The Harold Ford Memorial Lecture

When Professor Harold Ford passed away in September 2012, Melbourne Law School and the broader legal community lost a leading scholar, teacher and law reformer. The Harold Ford Memorial Lecture celebrates the many contributions of Professor Ford to Melbourne Law School, the legal profession, and to the development of corporate law and trusts law. The inaugural lecture was held in 2013 and hosted by the Centre for Corporate Law.

Professor Ford spent almost his entire career at Melbourne Law School following his appointment to the Law School in 1949. He was Dean of the Law School in 1964 and from 1967 to 1973. In 1974, the first edition of Principles of Company Law was published (now called Ford, Austin and Ramsay's Principles of Corporations Law and in its 16th edition with Dr Robert Austin and Professor Ian Ramsay as the authors). Professor Ford also co-authored a leading text titled Principles of the Law of Trusts and other influential books. Professor Ford made many important contributions to law reform, including chairing the Companies and Securities Law Review Committtee from 1984 to 1990.

Professor Ford is remembered as a gifted teacher by several generations of law students. In 2010, Melbourne Law School established the Harold Ford JD Scholarships in his honour and earlier established the Harold Ford Chair of Commercial Law.

Past events:

2023 Harold Ford Memorial Lecture:

"Corporate Governance – Big Ideas and Debates?" presented by The Hon. Justice Michelle Gordon AC, High Court of Australia

Date: 24 May 2023

Recent events and debates in and outside Australia about corporate governance may be seen as suggesting that company directors, and the laws which govern their work, are facing new and different challenges. Many of those debates have been framed by reference to environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues and arguably challenge traditional conceptions of corporate governance. What can Australia learn from these debates legally, practically, and commercially?

2022 Harold Ford Memorial Lecture:

"‘No body to be kicked or soul to be damned’: The limits of a legal fiction" presented by Justice PA Keane AC, High Court of Australia

Date: 17 May 2022

The title of the lecture is drawn from the vivid observation by Lord Denning MR as to the fundamental difference between human beings and the corporation. The corporation, like other human artefacts, is a tool, useful as a means to an end, but the ends are human, and humans have a dignity that their tools do not. The lecture explores some respects in which this consideration may be said to limit the operation of the corporate fiction.

View a video recording of the lecture here.

View a Justice Keane's paper here.

2021 Harold Ford Memorial Lecture:

"Commercial trusts and the liability of beneficiaries: Are commercial trusts a satisfactory vehicle to be used in modern day commerce?" presented by the Hon Chief Justice TF Bathurst AC, Supreme Court of New South Wales

Date: 5 October 2021

Despite the trust not having its origins in commerce, despite the passage of almost 40 years since Professor Harold Ford published ‘Trading Trusts and Creditors’ Rights’, and despite numerous calls for reform, there remains no comprehensive legislative regime governing what is colloquially described as the insolvency of commercial trusts. This lecture examines the adequacy of the current regime in Australia as it concerns the liability of beneficiaries in the event of the insolvency of commercial trusts. It examines the question of whether the 1901 decision of Hardoon v Belilios has any relevance to the problems facing commercial trusts today.

View a video recording of the lecture here.

2019 Harold Ford Memorial Lecture:

"The Intersection of Companies and Trusts" presented by The Hon Chief Justice James Allsop AO, Federal Court of Australia

Date: 26 September 2019

In 1981, Professor Harold Ford wrote an article on 'Trading Trusts and Creditors’ Rights'. In it, he described trading trusts, an intersection of companies and trusts that had emerged in the decade prior as an increasingly popular alternative to the proprietary company, as a 'commercial monstrosity'. It has been nearly 40 years since those comments yet there is still no coherent and unified approach by Australian courts as to their treatment under Australian company law, nor is there any clear treatment of them in the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth).

On 5 February 2019, the High Court heard the appeal of what is commonly known as the Amerind matter. In the context of this appeal and other recent significant case law, this speech examines the development of the law on trading trusts, specifically on the issue of trust property in an insolvency administration.

View a video recording of the lecture here.

View a copy of Justice Allsop’s speech here.

2018 Harold Ford Memorial Lecture

"Judicial advice to trustees: its origins, purposes and nature" presented by The Hon Chief Justice Susan Kiefel AC Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia

Date: 14 September 2018

The rather strange practice of equity courts of providing advice to trustees has a long history.  To understand how it evolved it is necessary to trace its origins and the later development of procedures arising out of the general administration action.  It is necessary to identify its purposes in order to understand both the breadth of the power to advise and its limits.  Equity's broader supervisory jurisdiction over trusts may be explicable by reference to history.  There may be questions whether orders by way of judicial advice involve judicial power or are to be regarded as historical anomalies.

View a copy of Justice Kiefel’s speech here.

2017 Harold Ford Memorial Lecture

"The changing position and duties of company directors" presented by The Hon. Justice Geoffrey Nettle, Justice of the High Court of Australia

Date: 26 June 2017

The development of directors' duties spans the length of the 20th century, from the precepts of fiduciary obligation and the courts of Chancery to the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth). This lecture examined the obligations placed upon, and the roles expected of, company directors. The position of present-day company directors in Australia will be considered in light of the schemes regulating the conduct of other office-holders, including union and public officials, and the approaches taken in other jurisdictions.

View a copy of J Nettle's speech here

2016 Harold Ford Memorial Lecture

“Corporate Structures, the Veil and the Role of the Courts” presented by The Hon. Marilyn Louise Warren AC

Date: 5 May 2016

Courts are frequently called upon to grapple with the consequences of the principle that corporations are separate legal entities with limited liability.  These consequences arise in a range of contexts, from corporate groups to tort liability.  The rise of the corporate trustee has added yet further complexity to issues of corporate knowledge, power and responsibility.  In this context, an age-old question is more relevant than ever: to what extent can courts look behind corporate structures to commercial realities in determining the disputes before them?

Watch Video of the Harold Ford Lecture 2016

2015 Harold Ford Memorial Lecture

"Trusts and Statutes" presented by Chief Justice French AC

Date: 20 May 2015

What may broadly be described as the law of trusts covers the relevant doctrines of equity and statutes which provide for the supervision of trust relationships, qualify equitable principles, and which may give rise to new categories of trust relationships or things called 'trusts'. The interaction of statute law and equitable doctrine as in many areas of interaction between statute law and the unwritten law raises questions about 'coherence' which direct attention to Atiyah's question: All lawyers of course know that large areas of both the common law and the statute law are a shambles, but is it one shambles or are there two?

Download a copy of Chief Justice French's speech here.

2014 Harold Ford Memorial Lecture

"Directors' Duties and a Company's Creditors" presented by Justice Hayne

Date: 19 August 2014

His Honour's lecture has been published by the Melbourne University Law Review Vol 38(2) 2014.

Watch video of the lecture here.

2013 Harold Ford Memorial Lecture

'From Managing to Monitoring: the Evolution of the Listed Company Board' presented by the Hon Robert Austin

Date: 30th April 2013

Presentation slides