The Government Law Award

The ACT Law Society’s Government Law Award is an annual award that recognises the outstanding achievements of practitioners working in government. The Award seeks to raise awareness of the activities of government law practitioners, and encourages government law practitioners to remain active participants in the legal profession in activities beyond their core employment duties.


Nominees are judged based on their achievement in one or more of the following areas:

  • as a government lawyer, responsibility for significant legal projects, litigation, drafting, or other work deserving of recognition
  • providing education and developing awareness of legal issues in a Department or Agency
  • providing leadership and innovation resulting in improved performance of a Department or Agency
  • contribution to the community beyond their legal position, including pro bono work or legal support to community organisations or not-for-profits, or to the ACT Law Society.

The Government Law Award

The President of the ACT Law Society, Martin Hockridge, and Chair of the Government Law Committee, Peter Cain, awarded the inaugural Government Law Award to Mr John Henry at the Society’s Annual Dinner on Friday 28 August. 

John is currently employed as Special Counsel – Litigation at the ACT Government Solicitor. He has been involved in some of the biggest litigation the Territory has faced, and consistently achieves excellent results for the ACT in extremely complex legal matters.

He regularly shares his extensive knowledge with his colleagues, providing presentations and training on such topics as recent case law, amendments to Court procedure and practice, and statutory amendments. He has also been instrumental in assisting the younger solicitors in the office develop their knowledge of the law, giving freely of his time to supervise and mentor them.

In 2013, John was recognised in the ACT Public Service Awards for Excellence as part of the team at the ACT Government Solicitor's office.

John is a member of the ACT Law Society’s Civil Litigation Committee, contributing to submissions and proposals in respect of changes to ACT law, and discussing issues in legal procedure and practice. He also volunteers with the Legal Advice Bureau, providing free initial legal advice to members of the public.

The ACT Law Society commends John for his leadership, his extensive legal knowledge, and his valuable contributions to the legal profession.

The Vice President of the ACT Law Society, Sarah Avery, and Chair of the Government Law Committee, Peter Cain, awarded the 2016 Government Law Award to Elizabeth Carroll at the Society’s Annual Dinner on Friday 26 August. 

Elizabeth Carroll is Chief Legal Counsel at IP Australia. She has also led the legal teams of two other Commonwealth agencies, serving as General Counsel and Executive Director of Legal and Compliance at the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority, and Principal Lawyer at the Murray-Darling Basin Authority.

She was appointed by the Attorney-General to the Australian Government Legal Network (AGLN) Board in 2012, and has been the Chair since 2015. She instigated the innovative Legal Circles Programme, a cross-agency mentoring program for Commonwealth lawyers. Approximately 40 lawyers took part in the first round, and participants reported significant benefits to being involved, thanks to the support and professional expertise of a senior practitioner mentor. The program had its second intake in 2015 and will accept a third this year.

She has been an active member and Board Sponsor of the AGLN’s Professional Development Committee, including contributing to the Government Lawyers’ Education Seminar Series, which was launched by the Solicitor-General in March this year.

She led the development of the AGLN’s response to the Attorney-General’s Department’s Review of Legal Services, focusing on enhancing coordination between government legal teams and increasing professional development opportunities.

The Law Society commends Elizabeth for her leadership, her mentoring innovations, and her valuable contributions to the legal profession.

The President of the ACT Law Society, Sarah Avery, and Chair of the Government Law Committee, Peter Cain, awarded the 2017 Government Law Award to Chris Behrens. 

Chris Behrens is a Senior Executive Lawyer working for the Australian Government Solicitor (AGS) as a commercial litigation specialist. He has almost 30 years post admission experience.

Chris leads AGS Dispute Resolution’s Civil Claims team, comprising approximately 50 lawyers dispersed nationally in AGS offices in Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth, Sydney and Canberra. In the last two years, he has overseen growth of about 40 per cent in the volume of the team’s work, with commensurate growth in the complexity and diversity of matters.

Chris’s skills as a leader, manager, supervisor, mentor and capacity builder mean he has been able to attract, develop, and retain excellent staff.

He has been responsible for several significant legal projects, including in the last two years, representing the Commonwealth in the landmark Federal Court class action brought by residents of Williamtown about PFAS firefighting foams contamination, tenancy agreements over land at the site of the proposed Second Sydney Airport, and claims arising from the early closure of the Home Insulation Program.

He delivers internal training to AGS lawyers on commercial litigation topics, including a very well-received seminar on Contract Termination. He is well-regarded in the department as a supervisor and mentor, and is always willing to share his expertise, and to guide junior lawyers, helping them find solutions and develop their knowledge, skills, and confidence.

Chris was a founding member of the Law Society’s Government Law Committee, serving as its inaugural chair from 2009 to 2013.

Chris has had a long association with the Canberra Southern Cross Club, a not for profit organisation with over 83,000 members that has contributed over $14 million to the Canberra community over the last decade. He is the Vice President of the Club as well as the chair of its Risk and Audit Committee, and has been a director of the Club for the last ten years.

According to his colleagues, Chris is also a talented musician and valued member of choral groups, not least of which is the AGS Dispute Resolution Christmas choir.

The President of the ACT Law Society, Chris Donohue, and Chair of the Government Law Committee, Peter Cain, awarded the 2019 Government Law Award to Michael Deasey.

Michael Deasey is Special Counsel at the ACT Government Solicitor’s Office (ACTGS), managing the property and commercial section of the office. Since joining the ACTGS in 2005, he has worked on a range of complex legal matters, often associated with a high level of public interest or political sensitivity.

He was the lawyer in charge of advising the Territory on the property aspects of the Mr Fluffy legacy, developing of an equitable response to affected homeowners that was both community-focussed and compassionate.

He has advised on many major construction projects for the Territory, including the University of Canberra Public Hospital, the Majura Parkway, and on most of the projects developed under the ACT Health Infrastructure Plan.

Michael has served 26 years on the Law Society’s Professional Conduct Committee (formerly the Complaints Committee), and also volunteers with the Society’s Legal Advice Bureau, giving free short legal consultations to members of the public. He also volunteers at the Canberra City Uniting Church Early Morning Centre, helping to serve breakfast to Canberra’s homeless once a week before work for the past five years.

Michael’s knowledge and practical and legal experience are an invaluable resource for his colleagues and the ACTGS office as a whole. His willingness to assist despite his own heavy workload, are recognised and appreciated by staff and clients at all levels.

He is an outstanding solicitor and role model, an invaluable and integral part of ACTGS, and a worthy recipient of the 2019 Government Law Award.

The Government Law Award was presented by Law Society Councillor David Swanson to Gregory Burn, Deputy Public Trustee and Guardian of the ACT. Gregory Burn has made a significant impact in government law with limited resources. He has driven legislative change to introduce clarity and minimise confusion in several ACT laws, including the Public Trustee’s responsibilities in deceased estates, the respectful disposal of the remains of unclaimed persons, and dealing with restrained and forfeited assets. He has also overseen the project to institute the ACT’s first public Will register, involving extensive stakeholder consultations and a feasibility study. He also provides community presentations on topics around intestacy and elder abuse, and he is a mentor in the ACT public service women’s mentoring program.

The Government Law Award was presented by Angus Tye, chair of the Society’s Government Law Committee, to Patrick Hornby, general counsel at the Australian Transport Safety Bureau.

Patrick’s work has included negotiating and drafting the Casualty Investigation Code for Maritime Investigations, which is annexed to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea. He was one of the architects of legal arrangements with Malaysian and Chinese counterparts to establish the Australian-led search for MH370, represented ATSB at tripartite discussions, and advised senior Australian government officials. He routinely represents the ATSB at coronial investigations into transport related fatalities, developed the mandatory transport safety legislation training program used by investigators, and delivers specialist training at RMIT for domestic and international investigators on coronial witness processes and evidentiary matters.

He is also the ACT council member for the Aviation Law Association of Australia and New Zealand. Outside his legal role, he is general manager for the annual Canberra Comedy Festival, and enjoys mentoring young comedians and others in the performing arts industry.