Victorian barrister reveals ‘culture of fear’ preventing lawyers

A Victorian barrister has spoken out about a “culture of fear” plaguing the Victorian Bar Association, with lawyers believing their careers will be damaged if they publicly oppose the Indigenous Voice to Parliament.

The Victorian Bar Association is embroiled in a dispute over whether the 21-member Bar Council should publicly come out in support of the Voice, and whether it is within their power to do so.

Last month 300 members of the Victorian Bar signed a petition calling on the bar council to publicly support the Yes campaign. This is being opposed by a group of barristers pushing for a special general meeting where all 2,200 members of the bar can decide on the issue.

But according to former Bar Council member Lana Collaris, many barristers who oppose the Voice are reluctant to say so publicly because they “perceive a risk to their career.”

Ms Collaris told Sky News Australia that while gathering signatures for the motion calling for a special general meeting – which she submitted – she repeatedly received this feedback “from very junior members of the bar all the way up to the senior ranks.”

“Whilst they supported my motion they didn’t want to publicly put their name to it,” Ms Collaris said.

“They would support the motion by way of proxy, or by some confidential way that they can vote. But they didn’t want to be outed as actually having signed this motion.

“Starting from the junior ranks, people who are developing their practices, up to senior juniors who want to apply for silk – they perceive that they might be risking that. So they want to stay quiet.

“I do believe there is a culture of fear.”

The former car council member also revealed that publicly supporting the Yes campaign may be outside the Council’s power, as the organisation’s constitution prohibits the council from exercising its power for political purposes.

“I’ve examined the bar’s constitution and I’ve formed the view that the bar does not have that power and I’ve put the bar councillors on notice about that, setting out my reasons and particular clauses of the constitution,” Ms Collaris said.

“I’ve asked the bar councillors to please respond to me identifying the clause of the constitution that they say gives them the power to say anything in respect to the voice.

“I am still awaiting a response to my request.”

The Victorian lawyer said that nobody had any issue with individual barristers expressing their own personal views on the Voice, but a line is crossed when barristers use their positions as bar council members to present their own personal view as representing the view of the entire membership.

“The reason why I’m speaking out about this is because I feel very passionate about our bar and I want to protect its independence and its integrity, and I think that if the bar comes out and supports any political position that undermines that integrity,” Ms Collaris said.

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