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Abstract from

Law and Power – Livin’ in the ’70s

David Neal taught in the Legal Studies Department at La Trobe University from 1975 to 1978. He taught criminal law and law and government, wrote on access to justice issues and was on the committee that set up the West Heidelberg Legal Service.

He co-edited the first edition of the Legal Resources Book (now Law Handbook), which was produced in the Legal Studies Department and contained chapters from a number of Department members. In 1978 he enrolled in the new Jurisprudence and Social Policy program at the University of California, Berkeley. He returned to Australia in 1981 to write his thesis, later published as The Rule of Law in a Penal Colony: Law and Power in Early New South Wales (CUP). Several of the chapters of the book first appeared as conference papers at the Law and History Conferences run by the Legal Studies Department in the early 1980s. David taught criminal law at the University of New South Wales until 1987 when he took up a position as a Commissioner of the Victorian Law Reform Commission. In 1990 he headed the Legislation Branch Victorian Justice Department and chaired the national Model Criminal Code Committee.

In 1993 he went to the Victorian Bar and took silk in 2005. David was a member of Victorian Bar Council for 10 years and serves on the Law Council of Australia committees on Criminal Law and Access to Justice. He has prepared and presented numerous submissions to Federal and State Government committees in these areas on behalf of the Victorian Bar and the Law Council of Australia.

Something big happened to public consciousness about law and power in the 1970s. Somehow law got caught up in a broader social upheaval about equality and poverty and the scales that masked the power embedded in legal relations fell away. In the early 1970s, the founders of the Fitzroy Legal Service wanted to ensure that people charged with criminal offences in Magistrates’ Courts had legal representation. The founders of the Legal Studies Department at La Trobe University wanted to focus on law as a social institution and to make the power associated with legal knowledge widely available not only to its students but also to a wider public. Attorney-General Lionel Murphy announced that he would set up the Australian Legal Aid Office. They joined forces to light fires which burned brightly for a couple of decades and made significant and lasting contributions to the distribution of power in Australia and to the inflection of its legal institutions.

(2013) 29(2) Law in Context 99

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