Possessing a deep passion for generating public debate around timely and relevant legal topics, the Honourable Justice François Kunc is set to take The Australian Law Journal (ALJ) in an exciting direction as its new General Editor.
His Honour succeeds the Honourable Acting Justice Peter Young AO, who retires as the longest-serving General Editor of the ALJ after 24 years.
In this interview, his Honour speaks about what motivated him to take on the role, and his vision for ensuring the ALJ remains one of the most cited law journals in Australia.
Q: What was your first experience with Thomson Reuters and the Australian Law Journal?
A: My first experience with the ALJ dates back pre-Reuters to the Lawbook Company, when I was a law clerk working for a little two-man firm of solicitors in the late 1970s. They took me into the library, said we’re a small firm and these are all we need to stay up to date with the law – the Australian Law Journal, the New South Wales Law Reports and the Australian Digest. So for me, the ALJ has always been there as a foundational journal for the legal profession in Australia.
Q: What led you to start working with Thomson Reuters as editor for the Australian Law Journal?
A: I appeared before the ALJ’s former editor Justice Peter Young AO as a barrister, and worked closely with him once appointed to the Supreme Court of New South Wales in April 2013, in the Equity Division.
He approached me out of the blue and asked if I wanted to work on the ALJ. He had reached his late 70s and had indicated to me that he was thinking of retiring. After achieving the ambition of being the ALJ’s longest-serving General Editor, he thought it was about time to give it away. I didn’t have to think too long before saying yes, because it seemed like a wonderful challenge and opportunity.
Shortly afterwards, I entered into an arrangement where I shadowed Justice Young for about a year. We discussed the possibility of me coming on board as an assistant editor, but decided that it would be better for me to simply appear fully formed as the general editor. So for the last year, I’ve been completely involved in the background and in the editorial decision-making of the journal.
Q: What plans do you have as the new General Editor for ALJ? What is your vision for the journal and idea of success?
A: Moving forward, I believe the journal needs to do three core things: embody thoughtful conversation about the law and legal practice in Australia, be the journal of record as a matter of history, and generate public debate.
Unlike many academic journals, the ALJ does not publish only academic articles, but equally values work by practitioners and judges, who all bring a different perspective. I intend to be very mindful of those different constituencies and ensure they are represented.
As an example, in June we will be publishing a special issue where we have invited the leaders of our constituencies to contribute articles about what they see as the future of their professions. We’ll have think pieces from the Head of the Australian Bar Association, the Law Council, the Chief Justice of Australia, the President of the Law Student Association and the President of the Council of Law Deans.
Also, there are about 36 law schools in Australia and each are publishing their own law journals. Not to forget the law society of each State, plus all of the bar associations publishing their own journals as well. The ALJ is not trying to service those markets – its niche is that it’s national, long-standing and at the centre of the spokes of the wheel that make up the legal profession.
Collaboratively, I envision the ALJ could host an annual conference in partnership with a law school or institution on a topic of interest, which would in turn produce a special issue. For instance, we could explore the current state of constitutional law or contract law in Australia. Overall, I believe we will succeed with the ALJ if we have a wide breadth of high-quality contributions and can attract thoughtful contributions from all of our constituents.
Q: Is there a special message that you hope to deliver to the legal profession or the community as a whole through the Australian Law Journal?
A: More and more, I think the law is so pervasive that we are constantly coming up with public policy issues where lawyers can contribute. For instance, in our most recent issue we are publishing an article on Sharia law and terrorism, written by two Irish academics seeking to demonstrate that Sharia law does not authorise terrorism.
Now, you might think why would an Australian journal publish that, but the answer is we publish it because it has to do with law. It is also about public policy and it informs public debate.
We also encourage feedback, both positive and negative. And if we generate a little controversy now and again, well, it lets people know that you’re alive and thinking.
Q: Do you have some ideas for how you will ensure that the ALJ stays relevant to the legal community?
A: To add further diversity to the editorial mix, I’ve brought in banking and finance partner and head at Norton Rose Fulbright, Dr Nuncio D’Angelo, as one of the ALJ’s new assistant editors.
He ticks two very important boxes for us. He is one of the most eminent banking and finance law practitioners in the country, and he also has a foot in the academic camp. I think that it’s very important that the general skill set of the ALJ editors reflect, as far as possible, the spectrum of constituencies of the journal.
A shake-up of the journal’s special columns is also on the agenda. I will introduce a new column called “From the law schools” that will appear two to three times a year. This column will be written by the renowned and now retired ANU law dean, Professor Michael Coper.
It will focus on what’s happening in the law schools, issues of pedagogy, subject matter, teaching styles, qualification requirements – all of the things which I think we need to have as part of our national legal conversation.
On top of this, the ALJ will also have special issues devoted to particular topics, including an upcoming edition focusing on Indigenous issues and the law. I’ve commissioned a very senior Indigenous academic to be the guest editor for that issue, who is already putting together a team of authors to write on topics across the board that affect the Indigenous community.
It’s not just going to be about land rights or recognition, but also about issues such as copyright, equity, fiduciary duties in terms of government and other authorities, as well as the completely unacceptable level of incarceration and what the law and legal policy can do about that.
Q: Have there been any memorable moments associated with the ALJ throughout your career?
A: When I became a solicitor at Allen Allen and Hemsley, I was encouraged by one of my employers at the time to write the odd case note for the ALJ.
I even recall receiving the personally typed acknowledgement on yellow paper from J G Starke QC, who was the then General Editor of the ALJ. After that, I always had the ALJ as part of the armoury in my library, and also during my barrister days.
Justice Kunc commenced his role as the journal’s eighth General Editor with the May 2016 issue, Volume 90 Part 5. To date, the ALJ has had seven editors, all of them distinguished lawyers, six of whom held judicial office.