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Australia’s Next Top Lawyer competition strikes a winning chord

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The beaming smile on the face of Curtin University law and journalism student, Rebecca Stacy, reacting to the surprise announcement that she had won Australia’s Next Top Lawyer competition, was the enduring image that defined the success of the inaugural essay-writing challenge.

Open to law students throughout Australia, the competition attracted over 400 entries and as the driving force behind the initiative, Australian Accident Helpline was elated with the response to the talent identification search for Australia’s brightest young, emerging legal practitioners.

Ultimately, 21-year-old Stacy, who lives in Trigg, Western Australia, was thrilled with the news that she had won the competition for her submission entitled, Religious freedom and parental rights: The most important development in Australian legal history.

For her winning effort, she was presented with a trophy and a cheque for $5000 from Australian Accident Helpline managing director, Mr Liam Millner, who said the work submitted from law students all over the country was of an exceptionally high standard.

“We were delighted with the quality content that was sent in,” Mr Millner said. “The judges had their work cut out deciding the winner from a series of articles that were thought provoking, enlightening and relevant. However, Rebecca’s article stood out due to a theme she chose to explore that is very topical in the changing multicultural dynamic of today, as well as a fluent writing style encompassing legal aspects of her story that was presented in a flowing, easy to understand narrative.”

Ms Stacy said she had been inspired to write the article on controversial, traditional cultural practices conflicting with Australian law as the subject was a point of frequent discussion among her peers.

“It’s something we always see in the news, reflective of the changing multicultural world that we live in. But I realised that it was difficult for me to have an opinion about it, as I did not know what Australia’s legal position was in relation to women and children, and issues such as female circumcision and arranged child marriages. So, I decided to look into it and chose the topic as the focal point of my essay,” Ms Stacy said.

Her essay concluded that under Australian law, child welfare and women’s rights take precedence over cultural and religious traditions, whereby families might want to pressurise female children in particular into practices deemed harmful to their wellbeing.

“My friends and fellow students all talk about this topic. We all agree that people should be free to raise children according to their cultural and religious beliefs, but that the welfare of the person supersedes any cultural decrees,” she said.

Stacy said she had decided to study law and journalism, as opposed to the more common choice of commerce-law, as media studies encouraged people to analyse and question law.

She said she hoped her award would give her future career impetus after she graduates.

“I would like to specialise in human rights, specifically focusing on women’s rights and child welfare, so from that perspective, winning this award was very encouraging,” she said.

Stacy was preparing to go on holiday to Japan for the end of year holidays and said the $5000 prize-money would prove very useful on her month-long adventure.

The judges awarded second place to Cameron Shamsabad, a student at Western Sydney University, whose submission was entitled, The Importance of the Engineers Case to the Development of Australian Constitutional Jurisprudence.

Cameron looked into the 1920 case of Amalgamated Society of Engineers v Adelaide Steamship Company and a High Court judgement that marked a defining point in the interpretation of Australia’s Constitution.

Mr Shamsabad’s essay concluded that the Engineers case redefined Australian law and politics by overruling implied doctrines that sought to protect a stricter federal structure and declaring American jurisprudence inappropriate and Australian jurisprudence largely independent in its development.

The effect of this judgement on the Australian political landscape caused a significant shift in the public perception of State power, whereby the Federal Government was increasingly seen as the superior institution of sovereign authority.

Third placed Suzanne Visser, a student at Charles Darwin University, explored a similar theme in her essay which was entitled, Interpreting the Constitution: The Most Important Development in Australian Legal History.

This article reflected on how Australia’s historical constitutional connections with Britain, were subsequently diluted by statutes passed by both countries, which established Australia’s Constitution as the absolute sovereignty in 1986.

Visser recounts how the law of terra nullius was corrected upon recognition of the rights of the Meriam people as traditional owners of the Murry Islands, challenging existing legal assumption that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders had no notion of land ownership before British colonisation in 1788 and that sovereignty added all land in the Colony to the Crown. The judgement in this case inserted the legal doctrine of native title into Australian law as a replacement for terra nullius.

Millner said Australian Accident Helpline hoped to build on the success of the first Australia’s Next Top Lawyer initiative as a launchpad to expanding next year’s competition to a broader audience with additional prizes on offer.

“Over the next few months we will be striving to attract sub-sponsors as we work towards hosting an annual prize-giving event sometime in the future in which we can honour the students and reward their talent and intellect.

“So, watch this space for details. We’ve got some exciting plans in the pipeline driven by our future vision for Australia’s Next Top Lawyer,” said Millner.

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