Saturday, January 3, 2009

Virginia Bell

Virginia Bell

Who is she?

Her name sounds very Southern....as in southern United States. I picture her as someone you'd meet in Alabama or Mississippi.

Let's see.....

She's a judge.

I haven't written about one of these people before.

I have no idea why I chose to add her to my list.

She was born on 7 March 1951.

Birthday Website time!

She's an 8 and a Pisces. I picture that to be a spiritual person who makes lots of money.

Bell went to a girl's school called SCEGGS in Darlinghurst. When I think of Darlinghurst, I think of gay people and Jewish people. But this school happens to be Anglican. I really love Australian school uniforms. Have I ever mentioned that before?

After SCEGGS, Bell went to the University of Sydney. She graduated with a law degree and became a solicitor. She worked for the Redfern Legal Centre from 1978-1984. This sounds like a fairly good organization. They say We offer free legal advice, referral and casework to disadvantaged people and groups.

They help people all around the Sydney area--not just Redfern. The organization was started in 1977, so Bell must have been one of it's earliest employees.

Bell was called to the NSW bar in 1984. I have no idea what that means, but fortunately Lord Wiki explains it. He says it's the same thing as when Americans say admitted to the bar. I'm not 100% sure what that means either. My hunch is it's a good thing though...kind of a big step on the law career ladder.

Bell joined the Frederick Jordan Chambers. I'm also unsure of what that means. I thought it might mean that this was the chambers where Frederick Jordan was the judge. But I looked up Frederick Jordan and he died in 1949. Maybe he haunts the chambers? Or maybe the chambers is just named after him.

I wish I knew more about law. It would make this research more easier on me. Maybe I need to pay more attention to the legal stuff on Eli Stone.

Anyway....

Bell became a public defender in 1986. Then she went back to having a private practice in 1989. Well, I didn't actually realize she had a private practice before. I'm very confused here.

She was involved with the Royal Commission into the New South Wales Police Service (AKA Wood Royal Commission). This occurred between 1994-1997. I guess it was believed that there was corruption in the police force. Yikes. Since that Commission thing, there have been changes and improvements made. Something called the Police Integrity Commission was started. This group investigates and fights police misconduct. I do think it's good to have some kind of program like that in place. The police protect us, and I like that about them. But they can be very scary at times. And they can be corrupt.

The official website of the PIC explains what they'll investigate. This includes bribes, the planting of evidence, serious assaults, releasing confidential police information to criminals, improper relationships with criminals, drug stuff, fraud.

I like how they specify the assaults as needing to be serious. I can imagine people calling the PIC. That damn officer stepped on my foot. But really. What constitutes a serious assault?

I caught a scary police story on TV. It took place in Florida. A young female college student was involved with drugs. The police caught her and pushed her into being involved in a drug bust. They pretty much bullied her into doing it. She didn't have the experience, training, or ability to be involved with such an operation. The police lost track of her. She was shot and killed. Were the police sorry for what they did? No. They held a press conference to try to villainize her.

It makes me very angry.

Yes, I believe drugs should be legal.

I don't personally do any recreational drugs--not even alcohol. I've never been drunk in my life. I've never tried pot. But I think it's ridiculous that some drugs are legal and some are not. I think it's so tragic that a young woman was put into harms way simply because she got caught using marijuana. And those police who caused her death? Have they never been drunk before? What's the difference?

Okay.

I'll stop my rant.

Back to Virginia Bell.

In March 1999, she was sworn in as a judge of the Supreme Court in NSW. Good job, Virginia Bell!

She has now been nominated to be a judge in the High Court of Australia. This role will officially begin for her on February 3, 2009. That's the day we get to Australia! I'll probably be too tired from jet lag to take note of that in my mind.

The High Court is as high as you can get....as far as courts go. There are seven justices. No. Eight. I can't count. Michael Kirby is one of them. He's the guy I'm researching tomorrow!

Four of the Justice people were appointed by John Howard. It's pretty even. Half are Labor and half are Liberal. Is that done on purpose, or is it just dependent on what party is in power at the time?

The High Court building is in Canberra. Maybe we'll see it.

Oh wait. I was right originally. There are seven justices plus one CHIEF justice. That's a total of eight. I CAN do math. Well, I can add at least.

According to Lord Wiki, appointments to the high court are officially made by the Governor- General. But in reality, it's really the Prime Minister who makes the choice. Well, maybe. I could be reading this wrong.

I'm done with Lord Wiki.

I'll see what else I can find.

Here's a recent article. It's about her swearing out ceremony for the NSW Supreme Court.

The article says she has famous one-liners. I guess she's funny.

Her fellow legal people had nice things to say about her. Chief Justice James Spigelman said she had a high level of social consciousness, compassion for the unfortunate and a strong sense of justice. She sounds like a good woman.

Virgina Bell is gay. Her partner is a female barrister.

You know. I kind of thought that's why I added her to the list. I had a vague memory of wanting to write more about gay people who had some political power. But then Lord Wiki didn't mention it so I thought I had been mistaken. I don't know how I first heard of her though. Maybe someone mentioned her in comments.

Yeah, I think that's probably it.

This article has a photo of her. She looks like someone who could fit in as a teacher at Hogwarts.

Bell has played a Barrel girl on Australian television. I have no earthly idea what that means. I tried googling and I keep getting page about Virginia Bell. That's not helping.

She has a background in theater. That makes sense to me. The courtroom is kind of like a theater. Well, at least the ones on television are. Maybe real court rooms are less theatrical.  I kind of doubt it.

Bell is the fourth woman to be on the High Court. When she starts her High Court job, there will be three women there. That's a fairly good percentage.

She provided defense for people who were charged during Sydney's first gay Mardi Gras.

I'm liking this woman more and more. She seems very passionate. The Redfern Legal Centre couldn't afford to pay her so she volunteered her services.

Here's some childhood stuff. Some of it might conflict with Lord Wiki. Or maybe not. Her father was a naval officer. Bell describes her family as being happy. She attended the Sydney Church of England Girls Grammar School. So, is Lord Wiki wrong? Did she not attend SCEGGS? Maybe she attended both.

OR.....

Maybe I'm just dumb and did not realize SCEGGS is a acronym for Sydney Church of England Girls Grammar School. Sometimes I worry about myself.

Anyway, Bell is totally one of my people. She started a club in school which had the purpose of avoiding participation in Sports.

I love her.

This article talks about how Virginia Bell will add some criminal law expertise to the High Court. I guess that means it has been lacking that.

This gay website says that she ruled in a 2001 case between Channel Seven and a stockbroker Rene Rifkin. Bell ruled that calling someone gay was not grounds for defamation.

The website also says Bell worked as a journalist for ABC. This woman really gets around!

Okay, good. This SMH article has some information about the barrel girl thing. It seems she spun the barrel on Australian game shows. While doing this, she used the stage name Ginger de Winter.

She has been involved with prison reform.  She was part of a group called Women Behind Bars.

She hosted an ABC show called Late Night Live.

Here's another gay/lesbian website. Meredith Burgmann, who was also involved with the first gay Mardi Gras, has nice things to say about Bell. If you look at her entire career it’s always been about righting wrongs, in an activist role, in a judicial role. Even as the Late Night Live host the issues she raised as a journalist were also social justice issues. She’s also incredibly funny.

I'm going to look at Google News now.

Oh no. We're back to the terrorism stuff. In 2006, she rejected an appeal made by a young Australian medical student. He's accused of receiving combat training by Lashkar-e-Toiba. I think that's the same group David Hicks trained with. The student's lawyer argued against the charges. Bell said the charges were constitutional and that it would be up to the jury to find out if he was guilty or innocent. The charges were later dropped. It seems the officials who interrogated the student were made of the same cloth as the police in Florida.

Here's an interesting article from 2005. Bell wanted their to be an Internet blackout for anything that might prejudice a juror. The problem is that in these modern times, members of the jury can jump on their computer and read about the cases. That does seem like a problem to me. On the other hand, the idea of censoring it bothers me. Queensland and NSW introduced legislation that would make it illegal for jurors to do internet searches. The punishment would be up to two years in prison. I know this sounds incredibly scary and invasive. But what if they monitored the Internet searches of people on the Jury? I guess that would be too much of an invasion of privacy. Plus, where do you draw the line? Do you tap the phones to make sure they're not talking to their friends about the case? Do you have them followed? I guess it has to be a matter of trust.

Well, I'm going to end this here.

I like what I've read about Virginia Bell. I think it's great that she'll have such a prestigious and powerful position in Australia.

7 comments:

Fe said...

Oh wow! I LOVE Virginia Bell! The fact that I'm so excited about her position to the High Court shows just how sexist this country still is. But I am. THRILLED.

In my humble opinion, she has shown merit and brilliance in her Royal Commission work (an often dangerous playing field) and has most definitely NOT sucked up to the big boys (or... well I'm sure you know what I'm referring to).

And I also love her because she went to my school. Yes, I went to Sydney Church of England Girls Grammar School (SCEGGS) Darlinghurst too. Not at the same time as her.

The High Court is a wonderful building... well worth a visit.

Oh... I'm so excited that you're going to be here soon!!!

xox

Dina said...

Fe:

I don't think it's THAT sexist. I mean it is...but it's getting better.

I just looked up our Supreme Court (yes, because I'm dumb) and we have only ONE female. According to my husband, there's no one who's openly gay.

So, how did you like SCEGGS?

I'm excited too!!!!

Anja said...

Ah, the eggs from SCEGGS (No offence, Fe. I went to a Catholic training school for nutjobs, so I can't comment)

SCEGGS is a fine institution; smack bang in the middle of the red light district and some very nasty squats.

Whoopsy, sorry Dina. "Squats" are abandoned buildings that people take up illegal residence in.

Michael said...

A barrel girl is someone on a game show who draws out prizes, etc. She's there for her good looks.

High Court appointments are not blatantly political in most cases.

Bell wasn't a controversial choice by any means.

Governments are remarkably restrained in selecting judges and Governors-General.

Dina said...

Anja: We call them "Squaters"
Eggs from SCEGGS. That's cute ; )
I think we'll be staying around that area. I don't think it will be smack middle in the red light district though. But fairly close I think we might be having an interesting cultural experience.

Michael: I'm glad to hear it's not controversial. Maybe you guys are ahead of Americans with the gay/lesbian thing. I just found out yesterday that our Secretary of Education had a hissy fit because a children's show on public television had a subtle mention of lesbians. The word gay/lesbian wasn't even mentioned. There was nothing remotely sexual. The host of the show simply went to a house that had two moms.

Isobel H said...

Eh Sceggs was still very safe. On the school uniforms- school underwear in the primary school ;)

Dina said...

Isobel H,

Hi! I'm so lost, because I wrote this post a long time ago. I'm trying to figure out what you're referring to....