A joint initiative of Commercial Bar Association of Victoria (CommBar), members of the Judiciary and the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission.

The overarching objective of this initiative is to increase briefing of women at all seniority levels of the CommBar (and beyond), by engaging with the lawyers who brief the CommBar and working with these organisations to commit to real change. This is an action-focused initiative and as such, progress will be both measured and reported. (note: no firm’s/ organisation’s individual progress will be publically identified).

The Charter of Commitment

Leading law firms and organisations have signed up to a three year Charter of Commitment (2016–2019), in a collective attempt to achieve gender equitable briefing practices in commercial litigation.

The Charter has six key actions. These actions aim to address some of the key barriers to achieving gender equitable briefing practices that firms and organisation have identified in previous workshops.

The founding and current signatories to the Charter of Commitment include:

  • Arnold Bloch Leibler
  • Australian Securities & Investments Commission
  • Corrs Chambers Westgarth
  • Gilbert & Tobin
  • K & L Gates
  • Lander & Rogers
  • Maddocks
  • Norton Rose Fulbright
  • Slater and Gordon
  • Telstra
  • Victorian Government Solicitors Office
  • Thomson Geer
  • DLA Piper Australia

It is anticipated that as more firms and organisations become aware of the initiative, that additional signatories will sign up to the Charter of Commitment. The initiative remains open to additional signatories.

Download the Charter of Commitment - Law Firms (PDF, 450KB)

Download the Charter of Commitment - In house Counsel (PDF, 445KB)

For further information about the initiative, download the Public statement of the Equitable Briefing Initiative (PDF, 470KB)

Data Collection/Reporting Stage

Following a period of successful collaborations between the Commercial Bar of Victoria, members of the Judiciary, Charter of Commitment Signatories and the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (Commission), the data collection/reporting stage is now underway. The Charter of Commitment contains a number of actions to be undertaken over a three year period, including collecting and reporting briefing data on a confidential basis every six months. A excel data entry sheet has been developed following consultation and testing with Charter Signatories and is currently in use. The Commission will be reporting on the first data set (Jan-June) in Sept-Oct, 2016.

Potential Actions for Implementation

In late 2014 the Commercial Bar, members of the Judiciary and the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission held private workshops that were attended by members of the Judiciary, senior law firm commercial litigation council and in-house counsel who regularly brief the Commercial Bar.

A list of potential actions for implementation were identified by workshop participants, matched against the Charter of Commitment for law firms.

The Organising Committee

The initiative has greatly benefitted from the extensive experience and commitment of the organising committee. The committee comprises of Justice Debbie Mortimer, Justice Elizabeth Hollingworth, Commissioner Kate Jenkins, Philip Crutchfield QC, Kathleen Foley and Anna Robertson from CommBar.

Background to the initiative

In 2014, the Commercial Bar Association of Victoria (CommBar) considered what action it might take in relation to the equity issues facing women barristers in commercial litigation, with particular focus on concerns about the lower rates of briefing women barristers and the lower value of briefs for women at the Commercial Bar.

Members of the CommBar executive, the judiciary and the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission worked together to support action on these two areas of underrepresentation of women barristers.

In addition to the support of the organising committee, the initiative has greatly benefitted from ongoing involvement and support from the judiciary, including from:

The High Court of Australia
The Hon. Susan Crennan AC (formerly Justice Crennan)
Justice Michelle Gordon

The Federal Court of Australia
Justice Bernard Murphy
Justice Jennifer Davies

Supreme Court of Victoria
Chief Justice Marilyn Warren
President Chris Maxwell
Justice Anne Ferguson
Justice Peter Almond
Justice James Elliott

County Court of Victoria
Judge Maree Kennedy

Federal Court of Australia
Chief Justice James Allsop.

The workshops

Two workshops have been convened to progress this initiative.

CommBar Workshop 1- Identifying the problems
On 7 November 2014, a workshop was convened between 11 members of the Judiciary (High Court, Supreme Court, Federal Court and County Court) 28 law firm commercial litigation partners; and eight inhouse counsel across private and public sector organisations.

The purpose of the session was to collectively start a conversation about the alarmingly low representation of women in Commercial law matters and identify what could be done to accelerate change by getting perspectives from outside the Bar.

The workshop identified four areas where action could be taken to support real change. These areas included

  • awareness
  • briefing practices
  • individual leadership and
  • firm/organisational accountability.

If you would like to convene an internal workshop within your firm/organisation the Faciliators Guide (PDF, 505KB) may be of assistance to you.

CommBar Workshop 2: Uncovering high impact actions
On 20 May 2015, a second workshop was convened to identify high impact actions that could produce a significant change over three to five years.

The Charter of Commitment was formulated based on the discussions and ideas for action expressed at these workshops.


The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission has recently completed research into the experiences of Koori women and the justice system. This project is one of the Commission's key responsibilities under the Aboriginal Justice Agreement 3.

The Commission worked with four focus groups composed of Koori female prisoners at Dame Phyllis Frost Centre. The Commission also conducted five case study interviews with female prisoners and with Koori women who had left prison. In addition, 15 key informant interviews with people across the justice system, community service organisations, Magistrates and academics were undertaken.

The research also found that in 2012, 80 per cent of Koori women entering Victorian prisons were mothers. A high proportion of Koori women prisoners were themselves clients of child protection services as children. Many now have their children in informal or formal out-of-home care.

The report entitled Unfinished business: Koori women and the justice system is now available.

You can download the reports below or view online as a PDF.

Read the report: (PDF) | (DOC)
Read the main findings summary: (PDF) | (DOC)


The recently evaluated Aboriginal Justice Agreement Phase 2 (AJA2), identified that the development of effective diversionary options for Koori women remains one of the main unfinished tasks and was a priority recommendation. There has also been considerable advocacy and research on this issue.

Studies have shown that imprisoning Koori women on remand and during pre-sentence periods can have crippling, long-term effects on their families and the broader community, particularly when less than 15% of Koori women on remand ultimately receive custodial sentences.

These women are generally young and often impacted by violence and trauma. Their offences are predominantly property related, infringements and the execution of warrants.

Research reveals high rates of psychological affective disorders (depression, anxiety), and post traumatic stress disorder among Koori women in prison. These findings come from interim results from the Victorian Aboriginal Community Control Health Organisation (VACCHO)

What we found

While at any one time around 30 Koori women will be in Victorian prisons, many cycle through the system multiple times, often on short sentences, or on remand and then not sentenced. Koori female prisoners are generally young, and many have experienced family violence, sexual abuse and intergenerational trauma. Homelessness before and after prison is common.

Offending and imprisonment patterns for Koori women differ from those of Koori men. They also differ from those of other women, noting that Koori women's health and wellbeing depends on a strong connection to culture. Thus, connection to culture is a crucial protective factor and must lie at the heart of any intervention.
While a range of successful initiatives have been established in Victoria for Koori men and other groups, there remains a lack of effective diversion options for Koori women.

Next steps

The report makes 29 recommendations to agencies across government, including Victoria Police, Magistrates' Court, Corrections Victoria, Justice Health, Department of Justice, Department of Human Services, the Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People and the Victorian Auditor-General.

The recommendations address over-representation of Koori women across the criminal justice system, as well as specific recommendations regarding the establishment of a culturally and gender appropriate model of diversion. The report also identifies principles of effective intervention to guide the further development of prevention, diversion and post-release programs.

The Commission looks forward to progressing these recommendations through the Aboriginal Justice Forum over the coming months.

More information

For more information about this project please contact the project team on 9032 3405 or email research@veohrc.vic.gov.au.

Thursday, 26 July 2012 10:54

Fair go, sport!

Research shows sport is a significant site of homophobic harassment, discrimination and exclusion.

The Australian Government report, The future of sport in Australia, identified the need to understand these issues and create new opportunities for inclusion and participation.

With this in mind, the Australian Sports Commission funded Fair go, sport! in 2010.

This project aimed to:

  1. increase awareness of sexual and gender diversity
  2. promote safe and inclusive environments
  3. develop a flexible model of engagement that can be adapted for other sporting codes and their governing bodies.

The project now has four components:

  1. Fair go, sport! Phase 1: Our original work with Hockey Victoria and Hockey Australia, completed in December 2011, developed a peer mentoring approach to support project advocates.
  2. Fair go, sport! Phase 2: Commenced in June 2012, this Phase worked with four additional state sporting associations (Basketball, Cycling, Football and Skate Victoria / Roller Derby) and consolidated the achievements in Hockey
  3. Fair go, sport! Reservoir High School: In 2012 we applied the FGS model and approaches within the school’s sport, health and physical education programs.
  4. Fair go, sport! Schools: Commencing in 2013/14, Whittlesea Secondary College, Castlemaine Secondary College and Keilor Downs College have been implementing the project and developing strategies for inclusion in school sport.
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