Peter Handford interview, 6 December 2012 and 13 December 2012

Dublin Core


Peter Handford interview, 6 December 2012 and 13 December 2012




This is an interview with Winthrop Professor Peter Handford. After education at Birmingham and Cambridge, and a teaching appointment at the University of Leicester, Peter Handford joined the University of Western Australia in 1977. Between 1983 and 1998 he worked for the W.A. Law Reform Commission while retaining a part-time position at UWA. In 1998 he returned to the UWA Law School where he has held various positions, including Sub-Dean, Deputy Dean, and Associate Dean for Teaching and Learning. He has been heavily involved in curriculum reform in the Law School, culminating in the introduction of the Juris Doctor degree in 2013.


Handford, Peter


University of Western Australia Historical Society


Copyright holder University of Western Australia


MP3 files


Oral History

Oral History Item Type Metadata


Julia Wallis


Peter Handford


Nedlands, W.A.


Interview 1: 1 hour, 21 minutes, 35 seconds
Interview 2: 1 hour, 29 minutes, 59 seconds
Total: 2 hours, 51 minutes, 34 seconds

Bit Rate/Frequency

128 kbs

Time Summary

Interview 1: Thursday 6 December 2012
Track 1
00:00 Introduction by Julia Wallis

Track 2
00:00 Peter Robert Handford. Winthrop Professor, Law School, UWA. Born Birmingham 29 October 1946.
00:16 Took 11 plus and went to Grammar School. Offered a place at King Edwards School aged 13. Direct grant school – equivalent to Perth Modern School. There from September 1960 to July 1965.
01:59 Went to Birmingham University to read law. Graduated in 1968.
02:52 1968 graduated with LLB. Formed intention to get an academic job. Applied for and got a place at Cambridge for a postgraduate degree. Did 1 year of course work and 1 year of research
03:56 At the end of 1970 took a position as a lecturer at Leicester University. Thesis turned into PhD and graduated in 1975.
04:36 English degree is normally 3 years and is a straight law degree. Did more working and studying alone. Clear difference between academic and professional stage. Attend a college of law to be a solicitor followed by articles. Academic and professional stages in Australia are not so separated. Also more common in England for students to go to university away from their home town.
07:39 Studied at Trinity Hall in Cambridge. Very good reputation. Got Thomas Waraker Law Postgraduate Scholarship.
08:15 Got a job at Leicester University which was a small university with a new law school (started in 1966). Now a very big and very successful law school. Twelve staff. There from 1970-1978. Then left to come to UWA.
09:28 Leicester University was one of 30 law schools. Oxford, Cambridge, London at the top. Warwick was another new law school. A lot of polytechnics that had law courses were upgraded to universities. This made 80-90 law schools. The old established law schools from the 1970s and 1980 are better regarded.

Track 3
00:00 Entitled to a term of study leave after 6 years at Leicester University (1976-77). Peter elected to take the summer term off and join a university in Australia or NZ. Also had an offer from University of Auckland.
02:27 Attracted to WA and knew it was developing and had a good cricket team.
03:04 Accepted UWA offer to teach for 6 months. Arrived in March 1977. Married with 2 children. Family arrived a few weeks later.
04:35 Looked after by Professor Douglas Payne. Watched the conclusion of the Centenary Test match at his home. Got some vacation time in between that enable him to tour the Eastern States.
06:00 Originally came for 6 months but he and his family enjoyed Perth. A job was on offered and he applied for it and was offered it without an interview. Returned to England in October 1977 and emigrated in June 1978. By now Peter had 3 children. He was able to teach the second term of July 1978.
08:09 When Peter was on study leave he stayed in a town house at Kingswood College. When they came back in 1978 the family stayed in a university house in Caporn Street. Then they rented a house for 6 months from Peter Johnston while he was on study leave. They bought a house in Hardy Street, Nedlands and then moved to Wembley. Nedlands was too expensive for an academic salary.
10:47 The Tuart Club loaned them some furniture and equipment on both occasions.
12:42 First impressions of UWA. Bright and beautiful. Winthrop Hall was like a cathedral. Leicester University was smaller and not so spectacular. 1960s buildings. UWA Law School going since 1928 – more solidly established and more akin to University of Birmingham.
15:30 The campus made a definite impression plus positive impressions of Perth. Like being on holiday. Loaned a car and were able to tour around.

Track 4
00:00 UWA Law School in 1977/78. Quota of 110 students a year. 4 year course. Birmingham had 100 students in Peter’s graduation year and UWA had 40.
02:03 Located opposite Arts Building. Law Link was not there and the open space was where students played cricket. Economics and Commerce moved out 2-3 years ago and Law spread into their space.
03:13 19 staff members. 4 support staff. The student common room is now the Moot Hall. Law lecture theatre has been realigned and tiered. Staff Library is now a tutorial room and the staff library is in the Law Link Building.
05:12 The Law Library an integral part of the Law School. In Leicester it was part of the general library. The library has been extended outwards toward the Oak Lawn.
06:23 Dean was Professor Eric Edwards taught Criminal Law and Evidence. Taught the American way. Prof Douglas Payne had come out from England in 1963 to take over from Professor Beasley. He was Dean until 1970 until unseated. There were not 3-5 year appointments in those days.
09:12 Two Associate Professors. Richard Harding later became full professor and Dean in 1981. Francis Auburn came in 1978. Retired in about 2000.
10:34 6 senior lecturers. Louis Proksch, Neville Crago. Louis was Dean 1981-1984. Two Englishmen. About half were English trained.
11:56 Not so hard to transfer between England and Australia. Australian law founded on English law. Constitutional law is different.
12:44 Frank Rixon taught tax and company law. A hard marker. Anthony Dickey taught jurisprudence and then became expert in family law. Peter Johnston taught constitutional law and also practised. Robert French a graduate who has had a distinguished career. Les Stein taught planning law.
15:06 A number of other lecturers were Derek Chantler (commercial); Stephen Owen-Conway; Val McAuliffe (nee Kerruish) (jurisprudence and conflict of laws). Peter Handford replaced her when on study leave. First female academic appointed to law school. Bill Ford (originally law school librarian); Dean from 2001-2011. Tony Wilson temporary lecturer taught property. Liza Newby was a tutor (criminology). Picked Peter up from the airport.
18:08 There had tutors on temporary appointments. Andrew Alston and Stan Jacobsen had been replaced when Peter returned permanently by Jeremy Allanson and Robin Tapper.
18:40 Librarians in the law library. The situation of Bill Ford.

Track 5
00:00 The structure of the law degree in 1977-78. Explanation of articles.
03:40 Big change in education in WA in 1970. Restricted practice introduced after admission.
04:55 Discussion of American system. UWA law school took over exams. Practice and procedure. Commercial practice.
07:24 This system changed in 1990. Joint degrees.
09:10 New system from 2013 will be the JD.
10:24 Subjects studied in the law degree. Full units and half units. Optional units.
11:58 Discussion of semesterisation
13:11 Teaching methods – lectures and tutorials. Impact of increased students. Need to go to venues outside the law school for lectures.
14:31 The practical element of the law course. Drafting documents. Many teachers are legal practitioners who come in and teach part time.
15:09 Vacation clerkships. Time poor to take advantage of study and university life generally.

Track 6
00:00 The students. Mix of matured aged people. President of Blackstone Society, Stephen Smith, now Minister of Defence. Unlike England where students scattered to the four winds. In Perth, you bump into ex-students on the Terrace.
03:02 Male/female mix. Not so great a number of female students in the 1970s. Mary Ann Yeats. Famous graduates were Christine Wheeler, Carmel McLure. In the 1990s female students eclipsed male students.
05:22 Attempts by UWA to get more mix in student intake. Dux scheme and Aboriginal bridging course.
06:59 Traditional rivalry with the Engineering faculty going back for generations.
07:57 Blackstone Society. Dinners.
08:54 R U Barking – pub crawl. The event no longer takes place.
10:34 Guild Council – Robert French, Jim McGinty. Daryl Williams was Guild President.
11:30 PROSH – seems to happen away from the Law School.
12:18 Sport. Alan Barblett – Olympic hockey. Rebecca French.
13:34 Time and financial pressure means activities outside study are less common. 1960s & 1970s the Golden Years of being a student.
15:07 Class times. Classes generally between 8am and 6pm. LLM classes held at weekends or in the evening or intensively. There are repeat lectures and several different class times on a subject during the day.

Track 7
00:00 Conclusion

Interview 2: Thursday 13 December 2012
Track 1
00:00 Introduction by Julia Wallis

Track 2
00:00 The period from July 1978 to May 1983. Full time member of the staff of the Law School. Anthony Dickey elected Dean in 1979. 3 way contest for this position at this time. Anthony Dickey wanted to appoint a Sub Dean who had a particular responsibility for students. Before the Dean had done everything. PRH was the first Sub Dean from January 1979 to 1982.
03:13 Duties to deal with student queries of all sorts; exams; admissions; advising the Barristers’ Board. Law School advised on overseas qualifications.
04:22 After a couple of years an office was created for the Sub Dean.
05:52 PRH taught many subjects filling in for other people. In 1980 he was teaching 5 different subjects. He also did research and published papers.
05:23 Attempted to gain promotion from lecturer to senior lecturer. Had to be at the university for 3 years. The Dean and Professor Payne advised him to apply for promotion a year earlier but he was rejected (Due to the 3 year rule). Rule 2 meant that he was unable to apply for another 2 years. He duly reapplied in 1981 and was rejected as it was felt that he had not done enough to show progress since the original application in 1979.
08:12 PRH then stepped down as Sub Dean in order to do more researching and writing. An alternative job came up as Executive Officer of the Law Reform Commission of Western Australia
08:55 PRH had applied for and was offered a job here in 1979 as Research Officer but this would have meant that he could not return to the UK in 1981 (when he had planned to return and do study leave).
09:52 He was interviewed on Christmas Eve 1982 and was offered the job. PRH had to work out 6 months’ notice. The new Dean Richard Harding allowed PRH to do part time teaching in order to take up this position after the first term.
11:19 As from May 1983 PRH left UWA for the Law Reform Commission.
11:33 In 1981 PRH was entitled to 6 months study leave after three years working at UWA and returned to the University of Leicester. It was like going back to his old life. He also did some part time teaching. The family travelled back on the eve of the Royal wedding (29 July 1981). One of the coldest winters on record. Encouraged the family to return to Perth for good in May 1983.

Track 3
00:00 May 1983 to February 1998 – Law Reform Commission (15 years)
01:40 Did not lose connection with Law School as he continued to teach. He finished teaching Legal Process in 1983 and he was asked to continue and did so for 15 years until he gave this up in 2007. From time to time, he was asked to do other teaching for the Law School such as Comparative Law, Conflict of Laws and Torts. He retained a room at the Law School as a part time teacher. Present at the Law School for 2-3 hours a week.
04:06 This had advantages to both work places. He also visited schools on behalf of the Law Reform Commission.
05:15 1980s was a productive time for Law Reform. From 1990 it became more difficult. There were a number of reviews and the Commission was under budgetary scrutiny and positions were gradually cut back. Four legal positions were lost.
05:55 In 1998 PRH returned to UWA.

Track 4
00:00 Returned to the full time staff of the University in 1998. The 1990s were difficult years at the Law Reform Commission.
00:41 1992-1995 good relations with Cheryl Edwardes – an ex student. 1993-1995 PRH also became a member of the Commission.
01:28 At the end of 1995, there was a Cabinet reshuffle and Peter Foss was appointed Attorney-General. He did not support the Law Reform Commission. He refused to renew the appointments of PRH and Carmel McClure who were due for reappointment at the end of 1995.
03:27 Three new members were then appointed - Wayne Martin, Ralph Simmonds, Robert Cock. They had a plan for reorganising the Commission and contracting out the work, shedding staff and dismantling the library.
04:12 This was a difficult period. From the middle of 1997 they were taking the Commission down and trying to find jobs for the staff. The highest up the totem pole was PJH and it was made clear to him that there was no comparable position for him in the public service. He applied for various academic positions interstate and overseas.
05:48 By the end of 1989/early 1990 he had a 25% fractional appointment at UWA. Before this he was paid casual rates. The current Dean, Ian Campbell, offered to turn this into a full time position. PRH returned as a full time member of staff at the UWA Law School in February 1998.
06:49 It was a seamless transition after the trauma of disbanding the LRC.
08:15 He came back as a senior lecturer. Ironically a word in the ear of the Dean in 1989 gave him promotion to at the stroke of a pen.
09:24 During his time at the LRC he had continued research and writing. He wrote a book with Nicholas Mullany on nervous shock. It was published in 1993.
10:49 This was done in a time before email and internet and drafts were handwritten. Things have changed a lot in 20 years.
11:10 This academic track record helped him to get back to UWA and to gain promotion to Associate Professor in 1999 and 5 years later (2004) to Professor.
11:58 He carried on teaching Legal Process and Torts. Has been back at the Law School for 15 years and is about to go fractional again as he winds down towards retirement.
12:47 There had been changes to the structure and syllabus of the degree. There had been changes made in 1990 to enable joint degrees. Murdoch Law School had opened. This system is about to change in 2013.
15:17 Move to semester length subjects.
16:16 Greater emphasis on exams – now an exam at the end of each semester rather than just at the end of the year. Also more emphasis on non-exam assessment.
18:50 The new course structure is also based on units lasting for a semester. Starting in 2012 every student does an undergraduate degree – BA, BSc, BComm, Bachelor of Design and Bachelor of Philosophy. Anything leading to a professional degree is now studied at postgraduate level.
20:36 Teaching methods had also changed. Ian Campbell the Dean in 1996 wanted more emphasis on small group teaching. Blueprint. 7 new appointments in order to run this program.
21:54 This indirectly led the Law School into financial difficulties. Bill Ford, the next Dean had to sort out the budgetary problems which he did very well.
22:32 The emphasis on small group teaching was to improve the educational experience. Torts are taught this way and sometimes Legal Process. It is two way teaching rather than an overblown tutorial. It works well but it is expensive.

Track 5
00:00 Syllabus had remained the same from 1990 to present. Administrative Law and Corporations Law that were once optional are now compulsory. This is due to the Priestley 11. Commercial practice is not part of the Priestley 11 but due to the fact that in the 1970s the Law School agreed to teach more practical subjects.
01:39 Some new compulsory areas will be introduced into the new JD such as Remedies, Legal Theory and Dispute Resolution. (Ethics is already a compulsory unit). UWA feels that these are essential subjects.
02:29 In 1998 there were more optional units such as Intellectual Property, Environmental Law, Corporate Finance and International Trade Law.
03:13 The LLM programme had been introduced since JRH was at UWA in the early 1980s. THE LLM is taught intensively at weekends or during a week. Centres of Expertise include mining energy and natural resources law and criminal justice.
04:47 The market for Taxation as a specialist subject has now disappeared.
04:58 Other changes included the way students study due to technological developments. The Law Library is excellent but now many of these resources can be found online. There is a wider selection of journals available now due to online resources.
07:20 Searching the sources can be done in hours rather than days.
07:50 Emails mean that it is easier to keep in touch but this can also be a burden. A lot course material is on the internet and each course has its own website. No printed material is given out to students any more.
08:37 UWA Law School has no virtual classrooms as yet. Lecturers are recorded. They can be shown in business centres at regional centres. Discussion groups and bulletin boards can take place online.
09:55 Some universities market online degrees. UWA prefers to have face to face contact with the students.
10:45 UWA is trying to increase places in colleges and accommodation near the University to provide a 24/7 university experience.
11:33 Fewer students attend lectures now as they can listen to lectures online. Staff discuss the pros and cons of this. The university is very keen to record lecture to help students who cannot attend but they don’t want this to take the place of contact on campus.
12:30 Attendance records are not always taken so it is hard to know who is attending but some classes are marked for turning up and participating. The best solution is to make the lectures so interesting that the students are keen to attend in person.

Track 6
00:00 Several units don’t have exams at all. Assessment is by means of class participation; take home exercise or research essays instead. When PRH arrived at UWA in 1977 he was struck by the fact that assessment was much more flexible than in the UK.
01:52 Exams in the Law School are anonymous. The rest of the university does not do this. It works very well in the Law School.
02:33 As more students are part time there is more demand for units to be completed over a longer period. Sometimes they want to defer units to go on exchange. Now students have to pass a certain number of subjects in the degree course however long it takes. There is much more flexibility now.
05:09 Exams have to be taken in one, or two rooms, altogether. There is great pressure on venues as all faculties have more students – including law. Special consideration can be given to students who have a clash due to other courses.
06:32 The results are sent to the students electronically. No longer are results posted on board exposed to public view. Staff don’t get a pass list so they often don’t know all the results for the students they teach.
09:10 The other law schools in Perth operate in a similar fashion. From 2013 there will be 5th law school when Curtin opens. Murdoch started in 1990 and then Notre Dame (1997) and then Edith Cowan. All of the others will be running law at undergraduate level. It will be interesting to see how the competition pans out. They accept lower ATAR scores than UWA.
11:56 There has been a great change in supply and demand for lawyers over the years. In 1977, UWA was the only law school and operated a quota system of 110 so as not to over supply graduates for the legal profession. 90% of graduates used to get admitted to practice.
13:47 When it was found that UWA graduates were getting job, the quota expanded. In the 1990s, there was actually a shortage of lawyers.
14:36 The situation has now turned around. Once Curtin comes online there could be 800 graduates and there will not be jobs for them all. Competition for jobs is very fierce. Articles are dropping away as they cannot all get positions.
16:06 Luckily a law degree can give you a good grounding. Graduates can become diplomats or join a corporation as an in-house lawyer, work as a journalist or an administrator, etc. etc.

Track 7
00:00 Full Professor since 2004. Used to only have 3 professors. Had a spell as higher degrees coordinator from 2001-2007.
01:11 Study leave in 2008. Gave up teaching Legal Process. Became Deputy Dean around 2005 or 2006. Bill Ford was the Dean, Richard Bartlett was Deputy Dean but then went part time.
02:35 From 2007 Bill Ford asked PRH to work on curriculum changes to move towards the JD degree. Peter Creighton had been responsible for this but it was not implemented when UWA began to move in the same sort of direction.
04:10 In 2007 or 2008 Peter Creighton left and PRH was asked to take over the implementation of the new course. The fact that he was Deputy Dean dovetailed into this new role. A Committee was appointed to assist PRH about 2 years ago and they are now in the final stages of finalising the new curriculum with the introduction of the Juris Doctor in 2013.
05:35 PRH then also became Associate Dean of Teaching and Learning. This role deals with curriculum issues generally, student problems and exams. Every faculty has to have a number of people that mirror the way that the university is structured. Law is one of the smallest faculties, so has fewer people to do the jobs but still has to provide staff to do them.
06:41 In addition to the Associate Dean of Students there is an Associate Dean of Teaching and Learning. It is expected that the Associate Dean of Teaching and Learning sits on the University Committee and becomes part of that structure.
07:03 There is also an Associate Dean of Research who spearheads research at the Law School and also sits on the university committee.
07:21 The higher degrees coordinator deals with students doing PhDs and other research degrees. Similarly they also sit on the university higher degrees committee.
07:48 This new system is partially a response to the increasing number of students and partially because of the university’s new and more elaborate administrative structure.
08:15 PRH handed Associate Dean of Teaching and Learning to Mark Israel who was appointed a Professor at the UWA Law School in 2010 but maintained responsibility for curriculum reform.
09:02 In 2012 new undergraduate units were introduced. Law & Society was taught as part of the BA and Business Law as part of the BComm.
09:28 All the curriculum development including Masters degrees were part of PJH’s responsibility until this year (2012).
10:02 PRH has indicated that from 2013 he will be going to factional teaching 0.4. The new Dean from 2011 was Stuart Kaye and PRH was Deputy Dean for the first year or so. Stuart has a different sort of person in mind for Deputy Dean in the hope that the functions previously carried out by the Dean, will now become the role of the Sub Dean (such as organisational teaching which PRH did). The Deputy Dean will be a much more full-time position and consequently only a half time teaching load.
11:10 In September 2012, PRH will no longer be Deputy Dean and will then go to part-time teaching – about 3 hours a week.

Track 7 Deans at the UWA Law School
The official list on the plaque includes two periods when there was an Acting Dean
00:00 1928-1963 Frank Beasley
1964 Eric Edwards
1964-1970 Douglas Payne
1971-1975 Eric Edwards
1975-1976 Ian McCall
1976-1978 Eric Edwards
1979-1981 Anthony Dickey
1982-1983 Richard Harding
1984-1986 Louis Proksch
1987-1989 Jim O’Donovan
1990-1992 Stan Hotop
1993-1995 John Phillips
1996-2000 Ian Campbell
2001-2011 Bill Ford
2011- Stuart Kaye

Track 8
00:23 Conclusion



Handford, Peter, “Peter Handford interview, 6 December 2012 and 13 December 2012,” UWA Historical Society: UWA Histories, accessed July 13, 2024,