Hon Barry O'Keefe discusses Catholic faith in legal context at Notre Dame

Document Type

Media Release

Publication Date

Spring 19-11-2012

Publisher Name

The University of Notre Dame Australia

Publication Place



The University of Notre Dame Australia has welcomed staff, students and friends of the University to a lecture on the topic "Catholic Faith in the Legal Professional Context," which was delivered by keynote speaker, the Honourable Barry O'Keefe AM QC.

Mr O'Keefe is a highly accomplished barrister, arbitrator and former judge. He was admitted to the New South Wales Bar in 1957, appointed a Queen's Counsel in 1974 and became Chief Judge of the Commercial Division of the Supreme Court of New South Wales in 1993. Mr O'Keefe has been President of the National Trust since 1991, Chairman of Interpol's International Group of Experts on Corruption and Chairman of the International Anticorruption Conference. He was the Commissioner of the Independent Commission Against Corruption from 1994 to 1999, President of the NSW Bar Association, President of the Local Government Association of New South Wales and the longest serving Mayor of Mosman. Mr O'Keefe retired from the Supreme Court in March 2004 and joined Clayton Utz as a Consultant, where he specialises in commercial and construction law and probity matters.

Mr O'Keefe was invited to address the Notre Dame community by the Centre for Faith Ethics and Society, the Notre Dame School of Law Sydney and the Saint Thomas More Society to discuss the way in which his Catholic faith shaped his conduct as a legal practitioner.

"My proposition is that being Catholic and having had a Catholic education makes it easier to be a good lawyer than if it were not the case," Mr O'Keefe said.

He discussed the way in which Catholic principles provided both a solid grounding in the ethical framework of secular law.

"In general, the principles underlying the Catholic faith are consistent with the rules and practices applicable to solicitors and barristers. The framework of Catholic principles and the secular practices that are derived from them have been like a beacon for me; they have illuminated the dark spots, lit up the voids left by the rules of the bar and solicitors' rules and they give a proper purpose to compliance," Mr O'Keefe said.

Mr O'Keefe argued that the ability of the legal practitioner to abide by secular laws should be virtually instinctive to the individual educated in Catholicism because natural law and the rules that govern the conduct of barristers and solicitors are derived from the biblical 10 Commandments. Mr O'Keefe said one's moral compass is the most effective means of ensuring one is compliant with the rule of law. This decision to self-regulate according to deeply held ethical standards also renders the legal practitioner in good stead with his colleagues, who come to know the individual as an upstanding member of the community who can be trusted and respected in private and public matters.

In his address, Mr O'Keefe also discussed the potential pitfalls of the legal profession and offered advice to Catholic men and women practising law.

"Being a legal practitioner confers certain powers on the practitioner," he said.

"Power can be seductive. Anyone who's exercised it, particularly if they've exercised it for a long time, has to be very careful about its exercise. You can become sloppy about it, you can become authoritarian about it.

"Power is not only seductive, it's also an illusion if the person exercising that power comes to see himself or herself as the source of that power. There can be no power without a corresponding sense of responsibility, both in the way in which it is exercised and the consequences of its exercise," Mr O'Keefe said.

"Because of our background, education and traditions, we as Catholic practitioners have a responsibility to give example to those who are about us. We are sons and daughters of light. We are sons and daughters of truth. We should be proud of it. It should make a difference in our lives and that difference should show. And in doing so, causing it to show, we should give example to others to follow in like manner. The burden is heavy, but I know from more than 50 years in practice, the rewards are sweet."

For further information please contact: Communications Officer, Elizabeth Fenech The University of Notre Dame Australia, Sydney Campus

T: 02 8204 4407

E: elizabeth.fenech@nd.edu.au

W: www.nd.edu.au/