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Kevin Bell AM QC

The Hon

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Personal profile

Biography

Professor the Honourable Kevin Bell AM QC is Director of the Castan Centre for Human Rights Law and Professor of Practice.

Professor Bell was a leading human rights jurist and senior advocate committed to human rights, equality and access to justice.  In 2017, he received the award of Member of the Order of Australia for his 'significant service to the law and to the judiciary, to native title and human rights, and the community.' He holds a Bachelor of Arts and Law (Hons) from Monash University and a Master of Studies in International Human Rights Law from Oxford University.

Until March 2020, Professor Bell was a Justice of the Supreme Court of Victoria for 15 years, from that position playing a pivotal role in the implementation and operation of the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 within the Victorian legal system, among other things. He chaired the committee overseeing the report that led to the introduction of the court's judicial mediation program.

After retiring from the court, Professor Bell took up his academic position at Monash Law, using his extensive professional experience and strong reputation for excellence in judicial scholarship to promote and develop international human rights law and human rights education through Monash Law and the Castan Centre.

Professor Bell's career has focussed on realising human rights on the ground in many areas and in many different capacities.  As a judge, he has made a distinguished and enduring contribution to the foundational jurisprudence of the Charter, writing many leading judgments that expound first principles on how human rights should influence legislation-making and regulate the work of government and public authorities, and how the guaranteed rights should be applied to protect individuals from unjustified human rights violation.  He is particularly known for his work in upholding the human rights of persons with mental disability (eg Patrick's Case and PBU and NJE), children (eg Sanding), SL and SE), persons detained in hospital without their consent seeking habeas corpus (Antunovic), unrepresented litigants (eg Tomasevic and Matsoukatidou ), migrants with poor English (eg Natale), women subjected to gender based violence or homicide (eg Turner and Paulino), and the homeless, among others.   He has written leading judgments on how working-with-children legislation can be administered in a balanced way that respects the many human rights engaged on both sides (eg ZZ and PQR (No2)).   

His Honour's judgments address a range of human rights, including equal access to justice specifically, equality and discrimination generally, work, freedom of opinion and expression and open justice (including the FOE rights of lawyers and human rights defenders (eg PQR (No 1) and McDonald), a fair trial, liberty and security, privacy and home, housing and health, personal autonomy and self-determination, as well as the human rights of vulnerable persons and groups, including Indigenous and older persons and women.

The impact of his Honour's judgments on human rights is very evident.   They are regularly cited and relied upon by courts and tribunals at all levels in Victoria, Australia and sometimes internationally.   They are extensively discussed in the human rights scholarship and used by government lawyers when giving advice about the human rights implications of proposed legislation and government decision-making generally.  They are frequently cited as sources of human rights law and principle in pre-legislative Statements of Compatibility.  They are used by both NGO's and governments in making submissions to United Nations Charter and treaty bodies. They are also used to demonstrate how effective legislative human rights can be to protect the fundamental rights of persons, for example in the enactment of the Queensland Human Rights Act 2019 and the discussion paper of the Australian Human Rights Commission promoting the enactment of a federal charter.  Judgments of his Honour have led to the Supreme Court adopting a special protocol for criminal hearings involving children in custody and to the Mental Health Tribunal adopting a special guideline for ECT hearings and orders.

During his time on the Supreme Court of Victoria, Justice Bell also served as President of the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) (2008 – 2010). During his Presidency, his Honour undertook a comprehensive review of the tribunal and led VCAT in implementing the Charter in its adjudicative work as well as its administration.  His Honour wrote several foundational judgments on the Charter in this capacity, including Kracke (the human rights of people living with mental illness), Sudi (housing and home (reversed on other grounds)), XYZ (freedom of information and freedom of opinion and expression),  Metro West  (human rights obligations of private providers of social services) and Lifestyle Communities (equality).

Prior to his judicial appointment, Professor Bell practised as a barrister at the Victorian Bar for 20 years, eight years of which he served as Queen's Counsel. During his time at the bar, he worked on leading native title cases, as well as many leading human rights, administrative law, constitutional law and industrial law cases.  From 1982-89 he was a member of the Small Claims Tribunal and the Residential Tenancies Tribunal. From 1978-79, Professor Bell was a part-time tutor in administrative law at Monash Law,

Professor Bell's early career was dedicated to the community legal sector, in further support of human rights and access to justice for all. In the late 1970s, he co-led the project to establish the innovative self-funding 'poverty law practice' that became the Western Region Community Legal Centre.  From 1982-85 (when a Lecturer in Legal Studies at La Trobe University), he served as Director of the West Heidelberg Community Legal Centre and it's clinical legal education program. He co-established the Victorian and National Federation of Community Legal Centres.  Prior to this, he worked as a solicitor for several community legal centres, including the Tenants Union Legal Service (he was its first paid lawyer) and the Western Region Community Legal Centre.  Professor Bell was a leader of the Community Campaign for Tenancy Law Reform, which resulted in the enactment of the Residential Tenancies Act 1980 in Victoria.  

Professor Bell was an elected councillor for the City of Essendon for five years in the 1980s. During that period, he was the Chairperson of the Council's Human Services Committee, and personally led the establishment of the Essendon Community Health Centre and the Essendon Community Legal Centre.

In 2012, Professor Bell gave the Monash University Costello Lecture on the subject of 'Protecting Public Housing Tenants in Australia from forced eviction: the fundamental importance of the human right to adequate housing and home' which reflected his lifetime interest in this area, for he grew up in social housing himself.

Farewell Ceremony for the Hon Justice Bell, 12 March 2020 Video

Farewell Ceremony for the Hon Justice Bell, 12 March 2020 Transcript

External positions

President, Forensic Leave Panel

20152020

President, Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal

20082010

Justice, Supreme Court of Victoria

20052020

Queens Counsel

1997 → …

Member, Residential Tenancies Tribunal

19821989

Member, Small Claims Tribunal

19821989

Research area keywords

  • International Human Rights
  • Human Rights
  • Better Governance & Policy
  • Freedom of Expression
  • Mental Health
  • Right to Health
  • Sustainable Development Goals
  • Freedom of Opinion
  • Right to Housing
  • Equality and Discrimination
  • Rights of Older Persons
  • Bills of Rights
  • Fair Trial
  • Access to Justice