I had heard the rumour a fair while ago from the most impeccable sources in VCAT and the Supreme Court that the Supreme Court’s Justice Bell was hot tip to take over from Judge Bowman as VCAT’s head. Now it’s confirmed. Frankly, though it would not be every lawyer’s cup of tea, it’s a great job, and a most important appointment. It’s important because, along with the footy tribunal, many ordinary people outside the universe of litigation get their exposure to the courts through VCAT, either in small claims or in planning disputes. Nice people get involved in planning disputes, nice people’s views matter to the politicians, and therefore VCAT is important. It’s a place where the hopeless arcaneness of the law of civil evidence is thrown aside. Lawyers grumble, and I’m not always sure anything more modern and yet consistent and cohesive has grown up in its place, but on balance, it’s a good thing in my relatively untutored opinion. It’s a place where you can have brave new experiments in other words. And the President gets to hear the most interesting cases as well as remaining a Supreme Court judge. If Justice Morris’s precedent is anything to go by his Honour will go back to the Court to hear cases there too.
Especially keen readers may recall that Justice Bell cut the state’s best known female criminal lawyer some interlocutory slack in her ongoing difficulties with the Legal Practice Board, and that his Honour was the one who was critical of the handling of an unrepresented litigant below: see all the Justice Bell-related posts on this blog here. What with the Prez in the Court of Appeal’s views on unrepresented people in VCAT and VCAT’s new Prez’s views on the same subject, unrepresented folk might expect a good ride down there, or a fair one at least.
Justice Bell makes wine, and as a practitioner, had a native title practice which saw his Yawuru clients to victory in the Rubibi 6 case. He has worked for the Tenants Union Legal Service and Western Region Community Legal Centre. Here are three speeches by Justice Bell posted on the Supreme Court’s website, about the Bill of Rights, advice to new law graduates at his old uni, Monash, and industrial relations: one, two, and three. Though he has only been on the Court for 3 years, he is the fifth most senior judge in the Supreme Court’s Common Law Division (the others being the Criminal Division and the Commercial and Equity Division): a sign of how many newly appointed judges are to be found in the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal at the moment.