The Case for Value Judgements

Friday 18 March, 2011

Sydney barrister and councillor on Randwick Council Anthony Bowen told residents that whatever career they were to choose, they would necessarily be called on to make “value judgements” in their professional lives. Speaking at formal dinner on Wednesday, March 16, Mr Bowen said his own profession, the law, had a moral basis and the personal value systems of both lawyers and the judiciary could have a very real impact.

He said it was ironic that, while many atheists would argue that there is no ultimate morality, they nevertheless spent much of their time seeking to redress what they considered as injustice in the world.

“The whole thing of making moral decisions is such a big part of our life,” he said. “I have found in local politics and in the practice of the law that there are times in life when you find yourself at a fork in the road and there is not much to form your decision on.”

Mr Bowen is the son of former deputy prime minister Lionel Bowen, a former student of UNSW and is now based at Edmund Barton Chambers. He has advised and appeared on a wide range of matters in the Local, District and Supreme Courts of NSW. He has appeared as Junior Counsel in the NSW Court of Appeal, the ACT Supreme Court and the High Court of Australia.

His areas of practice include public liability, insurance, professional negligence, property damage, CTP Claims and CARS assessments, insurance fraud, commercial law, equity and construction.

Sharing his personal experiences with residents, he pointed out that trust plays a key role in a society like Australia’s: “Without trust, no person could sign a contract or make a will with any sense of certainty,” he said.

“Society would not function if there was not some kind of trust that if someone promises something under a contract you can hold them to it. If a contract is broken we expect that society will share our outrage and support us in having that default fixed.”

Mr Bowen noted that the law is not a science and that the attitudes and values of judges can have a big impact on how the law is applied and developed. But he said personal values had an impact beyond the legal system as well.

“There will be a time in life when you will have to fall back on your own resources,” he said. “Your own conscience will be the only thing to help you through – your sense of what is the right thing to do.”

Although residents would have to make important decisions in their professional lives, Mr Bowen encouraged them not to be afraid of failure, but to be ready to learn from their mistakes.

“You can’t hope to succeed in everything you do,” he said. “Failure is as much part of life as success. In failure there is much that can be learnt by way of experience. You learn very little from success, but failure is a great teacher.

“Your attitude should be that success gives you confidence to get through your next failure,” he said.

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