD extended a warm welcome to all and acknowledged the presence of esteemed members from the justice sector, including Chief Justice Debra Mortimer of the Federal Court of Australia, Chief Justice Will Alstergren of the Federal Circuit and Family Court, Justice Mordecai Bromberg, President of the Australian Law Reform Commission, and the Honourable Anthony North KC, new Commissioner with the Yoorrook Justice Commission.

There was an energetic and inspiring Acknowledgment of Country from the women’s dance group Djirri Djirri - traditional custodians of Narrm (Melbourne) and surrounds. They dance together as cousins, nieces, aunties, mothers and daughters and also teach their dancers to sing in Woiwurrung language.

Attorney-General outlines areas of focus for the year ahead

Jaclyn Symes MP opened with comments on how the Legal Laneway Breakfast, her fourth as Attorney-General, is a great opportunity for her to connect face-to-face people from the legal sector and speak to those who are “day-in day-out, delivering justice for Victorians.”

She gave an update on the priorities of the government for the year ahead, to focus on ensuring the justice system is fit for purpose and accessible.

“Overarchingly, many of us agree, if not all, that Victorians deserve a justice system that is more transparent, more efficient, and more responsive.”

The Attorney outlined her focus for the year on anti-vilification laws, discrimination and hate speech to promote community cohesion and safety. They have been working closely with multicultural and faith communities, members of the LGBTIQ+ community and other advocates to determine the best way to implement and progress reforms that deliver greater civil protections and criminal responses.

“Every Victorian, without exception, deserves to be safe, supported and equal.”

Legal Services CEO and Commissioner reflects on a year of change

Legal Services Board CEO and Commissioner Fiona McLeay emphasised the momentous year ahead for liberal democracies and law, with 64 countries around the world holding elections in 2024. Fiona reflected on the state of democracy, and pledged to do what she could to support the integrity of the law and those who work in it.

She outlined her commitment to improving lawyer well-being and changing a culture where “a certain level of mental ill health is not only tolerated but perhaps expected.” The Legal Services Board has created resources for legal professionals to support mental health. These resources address issues such as vicarious trauma and sexual harassment in the justice sector, and provide guidance to those affected.

Fiona also recognised the importance of professional competence in technology and cybersecurity, warning that there were cyber attacks every 6 minutes in Australia, a 23% rise on the previous financial year. On AI she cautioned against uncritical acceptance while acknowledging that it also offers a valuable opportunity to support legal services.

Public Understanding of Law Survey (PULS) Volume 2 announced

Professor Nigel Balmer, Research Director at VLF launched the Public Understanding of Law Survey (PULS) Volume 2. While Volume 1 focuses on the experience of everyday legal problems, Volume 2 explores Victorians’ levels of legal capability: the knowledge, skills, attributes and resources needed to understand and effectively use the law to achieve fair outcomes.

He noted the unequal distribution of aspects of capability, which clearly connects to disadvantage, and how understanding capability in people is key to meeting legal needs. Nigel also hinted at what’s to come in PULS Volume 3, which Victoria Law Foundation is set to release later this year.

Moving ahead with an exciting calendar for 2024

Victoria Law Foundation Executive Director Lynne Haultain took the opportunity to thank Professor Balmer for his work as the inaugural Research Director at Victoria Law Foundation and wished him success in his new role as Legal Services Board’s Director of Research.

Lynne noted that we have a busy 2024 ahead. Victorian Law Week is on again in May and event registrations now open, and applications for this year’s Community Legal Grants open in early March. She said the VLF is looking forward to the launch of PULS Volume 3 later in the year, with work commencing in earnest shortly on Measure for Measure, a new project looking at practice addressing particular legal needs in smart and effective ways.

Lynne also thanked all those who attended and for their work in continuing to improve the legal sector.

“Mainly we work through you … thank you for all that you do and we hope to be of service in your work - building capability with rigorous research, connections with schools and the public, training and grants.”

Presenters from left to right: Professor Nigel J. Balmer, Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes MP, the Honourable Justice Greg Garde AO RFD, Victoria Law Foundation Executive Director Lynne Haultain, Legal Services Board CEO and Commissioner Fiona McLeay.

Thank you to Victorian Bar and Victorian Women Lawyers for supporting the Acknowledgement of Country.

You can discover the first two volumes of PULS on the dedicated website.

Couldn’t make the Breakfast? Watch the livestream now.

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