Pegasus Scholars: Australia

After more than two years spent in and out of COVID-induced lockdowns, it was a welcome opportunity to spend eight weeks working in Brisbane, Australia. Having previously lived in Australia as a young child and having always wanted to return, it seemed the perfect choice.

Over the course of my eight weeks at the law firm Fuller & White, I observed hearings at all levels within the realms of criminal law and child protection matters. Being able to sit in on conferences with clients and speak with the lawyers involved offered an excellent insight into the approaches adopted in these areas. Further, the opportunity to prepare trials and discuss my work with the lawyers involved kept my witness handling skills fresh and offered new and varied perspectives.

It was interesting to observe jury selection. Both the Crown and Defence could object to jurors being empanelled (calling out ‘stand by’ and ‘challenge’ respectively) based on name, occupation or suburb of residence. In contrast to England and Wales, lawyers could influence the make-up of the jury and, therefore, the potential outcome of the trial.

One of my main practice areas is family law, with a specific focus on public law proceedings (termed ‘child protection’ in Queensland). Although the legal principles are similar to those applied in England and Wales, the length of proceedings and the outcomes available differ significantly. Proceedings are not tied to a 26-week timetable, and case management resulted in a degree of drift. Further, while care orders in England and Wales are considered final orders, the most common orders in Queensland were short-term custody orders (of up to 2 years with the primary goal of reunification) and long-term guardianship orders (until a child turned 18). In some respects, this more fluid approach afforded greater opportunities for parents to make positive changes in respect of their children, increasing their prospects of successful reunification. However, the seeming lack of court oversight created delay in implementing any real change for families.

One key difference between our jurisdictions is the role of ‘clerks’. Whereas clerking teams in chambers in England and Wales are responsible for sourcing and disseminating work to practitioners, law clerks in Queensland are often law students working alongside their degrees, tasked with assisting solicitors with their files and conducting administrative tasks. I couldn’t help but be impressed at this excellent opportunity afforded to students wanting to enter the profession. During my placement, I was effectively a law clerk and my responsibilities included instructing counsel, updating clients about their matters, and sitting in on conferences.

As a Court of Protection practitioner, I was surprised that there was no directly comparable court in Queensland. Instead, issues of capacity are dealt with in the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal, a court afflicted by delays and suffering a backlog. Comparatively, the position in England and Wales is more expeditious and ensures outcomes are reached at the earliest opportunity.

The Murri Court is another court specific to Australia. Its intention to ensure equality for Aboriginal and Torres-Strait Islander peoples is furthered by the involvement of Elders in proceedings. There was a palpable focus on remedying the ongoing effects of colonisation and over-representation of Indigenous people in the criminal justice system.

Another difference I observed was in the route to qualification. Prior experience as a solicitor is almost a pre-requisite for life at the Queensland Bar. Few barristers operate from Chambers and the Inns of Court, in stark contrast to England and Wales, which inevitably demands self-sufficiency in obtaining and keeping work.

Being able to work abroad in a different jurisdiction was a hugely fulfilling experience and I learned a great deal through my placement with Fuller & White Solicitors. Being involved in all aspects of the legal process ensured that my experience was well-rounded and offered considerable insight into the workings of the Queensland justice system.

Aside from the Pegasus placement, I had the ‘authentic Aussie experience’ of travelling around much of Australia. Highlights included: wandering around Darling Harbour and the Opera House in Sydney; soaking in the culture of Melbourne and marvelling at the Great Ocean Road; spending a few magical days in Uluru Kata-Tjuta National Park; dingoes and crocodiles in Darwin; becoming a PADI-qualified diver on the Great Barrier Reef in Cairns; and enjoying the Australian summer in Brisbane.

Aside from the Pegasus placement, I had the ‘authentic Aussie experience’ of travelling around much of Australia. Highlights included: wandering around Darling Harbour and the Opera House in Sydney.

I would like to extend my warmest thanks and gratitude to all those who made my visit to Australia so fantastic –particularly those at Fuller & White Solicitors, the practitioners I met at the independent Queensland Bar, and the Head family who welcomed me back to Oz.

Finally, thank you to the Pegasus Trust, and The Honourable Society of the Inner Temple, for this opportunity. I would urge all junior barristers to consider applying – you won’t regret it!

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