You may laugh but for some strange reason I had a curious urge to say my oath thus: “I swear by the Almighty God to so do”… wouldn’t it be more esoterically legalistic to have the words in that order?! I think so. And yet… we (as I can now refer to myself as one of ‘those’ people) of the black robes, stiff little curled wigs and starchly pressed jabots are seemingly trying to make everything more approachable about our profession to the common man – even the oath of office. About b****y time too. However, I do not want to sound either grossly superior or crassly vulgar in this post – and I especially don’t want to make fun of an oath that I took roughly 24 hours ago in absolute and austere seriousness.
I can’t honestly say that I was very excited about my Supreme Court admission ceremony going in to it. After 7+ years of (at times) incredibly difficult and emotionally/physically exhausting study the crowning moment of ‘admission’ seemed a little spare; kind of like a bare monks cell after the architectural grandeur of a monastery. To be honest I was more preoccupied with the fact that my beautiful chocolate coloured shoes which I had stupidly worn sans stockings were gradually eating into my heel.
I was, of course, staggeringly early to the Supreme Court having made the mad dash across Melbourne from Burwood East to William St in what felt like record time. ‘Staggering’ in a literal sense as well as metaphorically… I needed a moment on the steps to reassess my obsession with timeliness. The security guard looked askance at my appearance and utterly bewildered by what he deemed a premature arrival of deadly proportions. Nevertheless, he ushered me through (while retaining the bottle of ‘Eight Songs’ I’d trucked over from the Barossa for Neil – apparently he thought it was inappropriate for the Supreme Court) and I trotted around the corner to wait.
Presently I was accosted by a Supreme Court volunteer who also seemed actually appalled to learn I had chosen my extra time to sit on a bench in the peaceful and hallowed halls of the Court reading about Gerald Durrells forays into a steamy portion of African jungle in search of baboons – but then maybe she thought that was inappropriate too. She gently suggested I leave and go get something to eat so I wouldn’t pass out at the critical moment; too overwhelmed by the largesse of it all. I must’ve looked disbelievingly amused because she hastened to assure me it was no joke. People had fainted in the past. So have I… I went to eat.
Coming back I realised the tumultuous mess of grey, black and white outside the SC entrance was in fact people. Lawyer people to be more precise. Lots of wigs and black robes crisply snapping in the playful Melbourne breeze with neat jabot nestled at every throat. What an austere and prepossessing sight – I moved through security a second time and went right through to the Court 1: Banco Court foyer. This rounded room has a dome of glass overhead around which a balistrade could be seen and doorways; presumably leading to chambers of various right honourable members of the judiciary. As we, the candidates, milled around on the delicately tiled circular floor, an occasional body would appear on the terrace above peering through the domed glass at us less fortunates – a bit like looking at a pen in the zoo. I suddenly felt rather alone and some horrible overwhelmed shaky feeling crept across my shoulders and forehead to sit hot and uncomfortable over my eyes. Suddenly I was so nervous & having to concentrate on not emptying the contents of my stomach on the polished floor. Bless that volunteer who ordered me to get lunch – she took that exact moment to walk past and check if I was okay. I don’t know how she knew it considering she was blind but I will be grateful to her for some time to come.
Eventually I had enough of standing around. I found a bench and was just pulling out my phone when Neil appeared – broad and tentative smile… maybe he was also a bit nervous about talking in court! Thank you again for agreeing to make the motion Neil – you’re an utter champion! Around the same time the doors creaked open and candidates started organising themselves in a queue. You could tell most of them were from Melbourne. I’ve not seen any other city in Australia queue the way Melbourneans do.
I was number 6 in the ‘vow takers’ which guaranteed me a spot on the front bench bang in the middle with an excellent view of the front of court. The court associate assigned to read out all our names was at the door checking pronunciation and, poor soul, hesitated at the sight of ‘Holzknecht’ (it is a little unfair – 2 vowels and 8 consonants is enough to strike down the boldest court official). Unfortunately, I also had a blocked nose and so after carefully listening to me he wrote down ‘Holzcleft’ on his notes. Neil bravely stepped in (watching the process over my shoulder and only minutes previously having attentively recited it with me a few times in the corridor) to correct him and I hurried off to take my seat.
The first thing that struck me about the courtroom was all the marvellous glowing dark wood… the second thing was that there was craved in graffiti on the bench in front of me. I had to chuckle. I also wondered if this graffiti holds some significance because it had clearly been varnished over at some stage rather than sanded back. Regardless, it seemed incongruous – graffiti of the ‘Bazza Waz Ere’ kind in the Banco Court room.
There was quite a bit of agitated shuffling on the navy leather seats as we waited for everyone to be seated. All the candidates were lined up neatly in the court general benches with the multitude of counsel arranged behind us in a solid wedge of black and white. I could hear as someone leaned to a friend and whispered with righteous indignation “Look at the affirmers and their cameras”… This entertained me for two reasons; one, the use of cameras in the court room is strictly prohibited so I was a bit perplexed and two, I couldn’t quite believe that there was already a differentiation between ‘them’ (the affirmers) and ‘us’ (the vow takers). It’s almost ludicrous that the choice of oath is such a distinction but it is one of the first questions asked. I looked over and chuckled internally even more as I realised the affirmers had all whisked out their iPhones as cameras – I was amused even more by thinking about the justifications for bending the rules that those same people might’ve come up with.
Eventually we were all seated and the ceremony began. If you’re interested in how the whole thing ran the webstream is available at (look for the event titled ‘Admissions 26 May 2009, 4.30pm’) : http://scv2.webcentral.com.au/admissions/#
And that was it. We started off as applicants, became candidates then moved parties, then Australian lawyers – all within the space of 30 minutes. After sitting there and congratulating everyone around me for a few minutes the court clerk came to lead us befuddled embryo lawyers off to the back exit where we were given our certificates and asked to sign the Roll of Australian Lawyers book. Again, I had to smirk at myself – such a large and extravagant signature when all the others above me were that nondescript strong wiggle across the page… never mind. No doubt it will waver into something even less legible as time goes on.
Trotting outside onto William St white tube with certificate inside clutched in one hand I found Neil and he led me back around the front for the obligatory ‘Supreme Court plaque’ photo and then I dashed back inside to find the wine and pass it over (with superfluous thanks!) before rushing off to catch my airport bus. After having conversations with friends about autistic people who have to run from place to place rather than walk I wonder a little what people think when they see me literally trotting from place to place with looks of intense concentration on my face as I try to concentrate on not twisting an ankle or dropping anything… and it happens far more often than it should (timeliness is a virtue… or something!).
It wasn’t until I was on the SkyBus on my way to Tullamarine with time to spare (again) that I had sufficient head space to think about what had happened… With dusk falling and the bright sparkly dots of twilight winking at me through the gradually deepening orange sunset that I imagined how really a mantle of responsibility and ethics has been thrown around my shoulders now. Perhaps thinking about it so seriously is unnecessary and indulgent but it struck me forcibly that I now have a duty of care much higher in some respects than others – this choice of profession calls on one to behave with integrity, foresight, compassion, diligence, efficiency and to keep confidence in amongst other things. It is a proud profession (perhaps too proud) but this pride needs to be tempered with the knowledge that it is profession that serves.