Opening of the Legal Year 2012

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Archbishop's Homily
Opening of the Legal Year
3 February 2012
St. David’s Cathedral, Hobart.

While attending this same ceremony last year, it occurred to me that this occasion today, would be the last time before my retirement, that I would be attending Ecumenical Service to mark the opening of the Legal Year in Tasmania. In my time as Archbishop, I have attended each of the ceremonies  held annually. I thought it might be a last opportunity for me to reflect on that period and to offer some of those reflections to you today.

Although in terms of appointments for bishops, my time in this role is not all that long, having begun in July 1999, I have seen some significant changes in the leadership of our state and in the legal profession during that time. There have been four different Governors, also four different Premiers, three different Chief Justices, and also some changes in the Ministers who have held the position of Attorney General.

The period we are talking about is covers the first decade of the 3rd millennium, plus two more years,  and during that time there have been some events which have had a profound impact on the world scene. The first to be mentioned is the audacious attack on the World Trade Centre in New York on 11 September 2001, and the second is the Global Financial Crisis, which impacted on world finances in 2008. The effects of both the events have been profound, with an increase in the focus on security, and the uncertainly about future financial directions. There is good reason to believe that the lessons to be learnt after the 2008 GFC are yet to be heeded, with the impact that it has on national economies all over the world.

In addition to these two major events, the decade in question has been a time of rapid change, occurring at a much faster rate than we had anticipated. One commentator who has plotted this change over a number of decades is Hugh Mackay. A book he published in 2007, “Advance Australia Where?” makes very interesting reading.[1]

He speaks of the great interest in recent years in home and building renovations, with all the implications, both positive and negative. Being involved in renovations means that we are keen to improve our lot. Once the building  starts, one thing leads to another, and soon there are piles of dust, debris and sometimes casualties. No wonder some people resort to tranquillisers. People have experienced relentless change, constant restructuring at work, changes in relationships, pressure to eat the right things, to get more exercise, and to keep the weight down.

Mackay detects a long period when people were living in something of a dream, not wishing to get engaged in the big issues of the day. “You just get on with it – what else can you do?”  That attitude of powerlessness, does seem to be changing.

There have been big changes in the whole field of work, less full-time work, obviously more part-time work, less permanent and more casual employment. There has been, I believe an impact on family life because of Sunday trading, particularly on the employees, many of whom are young people. The sharp rise in house prices, with the consequences around affordability has also become a matter of great concern, as you would know.

I was somewhat staggered by some figures I heard recently in a speech given by the Executive Director of Centacare Tasmania. The primary source of income for 34% of Tasmanian households is Centrelink or similar government benefits. This is, in Tasmania, a higher rate of welfare dependence than in any other State or Territory with the national average being 23%.

33% of all Tasmanian adult males are neither working nor seeking work, compared to 26% nationally. Another quite staggering figure is that 52% of adult Tasmanians are functionally illiterate. These figures come from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Many of you, particularly those who are involved with the courts, would be aware of this situation, as the figures would be reflected in the people who come before the courts. I am sure that you share a common concern about the cycle of lack of housing, lack of education, lack of work, and then the paralysing effects of addictions, principally alcohol, drugs or gambling.

Breaking the cycle is a huge challenge, but if a remedy can be found in one area, there is more likelihood that it will lead to the discovery of solutions in the others as well.

The readings chosen for this special occasion can be a reminder of the way forward. St Paul clearly is imparting the message that every human person has a dignity which must be respected because of who they are. Their dignity is not as a result of what the law may accord to them.  It is there because of whom they are, who we are as human persons.

In his most recent Message for World Peace, published on 1 January 2012, Pope Benedict XVI has observed that the value of the person, of human dignity and human rights, is seriously threatened by the widespread tendency to have recourse exclusively to the criteria of utility, profit and material possessions.

He goes on to say that Justice is not simply a human convention, since what is just is ultimately determined not by positive law, but by the profound identity of the human being.[2]

The Pope concludes his comments by repeating what he said to the German Bundestag on 22 September 2011,  “that the integral vision of the human person saves us from falling into a contractual conception of justice and enables us to locate justice within the horizon of solidarity and love”.[3]

Those comments fit very closely with the words of Jesus in the Gospel passage. It is my understanding that in all religions, and among those who are not believers, there is a strong commitment to his encouragement to “love your neighbour as yourself.” What is really being said, is that our neighbour is like us, and that we should show the same respect and compassion towards our neighbour as we would like others to show to us.

In the passage, Jesus goes further by saying that we are to love one another as “he has loved us.” Those who follow the Christian tradition are aware of the profound significance of those words, and also of the challenge which they present. In the Australian society of today, there are, as we know, many religious traditions represented among the citizens, as well as a significant number of those who choose not to follow any religious tradition at all.

I sometimes think that the law has been asked to shoulder an additional responsibility in this situation, where there is not the same cohesion about values and directions, and where the only option open to society seems to be to legislate about the matter. At times I feel the law is not capable of identifying,  with the required precision,  the different nuances which make up the fabric of human life and behaviour.

In his recent address on the occasion of 400th anniversary of the introduction of the King James Version of the Bible, the current Prime Minister  of Great Britain,  David Cameron, sought to highlight the continuing contribution of the King James Version to English society, in terms of language, literature, art and music. It has also been influential in the articulation of values and morals which make Britain what it is today. The Prime Minister expressed the hope "that as the years pass by, we will still be able to acknowledge the heritage which we have received and by which we live.[4]

I have, as I think many of you know, a close family association with the legal profession of which I am very proud. My late father George Leo Doyle, was a partner in the firm of Page Seager at the time of his death. There is a story told that at the time when he was leaving school, it did not appear possible for him to embark on a legal career, because his widowed mother could not afford to pay the amount that would enable him to take up articles with a legal firm. It was an Irish priest who knew the family, Monsignor Gilleran, who came forward with the money required, and as they say, the rest is history. Both my brother Brian, and his daughter Hilary are graduates in law at the University of Tasmania.

I therefore have a great respect for those who work within the legal profession in the various facets of it. Yours is a great responsibility to our society, and it is opportune for us to seek divine guidance at the commencement of a new Legal Year.

If I could leave the last word to you, the young graduates, who are embarking on another phase in your induction to the profession you have chosen. The message of Pope Benedict to which I referred earlier, was directed in particular to young people. He spoke of young people “who have such a strong attachment to ideals, and extends to them a particular invitation to be patient, and persevering in seeking justice and peace, in cultivating the taste for what is just and true, even when it involves sacrifice and swimming against the tide.[5]  

May the year 2012 be a further opportunity for all of you to serve our community, particularly those in need, by upholding what is just and true through your commitment to the law and the practice of it. Thank you for the invitation me to participate on this very significant occasion for the last 12 years.

[1] Published by Hachette

[2] Par. 4. Message for the World Day of Peace, 1 January 2011

[3] L’Osservatore Romano, 24 September 2011, pp.6-7

[4]  Delivered at Oxford, Friday 16 December 2011.

[5] Par. 5