Tribute to Robin Speed OAM
Founder of the Rule of Law Education Centre and the Rule of Law Institute of Australia
24 December 1943 – 5 February 2023
In 2009, the Rule of Law Institute of Australia was formed by Robin Speed and Malcolm Stewart to provide an organisation to publicly advocate upholding the rule of law in Australia.
Chris Merritt has written this Tribute to Robin Speed OAM as published in the Australian on Thursday 9th February 2023.
On Sunday evening, when Robin Speed finally succumbed after a long battle with cancer, this country lost one of its finest sons – a gentleman whose measured demeanour belied his ferocious defence of the rule of law.
Robin, who was my friend, understood the true nature of this doctrine: it is not rule by lawyers or, even more worrying, a requirement for blind obedience to government dictates. It is the opposite.
It is a set of ideas that moderates state power and enables free societies to guard against the rise of arbitrary rule. It is the real point of distinction between liberal democracy and autocracy.
This is the sort of thinking that informed his decision in 2009 to establish the organisations now known as the Rule of Law Institute and the Rule of Law Education Centre.
In 1976 he had co-founded his own law firm, Speed & Stracey, where he was chairman for 34 years and legal adviser to the Lowy family’s Australian interests.
David Lowy described him this week as a friend, close associate and mentor.
“You could rely on him in the trenches,” said Lowy who serves on the governing committee of the Rule of Law Education Centre.
“He always stood up for what he believed in. He was principled and always gave very wise and conservative counsel. He truly had his clients’ best interests at heart.
“He was passionate about the rule of law and not allowing it to be eroded. Whilst there are issues, Australia is a bastion of the rule of law and he wanted to keep it that way.
“He believed moves towards weakening the rule of law were unAustralian,” Lowy said.
Malcolm Stewart, who is senior-vice-president of both organisations, shares Lowy’s assessment:
“Robin created the Rule of Law Education Centre to help foster a greater understanding of the importance of the rule of law to all Australians,” said Stewart who is managing partner of Speed & Stracey.
“To him it was not just a phrase used by politicians, but an ideal that was vital to the correct functioning of our legal system and democracy.
“It had to be sustained by action including education, and opposing the arbitrary exercise of coercive powers by government agencies.
“Among many other things, Robin supported those whose reputations were ruined by ICAC and who were labelled corrupt, without a conviction or even being charged,” Stewart said.
Robin’s concern about the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption was due to the threat this agency represents to the core principles of the rule of law: the presumption of innocence, the privilege against self-incrimination and the right to a fair trial.
Nowhere was this threat more apparent than in its treatment of Murray Kear, a former NSW Emergency Services Commissioner who was declared corrupt by ICAC only to later prove his innocence in court.
Robin, who had never met Kear before, personally monitored his trial and wrote that the commission’s treatment of this man had been disgraceful and despicable.
The court found that ICAC had initiated the prosecution without reasonable cause and its investigation had been conducted in an unreasonable and improper manner.
Kear had been forced to resign before the court case and, after 28 years of public service, lost most of his superannuation. ICAC later claimed he had not been damaged by its public inquiry and he had not been exonerated – assertions Robin dismissed as nonsense.
Right from the beginning, the misuse of power was a recurring theme in the work of the institute. In 2010 it joined the Queensland Bar Association in complaining about proposed retrospective changes to the state Valuation Act. The state government backed down.
Ten years ago Robin called for legislative change after the Productivity Commission found only patchy compliance with the federal model litigant rules. Those rules, which are still unenforceable, require government agencies to uphold standards of fairness, honesty and integrity when they are involved in legal disputes.
In 2017, before the late Cardinal George Pell was charged – and eventually acquitted of sex abuse – Robin warned that “relying on memories from 30 to 40 years ago can make for a very, very weak case and a flimsy basis on which to proceed”.
In 2018 he was repulsed by the tendency of universities to establish ad hoc systems of punishment in which those accused of wrongdoing are stripped of safeguards that prevent injustice.
“Universities are totally under-equipped to be a policeman and carry out due process. When faced with a complaint of rape or other sexual assault a university should immediately refer the complaint to the police and take no action until due process is completed,” he wrote.
Robin, who was born in 1943, was a teenager when he arrived in this country from Britain and came to personify the migrant success story.
He won a government scholarship to Sydney University law school. He graduated third in his class with second class honours. He completed his masters degree, awarded with first class honours, when he was 24. At the time that made him the youngest person to gain a master of laws from Sydney University.
In 2019, he was awarded an Order of Australia Medal not only for services to the law, but for services to charities.
By defending the principles of the rule of law, Robin was defending the rights and freedoms that have underpinned this nation including freedom of speech, the presumption of innocence and the separation of powers.
He leaves a wife, Sue, four children – Matthew, Peter, Emily and Sally – and twelve grandchildren. A private funeral will be held on Monday.
Why was the Rule of Law Institute of Australia started?
The Australian Financial Review published the below article about the Rule of Law Institute in 2010 and stated “the rule of law emerged after the great constitutional battles in 17th Century England, but the war to entrench it is far from over.
The Rule of Law Institute was established to monitor government agencies and parliamentary bills and comment when the rule of law was being contravened. There has been no shortage of targets … everyday Australians are subject to more and more regulations by existing and newly formed regulators. Like it or not, regulators have become an important part of the legal system. To act in accordance with the rule of law a regulator must administer the law in a manner that is predictable, fair and where the regulator is indifferent to the outcome. If that doesn’t occur there will be a loss of confidence and respect for the regulator”
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Further Commentary by Robin Speed
Submission to the Committee on the National Anti-Corruption Commission Bill 2022 and the National Anti-Corruption Commission (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2022 October 2022
Is it time to update our gold standard democracy? 5 February 2022
Letter to Attorney General Regarding Model Litigant Rules 20 August 2021
The Legal Position of Covid Restrictions 5 August 2021
Against the Rule of Law to hold Separate Inquiry into AG 29 March 2021
The Role of the Attorney-General is not political or personal 15 March 2021
Submission to the Committee on the Independent Commission Against Corruption: Inquiry into Reputational Damage on an individual being adversely named in the ICAC’s Investigations July 2020
Why the Presumption of Innocence is good for us June 2020
Cardinal Pell and High Court 25 February 2020
Submission of the Rule of Law Instute of Australia Senate Standing Committees on Environment and Communications Inquiry into Press Freedom August 2019
Submission of the Rule of Law Institute of Australia Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee Inquiry into the Judiciary Amendment (Commonwealth Model Litigant Obligations) Bill 2017 February 2018
Independent National Security Legislation Monitor: Review of Prosecution and Sentencing of Children for Commonwealth Terrorist Offences May 2018
Independent National Security Legislation Monitor: Submission to INSLM Inquiry April 2017
Attorney-General’s Department: Submission Regarding Deferred Prosecution Agreements in Australia May 2017
Review of the Crimes (High Risk Offenders) Act 2006 (NSW): Review Report May 2017
Joint Committee of the ICAC, NSW: Inquire into Protections for People who make voluntary disclosures to the Independent Commission against corruption June 2017
Inspector’s Review of ICAC 23 September 2016
NSW consorting law review long overdue 27 May 2016
Submission on the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption 16 May 2016
Personal Attacks on NSW Bar Association President 27 April 2016
ICAC Falsely Accuses Murray Kear 18 March 2016
ICAC’s ongoing smear of innocent Kear shows the need for reform 5 August 2016
Commonwealth Inspector- General of Taxation: Review into the Taxpayer’s Charter and Taxpayer Protections January 2016
Treasury: Submission regarding the Exposure Draft of the Commissioner of Taxation’s planned Remedial Power January 2016
Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet: Submission regarding the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013 (Cth): Report on Proceedings Before Committee on the ICAC May 2016
review of the Inspector’s report to the Premier, The Inspectors Review of the ICAC
12 April 2016: Select Committee on the Establishment of a National Integrity Commission
10 June 2016: Review of the Inspector’s Report to the Premier: The Inspector’s Review of the ICAC
8 September 2016: Public Hearing for the Report on Proceedings before the Committee on the ICAC: Review of the Inspector’s report to the Premier: the Inspector’s review of the ICAC
Standing in Court 4 December 2015
Clash Brewing between the High Court and Parliament on Presumption of Innocence 11 September 2015
RoLIA welcomes Red Tape Repeal Initiative 28 March 2014
RoLIA welcomes Rule of Law Audit 12 December 2013
High Court finds against wide questioning powers given to Australian Crime Commission 22 August 2013