Judging for the people: A Social History of the Victorian Supreme Court 1841–2016
Simon Smith (ed); RHSV/Allen & Unwin, 2016; $60 (hardcover)
In 2014, when Helen Garner published her account of the trial of Robert Farquharson for the murder of his three young sons in a Winchelsea dam, she dedicated her book to the Victorian Supreme Court, ‘this treasury of pain, this house of power and grief’.
Reading this history of the Victorian Supreme Court, auspiced by the Royal Historical Society of Victoria and edited by Simon Smith to mark the Court’s 175th anniversary, it is easy to see why.
A social history of the Court is, in a sense, a condensed history of Victoria itself, filtered through the lens of an institution built to accommodate and resolve its most intense political and social conflicts. These range from wills and gold rush crimes to Victoria’s own version of Dickens’ Jarndyce v Jarndyce, the fifty-year long battle over the construction contract for the Geelong-Ballarat railway (p 115), to the trials of Ned Kelly and Ronald Ryan.