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The AALA established the William Ah Ket Scholarship in 2017 to foster the development and promotion of cultural diversity in the legal profession. 


Last year, K Abraham Thomas won the first Scholarship for his paper ‘Affirmative Action in Piercing the Bamboo Ceiling within the Australian Legal Profession’. His paper has been published and available to read through this link: https://griffithlawjournal.org/index.php/gjlhd/article/view/1088


The William Ah Ket Scholarship is an annual prize open to eligible final year law students, law graduates and lawyers admitted to practice in Australia and with up to five years post admission experience.


This year, Maddocks have generously increased the prize to $6,000 to be awarded to the winning author, and $1,000 each for the authors of two shortlisted papers.


The scholarship is named after William Ah Ket, the son of Chinese migrants who was admitted to practice in Victoria in 1903. William completed his articled clerkship at Maddock & Jamieson (now Maddocks) before signing the Victorian Bar roll in 1904. He practised as a barrister until his death in 1936.


William is believed to be the first person of Chinese background to practise as a barrister in Australia.


The William Ah Ket Scholarship has been devised by the Asian Australian Lawyers Association and is proudly sponsored by Maddocks. 


‘William Ah Ket did not ever sit on the Bench, though he would have been a very competent judge. He was a phenomenon at the Victorian Bar, a full-blooded Chinese born in the north-east of Victoria. He was a sound lawyer and a good advocate.’ – Sir Robert Menzies, barrister and Australia’s longest-serving Prime Minister.


The story of William Ah Ket is a significant one in the history of the Australian legal profession.


William was born in the Victorian country town of Wangaratta in 1876, the son of Mah Ket, who arrived from Canton during the gold rush, and his wife Hing Ung.


Fulfilling his father’s wishes, William studied law at the University of Melbourne. While there he won a prize of 40 pounds from the Supreme Court in 1902. He served his articles under Richard Cross of the firm then known as Maddock & Jamieson (now Maddocks) in 1903. 


He joined the Victorian Bar in 1904, reading with Stewart McArthur – who later went on to be a Supreme Court judge – and became the first Chinese barrister to practise in Melbourne. He is also believed to be the first Chinese barrister to practise in Australia.


William was well regarded as a barrister. He specialised in civil law and acquired a considerable reputation as a negotiator of settlements.


A report in the Victorian Bar News of Winter 1984 records that he enjoyed “an excellent general practice” and “was recognised as an able cross-examiner with a superb command of language”.


However, as Sir Robert Menzies, who was a friend and practised with Mr Ah Ket in Selbourne Chambers, observed “[a] certain prejudice among clients against having a Chinese barrister to an extent limited his practice”.


Despite this, between 1905 and 1928, he appeared before the High Court on at least 12 occasions. This included a number of cases, Bishop v Chung Brothers, Potter v Minahan and Ingham v Hie Lee, that involved challenges to legislation that discriminated against those of Chinese origin. Indeed, as his daughter Toylaan noted in a paper on her father, this was an issue that he was passionate about, having been involved in forming a committee to agitate against the Immigration Restriction Act 1901 and the unreasonable conditions imposed, such as the infamous dictation test.


William was a member of the Chinese Empire Reform Association of 1904 and the Anti-Opium League of Victoria, organisations which supported modernisation and social reform among Chinese at home and abroad. He was also a delegate to the first interstate Chinese convention held at Melbourne in 1905 and was co-founder and president of the Sino-Australian Association, considered to be the first Australian-Chinese club.


He visited China in 1912-13 as the delegate of the Victorian Chinese Chamber of Commerce to participate in the election of overseas Chinese to the new parliament of the Republic. He was also the acting consul-general for China in 1913-14 and in 1917.


William died on 6 August 1936. 




The William Ah Ket Scholarship is an annual scholarship of $6,000 to be awarded to the applicant who produces the most outstanding research paper on a topic dealing with equality, diversity and the legal profession or law. There is also a prize of $1,000 each for the authors of two shortlisted papers.


An initiative of the Asian Australian Lawyers Association and sponsored by law firm Maddocks, the scholarship is designed to recognise the historical contribution of William Ah Ket to the legal profession as the first Asian Australian barrister in Australia.


The William Ah Ket scholarship is aimed at lawyers with no more than five years post admission experience, law graduates currently undertaking a legal professional practice course or a legal traineeship, and final year law students who have had not less than 4 weeks’ legal work experience.


To apply for the William Ah Ket scholarship, applicants will need to submit an unpublished paper of no more than 5,000 words (including footnotes, appendices and tables) on a topic dealing with equality, diversity and the legal profession or law, by 20 July 2018.


In 2018, the judging panel for the William Ah Ket Scholarship will be:


1.     The Honourable Justice Margaret Joan Beazley AO, President of the Court of Appeal, New South Wales

2.     His Honour Judge Joshua Wilson, Federal Circuit Court of Australia

3.     Professor George Williams AO, Dean of UNSW Law

4.     Mr Patrick Ibbotson, Partner and Chairman of Maddocks


Applicants must submit an Expression of Interest by 1 June 2018 and submit an Application Form and original unpublished paper by 20 July 2018.


The award ceremony will be held on 20 September 2018. To register, please click here.


For more information, please email us at scholarship@aala.org.au  


Kind regards,

Asian Australian Lawyers Association

Copyright 2015 Asian Australian Lawyers Association Inc.

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