Jennifer Robinson gives the 2021 Hal Wootten Lecture for 50th anniversary of the University of New South Wales’ Law School
Yesterday, Jennifer Robinson gave the 2021 Hal Wootten Lecture to mark the 50th anniversary of the University of New South Wales’ Law School. Previous speakers have included the Prime Minister of East Timor, Jose Ramos-Horta, the former Chief Justice of Australia, Sir Gerard Brennan AC KBE QC, and former South African Constitutional Court Justice, Albie Sachs.
The annual memorial lecture was established in 2006 to honour Professor Hal Wootten QC (or Hal, as he preferred to be known), a distinguished barrister, judge and academic, who founded the law school and the Aboriginal Legal Service (ALS). The lecture this year was sadly the first to be given since Hal passed away. Jen’s invitation to give the lecture came from Hal just before he died. Obituaries and reports described Hal as a “legal giant”.
Jen’s lecture was a tribute to Hal, his life and his work. Throughout his life, Hal encouraged lawyers and students to think about “living greatly in the law”: living and working with a passion for justice, seeing the law in its social context and ensuring that the law serves those most in need. He urged lawyers to seek out opportunities “to give a little nudge that sends the law along the direction it ought to go”, which – in turn, he wrote – “can affect where the world goes”. Reflecting on Hal’s legacy, Jen set out how she came to share Hal’s views about the role of the law in protecting human rights, addressing the climate crisis and contributing to progressive social change.
The vote of thanks after the lecture has historically been given by Hal himself, but this year was given by Professor Andrea Durbach. Professor Durbach spoke of how the parallels between Jen’s practice and Hal’s work show a shared intention “to demonstrate that the rationale for law’s function is its aspiration to justice”.