What will the media do? One of their favourite legal commentators, Melbourne barrister Lex Lasry, was appointed to the Victorian Supreme Court yesterday.

Lasry has been, since his involvement as an observer in the David Hicks case and as a legal adviser in the case of Melbourne man Van Nguyen who was hanged by the Singapore government in 2005, one of the handful of lawyers that the media goes to for comment on human rights issues (yours truly is occasionally another the media calls).

Lasry is an articulate spokesman on the intersection between the law and human rights and his commentary will be missed.

What is interesting about Lasry is that as recently as a decade ago the media were not describing him as a ‘human rights activist.’ That’s not to say he wasn’t, but he was more often seen prosecuting controversial cases involving civil liberties issues than defending them. In the 1980s Lasry had a role in the Costigan Royal Commission into the affairs of the notorious painters and dockers union, and later the affairs of Kerry Packer. He was an architect in the deregistration of the Builders Labourers Federation, which put him offside with elements of the left in Victoria, and he prosecuted the trial of a group of protestors who attempted to storm the Melbourne Club.

Lasry’s appointment by the Victorian ALP government also shows that he has been forgiven by that government. Lasry was appointed by Premier Steve Bracks in 1999 to head a royal commission into an Ambulance Service tender process conducted by the Kennett government. But as the inquiry progressed, relations between Lasry and Mr Bracks soured.

There was a testy series of written exchanges between the two, with Mr Bracks complaining about the length of time and cost of the royal commission. And the commission, which had been promised by Bracks during the 1999 election when he defeated Jeff Kennett, failed to claim any political scalps.

Not only will the media miss Lasry, but so will people on death row around the world. Julian McMahon, a barrister who worked with Lasry on the Van Nguyen case, says that over the past five years Lasry has worked, on a pro bono basis, “on numerous cases, only some of which have become public knowledge.”

And speaking of the media, no doubt one can expect the Herald Sun and its resident knee jerk shock jock Andrew Bolt to sneer at the Lasry appointment because the latter has dared to be critical of the treatment meted out to David Hicks at Guantanamo Bay and embraced other human rights issues.

Yet a decade or two ago he would have been their hero for taking on the BLF, Melbourne Club rioters and other malcontents!

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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