Being one of the first to offer regionally-based law degrees, having a high percentage of female law graduates, and contributions to environmental law, are the three proudest achievements of the Southern Cross University School of Law and Justice, according to its founding Dean, Professor Jim Jackson.
Professor Jackson will speak along with former staff members, Magistrate David Heilpern and Professor Stanley Yeo, at the law school’s 20 year anniversary dinner which will be held after the Michael Kirby Lecture on October 11 at the Lismore campus.
Professor Jackson joined full-time staff Richard Harris and David Heilpern in late 1991 and was tasked with writing the Bachelor of Laws curriculum and gaining the approval of the Legal Profession Admissions Board. At that time what became Southern Cross University, was actually part of the University of New England, Northern Rivers. The first cohort of students started in 1993.
“It wasn’t that hard to set up as we had the backing of the University to do so,” Professor Jackson said.
“We were the first truly rural-based law degree in Australia and we were accredited before UNE Armidale, Newcastle and maybe Wollongong. Originally, it was a postgraduate course.
“Our paralegal course, which was 90 per cent female, also fed directly into our law degree which meant we had the highest percentage of female students in Australia, somewhere between 60 to 70 per cent.
“We were also the first law degree to have environmental law as a compulsory subject, as well as family law, which was quite radical at the time. I think the School’s graduates have gone on to make quite a difference in not only environmental law, but also the environmental movement in Australia.
“At the time the inclusion of environmental law and family law as compulsory was quite radical for a law degree, as law degrees are traditionally conservative.”
While Southern Cross University was not enacted until 1994 and will celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2014, the School of Law and Justice is celebrating its 20 year anniversary this year due to the unique nature of the then multi-campus UNE.
“UNE Armidale and UNE Northern Rivers, although part of the same University, set up separate law degrees at the same time,” Professor Jackson explained.
“We had different staff, a different course and were structured differently inside the University and actually UNE Northern Rivers had its law course approved before UNE Armidale. There was quite a lot of friction with two competing law degrees.”
Melda Moss, who worked in administrative support in the law school during its initial stages, was also part of the first cohort of students in 1993 as a 39-year-old mother-of-one.
“Because we started under the UNE banner we could actually choose to have a UNE or an SCU award when we graduated,” she said.
“Most of us decided to go with SCU but it was a difficult decision, go with a brand new University or get a degree with a more established, older University.
“Initially, especially locally, it was quite tough being recognised but because the degree was postgraduate eventually firms realised they were getting well qualified staff.”
On graduation Ms Moss worked locally including at Hannigans law firm but after 12 years she returned to the University and now works in Planning, Quality and Review.
“It’s great to look back now and to have been part of that first cohort of students,” she said.
“The law school was incredibly innovative and was the first law school to teach in an ‘intensive’ mode. We would start in January and do a unit over six weeks which was hard, but rewarding, work.
“Classes would also finish in August, so for the rest of the year students could go out and get work experience so that by the time they graduated they had accumulated many hours in law firms already.”
Professor Jackson said Professor Rod Treyvaud was behind the establishment of the law school.
“I worked initially at the University of Wollongong but had moved to Alstonville and was commuting to work at Bond University. Rod brought me in as a consultant initially and then by late 1991 I was appointed the head of the Centre for Law and Criminal Justice,” he said.
“Rod had the finances so without his support I wouldn’t have taken on the job. We had to have the budget for good staff, a first rate building, and a great library.
“Initially we took over R block and then L block was renovated to become the new law school, which was opened in 1996 by the then Governor-General Sir William Deane.”
Lady Deane opened the adjoining Memorial Garden on the same day which is in memory of the 35 people who perished in the Port Arthur massacre. Jim Pollard, a 72-year-old and graduate in the first cohort of law students at SCU was one of those killed.
The law school anniversary celebrations will be preceded by a keynote speech by Professor Megan Davis who will discuss Indigenous human rights as part of this year’s annual Michael Kirby Lecture.
Professor Davis’ Lecture will consider the most recent constitutional project, the ‘recognition’ of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in the Constitution of Australia. She will explore the politics of racial non-discrimination in the current constitutional reform process and explain why ‘soft’ recognition – the trend in State Constitutions – should be disavowed. Professor Davis’ Lecture starts at 6pm at the Whitebrook Theatre and is free.
The evening then continues at Zest Restaurant from 7.30pm when Professor Jackson, Professor Yeo (former Dean) and Magistrate David Heilpern will be guest speakers over dinner. The School of Law and Justice Alumni Fund for Scholarships and Prizes will be launched during dinner.
Dinner tickets are priced at $90 general admission or $75 for current students or group bookings of more than four. For further information or to book a spot at Zest please email email@example.com