2010 Catherine Helen Spence Commemorative Oration

Law and Social Justice - is it all rhetoric?

To be delivered by Her Honour Justice Robyn Layton

The Hawke Centre logoWednesday 28 April 2010

AUDIO recording available here (24MB mp3 format)

FULL paper from Justice Layton (pdf format)

Allan Scott Auditorium, UniSA City West campus, Hawke Building

Jointly presented by Catherine Helen Spence Memorial Scholarship Committee and The Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre

Catherine Helen Spence was an outstanding social and political reformer, writer and preacher who worked tirelessly to improve the lot of women and children in South Australia. One of her many publications included a social studies textbook called "The Laws We Live Under" which was published in 1880. Her passion and her life's work actively brought together law and social justice.

How have law and social justice issues developed since that time? What is the nature of social justice and its interaction with law? Focus will be given to some current issues concerning women, children, indigenous peoples, refugees and migrants. The various roles and responsibilities of individuals, institutions, local and global communities that affect law and social justice will be considered. The question which is discussed is whether law and social justice is being implemented in practice or is it all rhetoric?

Her Honour Justice Robyn LaytonThe Honourable Justice Robyn Layton

Justice Layton graduated from the University of Adelaide in 1967. After 10 years as a practitioner with the Honourable Elliott Johnston, she was appointed at a young age as a Judge and Deputy President of the South Australian Industrial Court and Commission for seven years, and then appointed a Deputy President of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal for four years. Her Honour then left the bench and returned to practice at the independent Bar and obtained silk in 1992. She completed a Master's Degree in 1999 and was appointed a Justice of the Supreme Court of South Australia in 2005.

Justice Layton has had a long involvement in human rights and social justice. In her early days she was the South Australian Counsel for Civil Liberties and she was appointed as a solicitor for the Central Aboriginal Land Council before it became incorporated. She was also Chair of the South Australian Sex Discrimination Board and later chaired the Human Rights Committee of the Law Society of South Australia. She is a patron of the Migrant Resource Centre of South Australia.

Justice Layton has also had a significant interest in the rights of the child and in 2003 she was commissioned to produce a comprehensive review and government plan for the protection of children, entitled "Our Best Investment".

At an international level, she has been a Member and later Chair of the Committee of Experts for the United Nations' International Labour Organization in Geneva, for some 15 years. That work in turn led her to involvement in judicial and legal practitioner education and training, both in Australia and in various international venues in Europe and Asia.

She maintains her concern about child protection and chairs the Advisory Committee for the Australian Centre for Child Protection at UniSA. She has also served on a diverse number of boards and corporations related to the arts (the South Australian State Theatre and the South Australian Art Gallery), bioethics (National Bioethics Consultative Committee), health (the Health Insurance Commission) and was even for a time a Director of the National Rail Corporation.

Catherine Helen Spence

The 100th anniversary of the death of Catherine Helen Spence, noted social leader and reformer of the nineteenth century falls in April 2010.  She is considered to be one of the foremost women in Australian history.

Catherine Helen Spence was born at Melrose in Scotland in 1825.  She came to South Australia in 1839 where she later established a reputation as a social and political reformer and a writer.  Not long after she died in 1910 the South Australian Government established a fund for a scholarship in her honour.  Its object was not only to acknowledge a great South Australian but also 'to create a deeper interest in sociology among the people of the state'. 

The Scholarship was to be awarded every four years, and the Trust Fund to be administered by the Public Trustee.  The Scholarship is administered by the Catherine Helen Spence Memorial Fund Scholarship Committee, members of which are appointed by the Minister of Education.

Dr Susan Magarey, a distinguished researcher of Spence, will give a short presentation on Spence's contribution to the 'common good' and her commitment to social justice.

2010 Oration

Justice Robyn Layton 2010 Catherine Helen Spence Commemorative Oration

  While the views presented by speakers within the Hawke Centre public program are their own and are not necessarily those of either the University of South Australia or The Hawke Centre, they are presented in the interest of open debate and discussion in the community and reflect our themes of: strengthening our democracy - valuing our cultural diversity - and building our future.