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Monash Law - marking 40 years

This year, the Faculty of Law celebrates its 40th anniversary. Despite its well-deserved reputation today as a law school of national and international repute, the faculty's beginnings were rather inauspicious. ROBYN ANNS reports.

Today, Monash Law provides an extensive range of high-quality programs to more than 2600 undergraduate and postgraduate students. However, current law students might be surprised to learn that their faculty was established in 1964 primarily to cater for over-enrolments at another tertiary establishment.

In 1963, the University of Melbourne was forced to deny places to law school candidates who qualified, due to a lack of space and resources.

To avoid further shortages, it was decided that a law school should be established at Monash University, which had opened in 1961. Monash at the time had only five faculties.

In just five months, between October 1963 and March 1964, a law studies curriculum was established and two teaching staff were employed.

It would not be until 1968 that Monash Law had its own faculty building, so two rooms for teaching were found within the Engineering faculty.

Distinguished alumni: From left, Victoria's Chief Magistrate Mr Ian Gray; Victorian Solicitor-General Ms Pamela Tate; Monash Law dean Professor Arie Freiberg; Chief Judge of the County Court His Honour Chief Judge Michael Rozenes; Chief Justice of Victoria The Hon. Justice Marilyn Warren; President of the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) The Hon. Justice Stuart Morris.
Photo: Greg Ford

Professor David P. Derham, the professor of jurisprudence at the University of Melbourne, was approached to fill the position of foundation dean of law at Monash. He accepted, resigned from the University of Melbourne on 29 February 1964, and took up his position at Monash the following day.

The preparation, although hasty, was thorough. When the first 149 law students walked onto Clayton campus to begin their studies in March 1964, everything was in place.

The faculty was founded at a time when Melbourne, like the rest of the world, was entering a period of significant change. After the post-war conservatism of the 1950s and early 1960s, society was starting to think differently in everything from politics to popular music and fashion.

The new Monash Law School rode the crest of that socio-political wave with enthusiasm and aplomb, intro-ducing new ideas and fresh approaches to legal teaching.

Current Monash Law dean Professor Arie Freiberg, who joined the faculty at the start of 2004, says it is an exciting time as the faculty prepares to build on the foundations of the previous four decades. "The discipline of law should not be seen as narrow, conservative and stodgy but as broad, critical and intellectually stimulating," he says.

"The Monash Law School is international, progressive and engaged with the professional community, and will continue to be so."

It is not surprising that some of the brightest and best were attracted to Monash, and today some of the state's loftiest judicial positions are occupied by Monash law graduates.

This year, The Hon. Justice Marilyn Warren (BJuris 1972, LLB 1973, LLM 1983) was appointed the first woman Chief Justice of Victoria. Other Monash law alumni who have taken up leading positions in the judiciary include Victoria's Chief Magistrate Mr Ian Gray (BA 1972, LLB 1973); Chief Judge of the County Court, His Honour Chief Judge Michael Rozenes (BJuris 1968, LLB 1970); Victorian Solicitor-General Ms Pamela Tate, SC (LLB (Hons 1988); President of the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) The Hon. Justice Stuart Morris (BEc Hons 1972, LLB Hons 1975); Chief Magistrate of the Victorian Children's Court Her Honour Judge Jennifer Coate (BA 1979, LLB 1984); State Coroner Mr Graeme Johnstone (BJuris 1969, LLB 1970); Federal Court Judge The Hon. Justice Mark Weinberg (BA 1970 LLB Hons 1971); Federal Court Judge The Hon. Justice Ray Finkelstein (BJuris 1968, LLB 1970); and Supreme Court Judge and first VCAT President The Hon. Justice Murray Kellam (BJuris/LLB 1972).

Justice Warren remembers the refreshing way in which Monash taught "not only what the law was, but also what the law ought to be".

The areas of study that most interested her were procedure, evidence and criminal law. She names Professor Enid Campbell, Professor Louis Waller and Professor Richard Fox as excellent mentors and teachers.

Mr Gray remembers the Vietnam War as a catalyst for change and a time when people became involved in social justice causes. He attended anti-war demonstrations during his university days. "It was an intensely political time," he says.

Mr Morris enrolled at Monash in 1968 as a law/economics student. He completed both degrees with honours, obtaining a first in law and winning the Supreme Court Prize and the Sir Charles Lowe Prize in his final year.

"During some student rebellion, I was a member of a deputation to the university hierarchy, which included Professor Louis Waller. I mentioned something about 'natural justice', only to be met with the response that I had obviously not attended my law lectures that year -- which was true."

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