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Felicity Gerry QC, Australian Barrister of the Year

Congratulations to Deakin Law School's Professor Felicity Gerry, winner of Barrister of the Year at the 2020 Australian Law Awards.

Professor Gerry’s award is based on her wide ranging activity in 2019/20, in Australia and internationally, including the outcomes delivered for clients and the contribution she has made to chambers and the wider legal community.

Prof Gerry said, “I am very proud to win as I have worked very hard to both belong and to take on difficult challenges in Australia.”

These challenges included three major terrorism trials, alongside advocacy work on behalf of prisoners and human trafficking victims, public speaking, mentoring and, of course, teaching.

She sees the award as “celebrating the extra mile we go in criminal and human rights law and inspiring women lawyers to keep going”.

Deakin students contributed to come of the work cited in Felicity’s nomination. Students worked on the PNG illegal logging matter in January 2020 as part of MLL419/MLJ729 Contemporary International Legal Challenges and are still working on it via a Deakin Law Clinic internship.

The work continues, as she says, “I am currently teaching the same unit with the topic Modern Slavery – the students are putting together a submission on how modern slavery law in Australia can be improved which will be a contribution to a real submission to Government.”

Here is the full text of her citation.

Barrister of the year – Australian Law Awards 2020  

Felicity's career in Australia is defined by her ability to create challenges in order to try and achieve systemic change. She leads from the front as an outspoken silk on issues relating to human rights and criminal law. She is one of very few women silks in Victoria and one of even fewer who defend in serious criminal cases. 2019/20 was defined by her appearance in three major terrorism trials including the Federation Square Bomb Plot and the first trial for a completed terrorist act. It is very rare to see women barristers in terrorism cases at all and to be leading in silk was an opportunity to inspire women criminal lawyers. One of those appeals involves an application for special leave to the HCA on issues of public importance relating to the inclusion of a State offence on a Commonwealth indictment. Another involves the novel application of the Victim's Rule in Conspiracy. The third involved argument in relation to the use of special counsel in cases involving sensitive material. Felicity has contributed to appeals in 2019/20 relating to unreliable evidence, the first appeal in relation to the new standard sentencing regime and leading an intervention on behalf of ICJ Victoria in the Minogue appeal on implying the rule of law into the Australian Constitution. In addition to her practice, during the COVID-19 isolation period, Felicity was one of three lead women lawyers and academics who drafted and distributed national open letters to all governments on the treatment and release of prisoners during crisis, she was a core working party member in submissions on the application of OPCAT and produced a Quick Reference Guide to the biosecurity and public health regulations with one of her readers. She spoke widely on issues relating to Human Rights and COVID-19 producing CPD's, webinars and open source written material and she supported Indigenous organisations in relation to prison advocacy. She is well known for her involvement in promoting legislative and policy change in relation to Modern Slavery including contributing to the LCA submission to DFAT. In 2019/20 in recognition of her ability in international law, which has included advising women and children in Syrian camps and advising on leadership liability for international torture, she was the only woman silk in Australia to be admitted in both the International Criminal Court and the Kosovo Specialist Chambers in the Hague.

How has this work resulted in successful outcomes for clients?

Felicity's outcomes are harder to assess since acquittal in terrorism trials is hard to achieve but a measure of her success can be counted in the ability to ask courts to consider novel arguments often related to human rights issues. This includes raising the Convention of the Rights of the Child in a sentencing appeal and the rights to a fair trial in terrorism where the Commonwealth refuse to add an alternative count to an indictment. She has also raised public awareness of human rights issues relating to human trafficking victims who commit crime. The latter, in addition to the LCA submission to DFAT, includes written and oral submissions to the AFP on the human trafficking national action plan 2020-2024 and advising on behalf of a client on a wrongful conviction for transnational drug importation due to fresh evidence of trafficked status. This year Felicity was also instructed to provide an advisory opinion to the Philippine Commission on human rights on human trafficking and the death penalty which was then adopted as a study for submission to the Philippine Parliament. This builds on her years of work defending human trafficking victims on death row. Much of Felicity's work is pro bono representing people who would otherwise not have access to justice. This has included drafting petitions for mercy, advising a vulnerable Aboriginal woman in prison on an appeal for murder and a major investigative advice on illegal logging in PNG instructed by the EDO. These cases are ongoing so outcomes are as yet unknown. The logging matter involves consideration of PNG Constitutional and Administrative law, the application of Australian logging laws and the potential for international solutions. In 2019/20 she has also provided advice to international NGO Redress on complicity in international torture building on her role as an international lawyer and complimenting her significant and well known experience in the common law of complicity. These cases have outcomes in the sense that they contribute to both legal actions and education. Finally in 2019/20 she was invited to attend and participate in a high level UNODC conference in Vienna after developing a module for the Education for Justice Project on the links between human trafficking, smuggling of migrants and cybercrime. It has a been a busy and fruitful year as an Australian lawyer.

How has Felicity positively contributed to chambers and the wider community?

Felicity has been a senior mentor to several readers and a mentor generally to women in law. As part of law week 2019 she gave a careers presentation for Women in Crime Victoria and for law week 2020 she gave a presentation on modern slavery in Victoria. The latter had 335 registered. Her lecture on COVID19 and human rights for Greens List had 650 registrants and has been followed up by an article in VicBar News. In 2019/20 Felicity contributed to the Research Handbook on Feminist Engagement in International Law drawing on the anniversary of the seminal work by Hilary Charlesworth. As noted in an earlier section, Felicity has led calls for release of prisoners during the pandemic and raised public awareness on this and a range of human rights and criminal law issues, all whilst also attempting to inspire young lawyers by freely acknowledging that she works as a mother and juggles those responsibilities. Felicity is also Professor of Practice at Deakin University where she teaches a unit on Contemporary International Legal Challenges including modern slavery, terrorism and climate change law. In April 2020 she was appointed as the new editor for ANZSIL Perspective on international law and, in addition to her editorial duties and team management, published an article challenging the use of JCEIII as a form of complicity in CIL arising from her now infamous case of Jogee. She also led an amicus curiae brief in the Radovan Karadzic appeal on that issue. She has therefore contributed to Victorian, national and international law community. He pro bono work on FGM and the law was recognised in 2019 by an invitation to the Buckingham Palace Garden Party. She continues to participate in the Harvard University Everywoman project to campaign for an international treaty in relation to violence against women and girls. She is a valued member of Crockett Chambers in Melbourne and the wider Australian legal community.


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