Ms Faye Ashworth
An experienced barrister and outstanding scholar, Faye Ashworth is an individual of sharp acumen dedicated to serving the legal profession’s highest ideals. A Hawker Scholar, her six years as a resident student at St Mark’s (2000-05) saw her make what then Master John Bannon described as a “great contribution to College”. After work as a solicitor in Sydney and securing two postgraduate law degrees at Oxford, Faye developed a strong commercial practice at the Bar starting in 2013, which has seen her appear in many significant cases around Australia and internationally.
Born in Blackpool, England, before moving to Adelaide at a young age, Faye immediately marked herself out as an outstanding individual. At the age of 12, she decided to participate in the inaugural YMCA South Australian Youth Parliament. Exercised by the important issues of her day, Faye relished the experience and decided to also participate in the National Youth Parliament in 1997. Having experienced Youth Parliament as a participant, Faye wanted to ensure others could share in the opportunity and returned as a Youth Parliament Taskforce member, responsible for administering the program. For her outstanding service encouraging youth political participation, Faye received the Commonwealth Youth Services Award for the Asia Pacific Region.
Faye’s leadership while still at school extended beyond the Youth Parliament program. She was a member of the Executive Organising Committee of the Young General Assembly and an active participant in the Youth Council of South Australia. She was selected to represent Australia on the world stage at the Global Young Leaders Conference in Washington D.C., and at the World Summit of Children in San Francisco.
At the same time, Faye was an active and much respected member of her school community at Bethesda Christian College. As well as being Dux and Debating Captain through successive years at the school, she was elected College Vice-Captain and represented the school proudly in sports such as athletics, swimming, and basketball. Her service to the school saw her graduate as the recipient of the Most Outstanding Senior Girl trophy and as the Caltex Best All Rounder.
Unsurprisingly, Faye’s extraordinary achievements and potential were recognised by the C.A.S. Hawker Trustees and she was awarded a scholarship to enable her to be a resident student at St Mark’s. Faye reflects: “I was exceptionally fortunate to attend St Mark’s as a Hawker Scholar. Without the Charles Allan Seymour Hawker Scholarship, my residence at St Mark’s – and the manifold experiences and opportunities to which I was exposed whilst there – would simply not have been possible. For those experiences and opportunities, I will be forever grateful for the Hawker Scholarship.”
Arriving at St Mark’s College in 2000, Faye was eager to immerse herself fully in college life and commence her Bachelor of Law and Bachelor of Science degrees. Immediately, she fell in love with the close-knit community. She nominated for the College Debating team in her first year. She remembers fondly being surprised how “debating was fiercely contested and widely and very passionately supported by the College community”. Her outstanding performance would see her receive College Colours in her first year and herald an exceptional four-year captaincy of the debating team.
At St Mark’s, Faye was also a stalwart of the College cricket team, a regular attendee at Port ‘n’ Talks, and choir member. She served as Senior Law Tutor, and for two years as Assistant Dean – the length of her tenure a testament to her capability and desire to serve a community she so loved.
Faye reflects that “my most significant memories of St Mark’s are connected with Formal Hall. I have such vivid recollections of passionate debate with fellow Collegians during Formal Hall which often continued long after the President rose. I cherish memories of all that accompanied membership of the Senior Common Room, in particular, the lively and engaging discussion – charismatically led by Master Bannon – during pre-dinner and post-dinner drinks and, of course, dinner itself at High Table. I am a firm believer in the benefits of Formal Hall and a strong supporter of the continuation of the institution of dining together, even more so in an increasingly busy, remote and online world.”
During her years at St Mark’s, Faye maintained her relationship with Youth Parliament, becoming one of its earliest Youth Governors. She served as Deputy Chairperson of Beyond Participation Inc from 2001 to 2006. She also maintained strong ties with her secondary school and joined the governance team at Bethesda Christian College as a Non-Executive Director. Such contributions saw her recognised as the winner of the South Australian Youth Inspiration Award, finish as a finalist for Young South Australian of the Year, and receive a Centenary Medal from the Governor-General of Australia for “service to the community, particularly through the youth parliament”.
Determined to pursue a career in the law, after her undergraduate studies Faye completed her Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice. She joined the Commercial Litigation and Insurance teams at Thomson Playford (now Thomson Geer) in Adelaide and Sydney in 2006, before joining Clayton Utz in 2008 as a Lawyer and then Senior Associate working within their Construction & Major Projects Group. At Clayton Utz her matters included acting for a major statutory corporation in disputes arising from the highest value public-private partnership project in Australian history (valued at $3.6 billion).
Determined to pursue postgraduate study in law, in 2010 Faye went to the University of Oxford to study first for a Bachelor of Civil Law and then a Master of Philosophy in Law. Reflecting on her desire to complete further study, Faye says, “St Mark’s fostered my love of learning and pursuit of knowledge and reinforced my commitment to undertake postgraduate study at the University of Oxford”. The interests she had developed in legal practice in Sydney were reflected in her Master’s dissertation entitled “Damages for delay in the delivery of non-profit earning assets pursuant to Public Private Partnership (PPP) contracts”.
Naturally, Faye also dove enthusiastically into collegiate life at Oxford. While at St Anne’s College, Oxford, she was a member of the women’s rowing crew. Moving then to University College, Oxford, she was again a member of the women’s rowing crew, in addition to serving as captain of the women’s cricket team and captain of the Middle Common Room croquet team.
On returning to Australia, Faye was called to the Bar in 2013 and has established herself as a leading barrister specialising in building and construction, commercial law, conflict of laws, equity, insurance and real property. Faye frequently appears in the Supreme Court of New South Wales but has also appeared in cases in Western Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, and the Northern Territory.
One notable case, in which Faye appeared alongside an English Queen’s Counsel in a multi-billion dollar international commercial arbitration in Singapore, involved tens of thousands of pages of evidence, including highly technical expert evidence on such niche disciplines as corrosion, pipeline coatings and cathodic protection, and in which world leading experts had been retained by each party. Faye cross-examined academics and professional scientists and addressed the Tribunal by way of closing submissions on the law – a rare opportunity extended to junior counsel in such a high value case.
Faye recalls: “The case demanded sustained and intense concentration and hard work (over a period exceeding two years), and complete and thorough dedication and commitment, including in mastering novel technical subject matter and deep and exhaustive analysis of complex legal issues. The product of those efforts was a successful defence on behalf of my client of the very substantial claim brought against it. My experience in that case, despite being and perhaps because it was so challenging, was deeply intellectually and professionally satisfying.”
Another professional highlight for Faye has been “a case in which I appeared for a cooperative of 68 irrigators based in the Ord Valley, in northern Western Australia, against the State of Western Australia. The case challenged a significant reduction in the volume of Ord Irrigation Cooperative’s water licence.
“Water is obviously critical to food production and therefore the livelihood of irrigators. Farmers in Australia and, in particular, in the isolated and climatically and economically challenging conditions faced by my clients in the Ord Valley, do it tough. Through my representation of my clients in this case, I gained such a deep respect for farmers and the challenges they face. They are exceptionally hard working. Few Australians likely have a proper understanding of what they do, and fewer still could do what they do.
“Part of what I perceived to be my role in persuading the Tribunal of the need for maintenance of the original volume of the water licence involved conveying, in a meaningful way, the challenges faced by my clients and the success of their enterprises. One way in which I sought to do this was by taking the Tribunal on a site visit across (and above!) the irrigation district. A novel part of that site visit involved my clients chartering a sea plane on which I took the Tribunal members for a flight over the water infrastructure of the Ord Valley. My clients were successful in maintaining the water licence at its original volume which has provided them, the irrigation district and the community more broadly with water security and economic certainty into the future.”
Faye has clearly proven herself to possesses a keen intellect and an inquiring mind. She excels in analysing novel legal problems and identifying creative and robust arguments and solutions, grounded by a sound understanding of the commercial context in which her clients operate. An exceptionally thorough and persuasive advocate, Faye deploys her problem solving and lateral thinking skills to achieve the best possible outcome for her clients.
Faye’s outstanding work in many cases saw her recognised as a finalist for Barrister of the Year at the Australian Law Awards in 2019, and in the same year she became a Non-Executive Director of Wardell Chambers Pty Ltd.
Despite her busy schedule, Faye maintains an active interest in the affairs of the College and, for example, flew from Sydney to Adelaide this April for the special dinner to mark the 40th anniversary of coeducation at St Mark’s.
In speaking about the future, Faye is excited about building her legal practice and in “appearing in cases of importance and significance in courts at the highest levels.
“There is always much important work to be done in speaking truth to power, holding repositories of public power to account and serving the rule of law with courage, and that is the type of work in which I hope to be increasingly involved”.
A brief Q & A with Faye Ashworth
How has your time at St Mark’s influenced your life and career since?
St Mark’s has had a profound influence on my life. The closest friendships that I forged with fellow Collegians are enduring and will, I suspect, be lifelong.
St Mark’s fostered my love of learning and pursuit of knowledge and reinforced my commitment to undertake postgraduate study at the University of Oxford, which I went on to do.
Exposure to a myriad of opportunities for life education at St Mark’s, including through engagement with people from different backgrounds and walks of life within the College community and by way of strong connections to Old Collegians and introduction to distinguished guests, led me to develop a deep respect for others, for institutions and for traditions.
Further, membership of St Mark’s instilled in me values of leadership – particularly through my work with the then Dean, Ms Rose Alwyn – teamwork and community.
Those values have acted as a strong foundation for a successful professional life and serve me well in my career as a barrister.
St Mark’s played an instrumental role in my development as (I hope) a leader in the legal profession, who is keen to make a positive contribution and have a lasting impact.
What personal qualities do you view as being most instrumental to your success?
Intellectual curiosity and rigour, hard work, tenacity and a commitment to excellence.
Choose three words to encapsulate your time at St Mark’s.
If you could go back in time and give your younger self one piece of advice on that first day at St Mark’s, what would it be?
Make the most of every opportunity that is offered in College, and don’t ever take membership of St Mark’s for granted – it is a privileged but fleeting existence. Take time to cultivate friendships and enjoy the rich diversity of experiences on offer.
What was your favourite place in the College?
The tennis courts. They were (and are) always so impeccably maintained, and simply picture-perfect. Also, the rules surrounding (not) walking on the tennis courts served me well in my studies at the University of Oxford, where walking on grass (quadrangles) is similarly not the done thing!
What are the most important things that should be done to promote gender equality, within Australia and globally?
In Australia, making childcare (in all forms) tax deductible (at all income levels) is essential to supporting gender equality. In particular, women who are educated and productive should be encouraged, if they so choose, to return to work. That course not only provides an overall economic benefit to society but serves higher public purposes.
Workplace harassment (in all its forms) and bullying are unacceptable, and disproportionately affect women. Addressing these serious issues requires anyone who witnesses such conduct (men and women) to call out the behaviour, and leadership in sanctioning those responsible.
Globally, equal access to education for girls and women is essential to any semblance of gender equality. Education is the key to escaping poverty and the benefits of educating girls and women extends beyond the individual to families, communities and societies more broadly.
Researched, written, and compiled by Oliver Douglas.