Page 39 - UNSW Law Alumni News - 40th Anniversary Edition 2011

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As a young UNSW law graduate,
Justice Megan Latham avoided
being signed up by a big city law
firm because she didn’t know if she
wanted to work in the law.
Ironically, it was a decision that set
her on the path to an exceptional
legal career.
While her peers donned their suits
in Sydney, Justice Latham left for
the rural fruit growing town of
Leeton, where she discovered her
dream job. It was a thriving general
practice doing a bit of everything.
She was thrown in the deep end.
At the age of 23 she found herself
in the District Court, an opportunity
which would not have come her
way for years in the city, she says.
“That was when I realised what I
wanted to do; I wanted to be on my
feet in court.”
One thing led to another. In
a country practice, Justice
Latham dealt with everything from
parking fines to the occasional
criminal charge and the legacy of
colonial era land ownership, ‘old
systems title’.
“Like all idealists, I wanted to go
on to work with Legal Aid to ensure
people who didn’t have resources
were properly represented.”
But there was a hiring freeze in
the NSW public service, with one
exception. The Sydney Lands
Department office desperately
needed a solicitor with expertise
in ‘old systems’. She was the
only qualified applicant. Eighteen
months with Lands then proved
a springboard into public
prosecutions. Justice Latham
had finally found where she
wanted to be.
“At university I had seriously
considered dropping out of law
and switching to Honours in French,
because there were large parts of
the degree related to commercial
law that I just didn’t enjoy,” she says.
“I was passionate about the part
of the law that connected to
humanity – which is what I saw in
criminal, family and common law.”
Fortunately, these subjects have
always been a high priority at UNSW
Law School.
Justice Latham is modest about her
progress from Crown Prosecutor
to District Court judge to Supreme
Court judge, juggling motherhood
along the way.
“I am just someone who had
certain opportunities which led
onto other opportunities; I don’t
think I’m remarkable.”
Life as a judge, she says, is
relentlessly challenging, particularly
under constant media scrutiny.
When Justice Latham instructed a
jury to remember that “Islam is not
on trial” during the hearing of a
terrorism-related charge, her every
word was fodder for the shock jocks
and columnists.
“I don’t sleep well during a trial
– I just accept that, there is so
much going around in my mind,”
she says.
But, her first concern, she says, is
always the jury. “To make their job
easier I have to be calm, pleasant
and accessible,” she explains.
“The responsibility we give juries
is extraordinary. They are asked
to decide someone’s fate. I am
unceasingly amazed that ordinary
people embrace the responsibility
and apply themselves assiduously.”
“ Like all idealists,
I wanted to go
on to work with
Legal Aid to
ensure people
who didn’t
have resources
were properly
The Hon Justice
Megan Latham
40 Inspirational Alumni