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New breed of feminist lawyer - does ideology trump impartial justice?

By Bettina Arndt - posted Thursday, 29 February 2024

It was a riveting moment. Here was Tasha Smithies, lawyer for Channel 10, appearing as a witness in the Bruce Lehrmann's defamation action. This is the lawyer who advised television celebrity Lisa Wilkinson to go ahead with the disastrous Logie Speech praising Brittany Higgins for her "unwavering courage", which ended up delaying the criminal trial for four months.

It was advice that clearly left Justice Michael Lee unimpressed. "It is inconceivable to me that any legally qualified person could have given [such] advice," he told the court, describing the advice as "inadvisable and inappropriate' and suggesting this was something that "someone who did a first-year criminal law course" should have known.

So, what was it that inspired this bizarre action from Smithies, the senior litigation counsel for one of Australia's largest media organisations? She told the court that she greenlit the speech because she felt it was important for Wilkinson to show she was not "wavering" in her support for Ms Higgins. "It was my view that from the time after the broadcast of the story, Ms Wilkinson was inextricably intertwined with Ms Higgins," she said.


Even when she was grilled about the damage caused by that advice, she was unapologetic. "I am not professionally or personally embarrassed by the advice I gave Ms Wilkinson," she said.

It was astonishing watching this woman, eyes shining as she proudly proclaimed that it was more important to support the celebrity journalist in her believe-the-victim crusade than to give appropriate, lawyerly advice which would not prejudice the fair trial of an accused person.

Bruce Lehrmann has made a complaint to NSW Legal Services Commissioner, stating that Ms Smithies has "displayed legal conduct that is wholly inadequate, deceptive, unacceptable and that breaches her obligations as an officer of the court to uphold the fundamental principles of the rule of law." Read his complaint here.

Tasha Smithies appears to be one of a new breed of female lawyers. Women who make no effort to disguise their feminist goals, from blatantly discriminating against men in the workplace, to flagrantly ignoring important principles in our criminal justice. Women who demonstrate that their duty to the law can be compromised by their feminist ideology.

Thank goodness they are a small minority. But with women comprising the bulk of law graduates for the last thirty years, there's been a huge wave of female lawyers flooding into every sector of the legal system. Many are excellent, extremely competent and appropriately focussed simply on doing their job in the best possible way. But examples keep popping up of feminist lawyers exploiting the legal system with all sorts of antics which show where their real commitment lies. These are just the ones we hear about – heaven only knows what chaos such women are creating behind the scenes.

Remember Annette Kimmitt, CEO of Australia's largest law firm Minter Ellison, who was fired after sending out an email out to staff saying she felt "triggered" by the company's decision to act for then Attorney-General Christian Porter after he was subject to a historic rape allegation?


Kimmitt emailed 2500 staff expressing her displeasure that a senior partner was acting for Porter. In her email, Kimmitt said the matter "has certainly triggered hurt for me. I know that for many of you it may be a tough day and I want to apologise for the pain you may be experiencing". She claimed the decision to act for Porter should have been considered "through the lens of our Purposes and Values."

Kimmitt apparently had substantial support from young members of the firm, who obviously also support these "Values"; values which happily ditch the principles that everyone is entitled to a presumption of innocence and legal representation.

Then there was Emma Covacevich, Clayton Utz's first female chief executive partner, who announced when first appointed that she had firm views about how to achieve gender parity: "It's about more women coming in and more men going out," she explained.

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Bettina Arndt is a social commentator.

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