Staff Snapshot #2: Dr Jeffrey Barnes

Welcome to the second staff snapshot for 2015. Each month we will interview a La Trobe Law School academic about their research interests and career trajectories. Today’s post features Jeffrey Barnes, Senior Lecturer, who teaches, researches and writes about statutory interpretation and administrative law.

What are your research interests?

My interests revolve mainly around three broad matters. First, aspects of legislation, principally legislative drafting, statutory interpretation, and the legislative process more broadly. Second, administrative law, especially its intersections with those aspects of legislation I have just mentioned. And third, legal education, especially teaching the substantive matters referred to.

What was your career pathway prior to joining the La Trobe Law School?

My career pathway spanned two main periods. After graduating from the University of New South Wales, the first period was legal practice. In that period, which occupied several years, I took on a variety of roles mainly as a public lawyer. In chronological order, it was: Legislative Drafter with the Parliamentary Counsel’s Office of New South Wales; Associate to Justice Michael Kirby, Chairman of the Australian Law Reform Commission; Law Reform Officer, Australian Law Reform Commission (part-time); solicitor, Stephen Jaques Stone James (now Mallesons); and Project Officer and Acting Director of Research, Administrative Review Council. For much of this period I also worked part-time as a Law Reporter for the Australian Law Reports. Towards the end of this period I undertook a Master’s Degree in Public Law at the Australian National University.

The second period has mainly involved undertaking a number of academic positions. My first posting was as a Visiting Fellow, University of New South Wales. From there I went to the Faculty of Law, Monash University as a Senior Tutor. My next stop was the School of Law at La Trobe where was I appointed a continuing (tenured) lecturer in 1994. I was promoted in 1999. I completed a PhD in 2013 under the supervision of Professor Roger Douglas. For eight years during this period, I was a Sessional Lecturer in the graduate program at the Australian National University. In this period I have been fortunate to be able to take up other positions including legal practice (Member, Social Security Appeals Tribunal (part-time)), consultancies (Australian Capital Territory Parliamentary Counsel’s Office; Office of Parliamentary Counsel (Cth)), and academic-related work (Co-Editor, Legal Education Review; consultancy for the Council of Australian Law Deans in the area of statutory interpretation).

What has been your most memorable experience teaching at La Trobe Law School?

That is a very hard question to answer. I would say it was the reception I received from the students in the elective Advanced Statutory Interpretation at the end of the first offering in 2009. To my great surprise I was presented with a bouquet of flowers, a card signed by each student in the class, and a Waterman pen inscribed with the subject code. That does not happen every day, and will probably never be repeated!

La Trobe Bachelor of Laws is significant in that it offers students a subject entirely devoted to statutory interpretation. How do you see this subject benefiting La Trobe graduates?

Thank you for this Dorothy Dixer! I think statutory interpretation benefits students in two main ways. The first is that students gain an opportunity to learn statutory interpretation systematically and in depth. It equips them to interpret and apply legislation in their later subjects, most of which involve legislation to a greater or lesser extent. And if their learning is consolidated in later subjects, it will enable them to practise competently in any area of statute law. The other way the subject helps students is that it gives students a marketing edge when they graduate. However, I do not wish to sound triumphalist. I think there is more work to be done in this area at La Trobe Law School.

In recent years there has been a move to draft more legislation in plain English. Do you see this as positive change in the Australian legal landscape?

As many students know I did my PhD in this area, so it is a large question! I think the plain English movement has brought forth many benefits but also at the same time has created certain problems for the legal system. Its benefits include increased readability and comprehension of legislation for experts and for lay persons. However, the goals set by many plain English advocates have not been achieved, for it has not proved to be a panacea. It also appears to give many lay persons the idea that legislation is ‘clear’ when in fact they do not understand it.

Marc Trabsky