Prof. Cheryl Saunders AO, Knight in the Order of the Legion d’Honneur (Jul.31, 2012)
A leading constitutional law expert and Associate Dean of the Melbourne Law Masters at the University of Melbourne, Professor Saunders was confered the insignia of Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur by Stéphane Romatet, Ambassador of France to Australia.
The honour was in recognition of the significant contribution Professor Saunders has made to France, particularly in her role as head of the International Association of Constitutional Law from 2004 to 2007, as well as her ongoing teaching commitments at the University Paris II, one of France’s pre-eminent law schools.
Professor Cheryl Saunders AO with the Legion d’honneur.
From left to right: The Dean of the Melbourne Law Masters at the University of Melbourne, Prof Carolyn Evans, Prof Saunders and H.E. Mr. Stéphane Romatet, Ambassador of France to Australia.
I must admit being impressed at such a gathering of senior academics, professors each more distinguished than the other. I am also impressed to be here at the Melbourne Law School, one of the best in the international landscape.
But what impresses me most tonight, is to honor a great lady. Cheryll Saunders. Cheryll, tonight is for me the second time that I have the opportunity to meet you. I remember the kindness of your reception a few months ago when we agreed arranged a first meeting to get acquainted. It turns out that even before meeting you, I already had heard of you. Not here, but in France, in Paris, and before I even arrived in Australia. It shows that your reputation is equally strong in the northern hemisphere. Didier Maus, great French constitutionalist and a long time ago my teacher, was the one who told me about you.
Cheryll, the Légion d’Honneur, the highest of the French distinctions, was invented for exceptional people like you. I know you have a very unassuming disposition, but I would still like to explain to your guests tonight, what prompted the French government to grant you this award.
1) Let me start by quoting your important responsibilities as President of the International Association of Constitutional Law, position that you held for nearly four years until 2007. For a constitutionalist, this is certainly one of the most prestigious responsibilities, with a very high international visibility. Everyone knows the reputation of this international association, a place of exchanges between high-level practitioners but also an institution that provides services and advices to States, especially those which are most vulnerable, those facing constitutional problems.
Through this international association, you have woven an impressive network of contacts in many countries. You probably are now one of the best known Australian constitutionalists abroad. You have woven such number of contacts in France, and especially with Mr. Maus who I mentioned a moment ago.
2) What connects you to France, too, is your bilingualism and it was therefore natural that France honors you because of it. I was told that you speak perfect French and you could even argue a legal discussion on the most complex constitutional issues in Molière’s language.
I do not propose to do a test tonight, not because I wouldn’t be able to address you in French, that I think I can manage, but because I am absolutely unable to sustain a constitutional conversation with you!
I make you a deal: I am ready to help maintain your bilingualism in exchange for you to bring my English up to a “constitutional” level.
3) Another point I would emphasize and that binds you with France, are your academic activities in my country. There again, we have both, dear Cheryll, a link that brings us together: you spent several years as a visiting professor of law at the University of Pantheon-Sorbonne, the same university I did my law studies in. This will tell you how proud I am tonight give an award to a teacher of my school! Needless to say, of course, La Sorbonne, for those who don’t know, is the best School of law in France (except during the time when I was studying there...).
4) Cheryll, constitutional law is not a theoretical law; this is not an intellectual specialty. It’s simply the life of our institutions, the balance of power, the strength of our democracies that constitutionalists such as yourself are responsible for organizing. I am struck, since the start of my mission in Australia last November, by the force of constitutional debates in your country: question of the place of aboriginal rights in your constitution, balance that clearly is not yet definitely fixed between rights of States and Territories and those of the Federation and of course the constitutional monarchy that, as the staunch Republican that I am, I observe with great interest. On all of these major issues, you are, dear Cheryll, in the heart of the discussions and participate actively in these debates and reflections.
5) Finally I would add that your character also deserves to be distinguished. I was struck, during our first meeting, by your incredible modesty over your career and your eminent responsibilities. You are modest, you are a woman of energy and conviction and you are a strong mind: these are the qualities that I saw straight away in you.
For all these reasons and certainly many others that I should also have mentioned (including your intense publishing activity), the French Republic has decided to recognize you as an exceptional person and admit you into the National Order of the Légion d’Honneur.
Cheryll Saunders, au nom du Président de la République, nous vous remettons les insignes de Chevalier de l’Ordre National de la Légion d’Honneur.
More information on The University of Melbourne’s website: http://newsroom.melbourne.edu/news/n-868.