Tuesday, February 17, 2009


Today was my first time at the High Court. Not the first time I'd been in there, but the first time working on an appeal that was to be heard there.

8.30 am found me squatting over a big black court bag,trying to fit in all the Acts and bundles of documents that we'd need. That's the job of the bottom feeders in law firms; they do all the tasks that are at once menial and yet too important to be entrusted to secretaries.

9.00 am and we were off,speeding towards the shiny silent building that was the highest court in the land. It felt surreal,this place where people's dreams crashed and rose on the bedrock of the justice system.

Walking through the glass doors, I glimpsed myself,pale and in the blacks and whites of court going attire. Behind me, I saw another girl. Equally pale and similarly dressed in black and white. I glanced down and saw her shoes, patent leather shiny and high;these were expensive shoes, therefore she must be much more senior than I.

In the world of black and white, that is how you tell. The glint of diamond earrings, the black leather document bags and the quietly luxe watches;she/he must be fairly senior.

When you have no time to yourself but much money, you buy things.

Behind the girl,a similarly attired flock of magpies clustered at the security check point.


I was there and doing my job. But today, like many other days, part of my mind sat back and just watched. This was the High Court and famous lawyers filtered in and out, junior associates, young and strained looking, ran around with enormous bundles of documents and the most senior (who all knew each other) sat around at the counsel's bench and chatted politely.


Then we were in the courtroom and before long, the judge was announced. We bowed,sat and the first cases were heard.

I'd seen other judges, but to be in the presence of Justice VK Rajah was to be in the presence of one of the cleverest and most brilliant legal minds I'd ever encountered. Each thrust and parry from the counsels before him was brushed off with sharply worded remarks. He made grown men, experienced lawyers, look foolish with a few incisive questions,displayed an unerring memory for the material before him and a depth of understanding of the law that shamed me. He also possessed a quiet sense of humour that I found myself liking.

He knew, without a doubt, he knew when he was right and when the counsel before him was glibly trying to cover up deficiencies in their case. He knew too,when fast talking counsels were trying to get around him. He asked questions that no one knew how to answer and that made counsels squirm.

I watched him and wondered if my other favourite judge in the Australian High Court,Justice Michael Kirby was anything like that when sitting in court. I'd heard him speak but had never seen him in "action", so to speak.


Then it was over and I was on my hands and knees packing up the bags again. But as I left, I wondered if I'd ever be back. If I'd ever be one of the robed figures before Justice pleading my client's case. I hadn't really wanted this before, but today made me realize that I might after all, want to be counsel for someone one day. It made me realize that the job meant something.That people's lives and livelihoods hung in the balance and that being clever with words might actually make a difference in someone's life.