Alumni Profile - Professor Hilary Charlesworth

Q: What position(s) did you hold on the Review?
A: After starting as a lowly footnote checker, I was elevated to the role of advertising manager. I took over from Sue Kenny in this position, and still recall the patience and graciousness of her briefing on the job requirements: politeness and persistence. Although I failed to increase advertising revenues, I eventually became editor, with Tom Reid, in 1979.

Q: What did being a Member of the Review mean to you when you were at Melbourne Law School?
A: The Review provided a wonderful community and camaraderie in the midst of the rather large and anonymous Law School. It allowed you to get to know students from all years of the Ll. B. degree, as well as to have closer contact with Faculty members. I remember how kind and generous the various editors were to the more junior members of the Review. The MULR was an oasis in what I found to be overall a bleak slog through undergraduate legal studies.

Q: Could you please elaborate on the skills you gained from your experience on the Review that you have found the most useful in your professional life?
A: I really enjoyed observing the whole process of writing and publishing. In those days we had a lot of dealings with the printers, and I recall the great paper rolls of proofs, redolent of ink, that would arrive for checking. My time on the Review gave me a great respect for accuracy in footnotes and adherence to canons of footnote style. My PhD students will attest that this remains a particular obsession of mine!

I also learned a lot from dealing with authors of articles, and being exposed to areas of law I knew little about. Most authors were easy to deal with, and were grateful for referees’ comments, but there were some who argued the toss on even minor proposed changes.

Q: What professional roles have you undertaken since leaving Melbourne Law School?
A: I did my Articles at Gillotts, a small Melbourne firm that now forms part of Minters. The practice was largely focussed on defamation, a fascinating area. I then became Associate to Justice Ninian Stephen in the High Court. This was a marvellous experience. Not only was Sir Ninian a brilliant jurist, but he was also charming, generous and full of humour. I had the chance to see the crafting of judgments up close as well as the significance of good advocacy. This time gave me the idea of becoming a barrister, but before I did so, I went to do graduate study at Harvard Law School. My ideas about the future changed at this stage. I was exposed to quite extraordinary teachers in the US, and the intellectual excitement of debates about legal education, particularly the role of critical studies of law, made the prospect of being an academic exciting. After spending a year working in a large Wall Street firm, feeling out of my depth, I became even more drawn to teaching law. I have been an academic ever since, and have loved the combination of teaching and research. Two non-academic roles that I have learnt a great deal from during this time are chairing an ACT government inquiry into whether the ACT should adopt a bill of rights (2002-3), and acting as a Judge ad hoc in the International Court of Justice in the Whaling in the Antarctic case (Australia v Japan) (2011-2013).

Q: Do you have a particularly fond memory from your time on the Review?
A: One keen memory is the Review dinner in the year Tom Reid and I were editors, 1979. We had invited Gough Whitlam to be our guest speaker. He was a controversial choice at the time, given the passions surrounding the dismissal of the Whitlam government in 1975, and the invitation polarised the MULR membership and, indeed, some of the Faculty. We hoped that the charismatic Mr Whitlam would reflect on the Australian political events of 1975, which were still fresh in public memory. Instead, Mr Whitlam chose the Papua-New Guinea Constitution, adopted in 1975, as his topic and gave a detailed account of the drafting history of almost every provision in that document. The speech was a tour de force in one sense, displaying Mr Whitlam’s great erudition, but it lasted over an hour and made no concession to the after-dinner atmosphere of the occasion. The audience was exhausted by the end, and the brio of the evening thoroughly evaporated.