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Recognition for our Founder, Robin Speed for services to the law

It gives us immense pleasure that Robin Speed has been recognised in the Queen’s Birthday 2019 Honours list for a Medal in the Order of Australia for his service to the law and charities.

Robin is particularly passionate about the rule of law, with fairness and justice for all Australians.  He has written the below article about his work and the need to foster the rule of law within Australia.

– Malcolm Stewart Vice President



This award was made for my service to the law and charities, including the Rule of Law Institute of Australia and Australia’s Magna Carta Institute.

The Rule of Law Institute was established in 2009 by Malcolm Stewart and I to foster the rule of law in Australia, it is now supported by Australia’s Magna Carta Institute through Rule of Law Education. 

The rule of law can only be understood and appreciated by imagining what life would be like without it.  Then might would be right, justice would be bought and sold, just as it is in many countries.

The Institutes are charities receiving no funding from government.  They explain the “rule of law”, what it means to have the rule of law and what it might be like not to have it.

They are free of any federal or state politics.

To many, the rule of law means no more than that everyone is subject to the law, whether Prime Minister, billionaire, union official, cardinal, activist or whatever.  Each is liable to prosecution for breach of the law, no matter how small the breach, nor important the alleged offender nor whether the breach is claimed to be in a good cause.  For those who seek to say that a particular law is bad (and there are some laws which are bad), we live in a democracy with a Parliamentary system which needs to be followed to change the law.

The rule of law in Australia, however, is much more than everyone being subject to the law.  It is about democracy and the advantages we get from it.  We saw in the recent federal election that passions ran high, but after the election, the result was generally accepted.  There is no marching in the street, riots or post-election violence.

Australia has been a democracy for over 100 years and we have had no civil war.  That is largely because Australia has the rule of law which works and is respected.

The rule of law owes its origin, if not its affirmation to the Magna Carta of 1215 well before Australia was founded.  It was brought to Australia by the British settlers with the First Fleet.

The Magna Carta is a magnificent document, in what was written and not written, by the wisdom of the draftsmen, and the detail of some provisions and the broadness of others.  The Magna Carta is not Australia’s Constitution, but it represents what Australia represents and reflects the rule of law in Australia.

So much in Australia relates to the rule of law, and its everyday significance and the Magna Carta.  We teach students about: the presumption of innocence and they decide for themselves why the presumption is so important,  the courts being impartial and staffed by competent judges, an appeal process for errors, and why it is important to have certain laws that are readily understood.

What is embedded in the rule of law is fairness and justice among humans.

When a society becomes comfortable and complacent, past fundamental principles are commonly forgotten and their significance lost, and it is no different with the rule of law.

Rule of Law Education seeks to explain to high school students why the rule of law is important and students are asked to critically analyse legislation and the work of the legal system using the filter of rule of law principles.

Since we began teaching high school students and established our education based website, we have taught over 30,000 students throughout New South Wales and Queensland and have had over 1.5 million page views on our website.  This is no mean feat for the Institutes which relies solely on voluntary donations.

We do this by providing education programs, materials and professional development to teachers so that they are better equipped to teach the various aspects of the principles involved.  But more importantly, we employ teachers to do the teaching face to face with students.  In our view there is no substitute for face to face teaching, either in the classroom or in a court setting, by competent teachers.  Our teachers engage the students to know and appreciate the law.  They encourage them to wrestle with legal principles.

We run Court Education Programs in NSW and over 4,000 students participate annually.  Real judges and magistrates provide marvelous voluntary support meeting with students, welcoming them into their chambers and chatting to them about their role.  We thank them and the sheriffs who make it possible.

The Court Education Programs have been provided principally in Sydney and Parramatta, and are now being extended to Newcastle and Wollongong courts.  They have in the past been limited to high school students as we have seen them as most receptive to learning about the principles.

We are now very excited to have a pilot program for extending the rule of law teaching to primary school students.  We are surprised to find how much interest there is among Year 5 and 6 students with the principles.  For example, they can readily appreciate the need for rules and everyone being subject to them, including teachers, principals, students (whatever their background).

We are hopeful to duplicate with primary school students the great success we have had with high school students.  Our programs will show the development of the rule of law within Australia and how these values underpin our society today.

Much is spoken today about school children being influenced with particular views.  The school curriculum provides the opportunity to teach the rule of law, however teachers have received very little training and resources to help them teach these aspects, so they often ignore these elements they have not the time to fully understand  The Institutes want to remedy this and considers that teachers should be helped so they can challenge students to think about and openly discuss the rule of law, and what it would be like without it.

The Institutes would not be possible without the financial and moral support of the Frank Lowy family.  They have provided this support since 2009 and have never wavered.  Nor would it be possible without the support of Speed and Stracey Lawyers, particularly the Managing Director, Malcolm Stewart.

A particular thanks to Richard Gilbert and the directors, past and present, David Lowy AM, Nick Cowdery AM QC, Emeritus Professor Geoffrey Walker, Richard McHugh SC, Hugh Morgan AC, Professor Martin Krygier, Dyson Heydon AC QC, Dr Melissa Perry QC and John Roskam.  Also many thanks to Nick Clark and Jackie Charles without whom the Institutes would not be where they are today.  I also thank our General Manager, Sally Layson, for all her marvellous work.

We have sought to foster the rule of law in Australia as we consider it is at the heart of what Australia represents.  It is the glue which binds our system and the oil on which it runs.

Nothing survives without constant reminding and refreshing, debating and weighing up what it would be like without it.  The principles of the rule of law are no exception.


Robin Speed