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Largest Philanthropic Bequest to Monash by Former Law Student

29 August 2017 at 12:55 pm
Lina Caneva
Monash University has received one of its largest gifts from the estate of high-profile Melbourne lawyer and former law student Francine McNiff, who donated $3.72 million to the university.

Lina Caneva | 29 August 2017 at 12:55 pm


Largest Philanthropic Bequest to Monash by Former Law Student
29 August 2017 at 12:55 pm

Monash University has received one of its largest gifts from the estate of high-profile Melbourne lawyer and former law student Francine McNiff, who donated $3.72 million to the university.

McNiff, who died in April 2015, left instructions for her own death notice which stated: “I have ceased to exist – Francine.”  

Monash University said that “ironically McNiff would now live on through the establishment of two significant legacies in her name”.

Monash vice-chancellor Professor Margaret Gardner AO said that McNiff’s legacy would “endure” through several scholarship and educational opportunities funded by her bequest.

“It is a wonderful honour for Monash that such a significant figure in the field of law, Francine McNiff, would donate her estate to the university,” Gardner said.

“Francine was a deeply inspiring figure for a great many in the legal profession. Her gift allows Monash to celebrate her contributions through a new chair in criminal jurisprudence, as well as providing our most deserving students the opportunity to pursue their study of criminology at the postgraduate level.”

The $2 million Francine McNiff Chair in Criminal Jurisprudence will be established within the law faculty at Monash University.

Law dean Professor Bryan Horrigan said: “As we look to strengthen our expertise in the field of criminal jurisprudence, the chair will be an inspiring educator, conducting leading-edge research and drawing together our researchers and educators already working in this field.”

The $1.72 million Francine McNiff Scholarship Fund will be available to candidates from both the law and arts faculties and will provide financial support for the duration of the recipient’s post-graduate study.

Arts dean Professor Sharon Pickering said: “Francine’s legacy will live on through this gift which will change the lives of individual students, and the communities that these students will seek to transform.”

Regarded as a ground-breaking lawyer, McNiff’s contribution to the Victorian legal profession was “significant”, according to one of the executors of her will.

In 1983, aged 35, she became the first female judicial officer in Victoria having been appointed Children’s Court Stipendiary Magistrate, also making her the state’s youngest judicial officer.

Ron Tait, principle of Tait Lawyers in Melbourne and co-executor, said he and his family were among those closest to McNiff, who never married and “carefully protected her privacy with minimal social interaction”.

“The law was Francine’s life. She would be thrilled to know she was making a real difference to a lot of people,” Tait said.

“Francine was sharp, intelligent and erudite. Not outwardly a feminist but she was Victoria’s first female judicial officer. She was a very private person and that is why she left her estate to the law at both Monash and Melbourne universities.”

McNiff also made a $4 million bequest to Melbourne University to set up a chair in human rights law at the Melbourne Law School.

Tait said he first met McNiff when they were students at Monash University in the 1960s and later worked with her, briefing her as a barrister on a number of criminal cases.

“Until I became involved in this matter, I had not had any contact with Monash since graduating in 1968,” Tait told Pro Bono News.

“But since I have been dealing with this matter, it has shown me just how much it can mean to the life of a student who may not have the financial means to go on to further study.

Tait said he was “particularly excited” about the scholarship fund for post-graduate studies in criminology where preference will be given to applicants with a refugee background.

When discussing the blunt words that would be used to announce her passing, Tait said: “She sent me a fax saying: ‘Ron I am directing you as to what I want on my death notice and on the tombstone’.   

“That didn’t surprise me in the least.”

He said McNiff never really discussed philanthropy per se.

“Most people don’t think about it. It has opened my eyes a lot too. It was all her own idea. She had given it a lot of thought,” Tait said.

“And I know Francine would be proud to see what is happening with her bequest.

“It has been a long journey administering her estate. The entire estate was in property which we had to sell and it took about a year and a half in total.

“I would hope that through the publicity that her bequest has generated that more people would start thinking about donating or bequeathing money to [these institutions] or wherever.”

Lina Caneva  |  Editor  |  @ProBonoNews

Lina Caneva has been a journalist for more than 35 years. She was the editor of Pro Bono Australia News from when it was founded in 2000 until 2018.

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