The NSWCCL dinner in the Sky Phoenix Restaurant in the Pitt St Westfield Plaza was a grand celebration of our 50th anniversary. There was a splendid turnout of old and new members and friends of NSWCCL and of our key note speaker. We also had several tables of interested students and interns sponsored by member donations.
The formalities of the evening were, understandably, more focused on NSWCCL’s history than usual. Michael Kirby, a member since 1964 and now an honorary life member, spoke movingly via video of his personal experience as a young lawyer working with NSWCCL and, more broadly, of the beneficial impact on the legal profession in Australia from the large numbers of lawyers who had cut their teeth in civil liberties and then gone on to occupy high office on the bench or as solicitors and barrister within the profession. Michael also paid tribute to significant NSWCCL figures who had deeply influenced him over the years. His lifelong engagement with NSWCCL was encapsulated in his final observation that he had now spoken at the 30
th, 40th and 50th anniversary dinners.
The keynote address for the evening was given by the Hon Justice Carolyn Simpson – currently a senior judge on the NSW Supreme Court and a significant player in NSWCCL during the 70s and 80s in numbers of roles including, as president, vice-president and secretary. Carolyn did the anniversary proud, delivering an absolutely fascinating trawl through NSWCCL’s history - encompassing the people and the issues, the consensus and the conflicts and its successes and failures.
She reminded us of the core civil libertarian principles developed by CCL and which still resonate, the intensity of internal debates such as the pivotal-if not always productive- ‘what constitutes a civil liberties issue?’ and some of the recurring organisation tensions (eg whether the legal profession was too dominant within CCL). We invited Carolyn because we wanted someone who could speak with authority and experience about the glory days and the difficult days of CCL. Carolyn did that spectacularly well. For longstanding members she aroused many strong memories. For the younger people present she offered an insight into the history of a resilient, voluntary organisation which has played a huge role in protecting civil liberties in this country for half a century.