Sick of silks
Monday, May 2, 2011
Justinian in Judges, Marilyn Warren, Silk selection, Victorian Bar

Chief Justice of Victoria shunts the silk selection business ... Too busy for this beloved duty ... Dismay abounds as NSW model is in contention

Warren CJ: sorry, I'm a busy beaverVictorian Chief Justice Marilyn (Earl) Warren has surrendered one of her most important tasks - the annual raffle of silk gowns.

Citing pressure of work and time constraints she announced on Friday (April 29) that she will "return" the responsibility to VicBar.

See announcement

There's one difficulty with that - VicBar never had the responsibility of selecting silks. Up to the time the task was flicked to the CJ in 2002 the job was the provenance of the government, on the recommendation of the Chief Justice.

Earl said on Friday that because of the creation of a brand, spanking new Courts Executive Service, "I think it unlikely I will have the necessary time to devote to the silks".

In all probability she was sick and tired of the criticism and endless argy-bargy that went with the job of choosing each year's crop of the finest.

The courts executive service, in theory, will take the administration and funding arrangements for the courts and VCAT away from the government and vest it in this separate body, chaired by the Chief Justice.

In this way the CJ will transmogrify into a quasi-bureaucrat, and apparently she won't have time for all that sifting and sorting of silk applicants.

Many are amazed that Earl is strapped for time; wondering whether she is so busy sitting in court and writing judgments.

After all, she doesn't come close to the output and productiveness of her NSW counterpart, J.J. Spigelman.

Her announcement and its timing is strange, as Warren had always insisted that it was an important function of the CJ to select silks.

In 2007, we reported that Vic's bar council had told silk reform campaigner John Riordan that Warren would most likely withdraw from the annual selection routine if the bar permitted those who found themselves in the salon de refusés the right to apply for reconsideration of her decisions.

The chief justice's determinations on silks simply were unreviewable.

In light of Friday's announcement there are a number of factors with loosish ends.

The Supreme Court has inherent rights in the silk anointment caper and they cannot be ignored.

The Council of Judges is the outfit that surely has a say in this and I am told by members of Vic's Bar 'n' Grill that there is an element of judicial surprise and unhappiness about the announced change.

Then there is the issue of the Governor's job.

Earl was in serious contention to be Governess of Victoria. Instead, she was pipped by Alex Chernov, who had worked slightly lower down the judicial food chain.

Could she have been peeved and spat the dummy, citing pressure of work?

Of course, not. Don't be silly.

Chief bar man Mark Moshinsky put out a statement covering the CJ in soothing lubricants:

"We welcome the offer by the Chief Justice to assist the bar as we go about developing a new model [for silk selection].

The Chief Justice has carried out the appointment process for the last seven years and the bar is very grateful to her Honour for performing this role. The system has been strongly supported by the bar, and is one which has worked extremely well."

VicBar is now studying various options, including the NSW and UK models.

For lack of transparency, divisiveness and outbursts of resentment, the NSW one works well.

Article originally appeared on Justinian: Australian legal magazine. News on lawyers and the law (
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