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FINN J: Chief Justice, on 21 May 1977, the Australian people through their electors at referendum determined that Chapter III judges no longer would have life tenure. Of course, we respect their judgment but it has been my melancholy lot over the last seven days to be present on two occasions when the constitutional reaper of judges was at work. So today’s ceremonial sitting. It is inappropriate, as a serving judge of the Court over which you preside, that I comment upon your stewardship. It is for others of you who are here to do that to mark your achievements. There are, though, two matters which I cannot leave unsaid. The first is that the Chief Justice has proved that the people of Adelaide do have passions. The architecture of this building is a testament to that. I must confess I belong to the school which considers it to be a wonderful contribution to Adelaide’s cityscape. More importantly though, it is one reflection of your contribution to the administration of justice in Australia; in this instance, through your contribution to Court architecture. Buildings will be one of your lasting legacies.

The second matter I would note is a very obvious one. It has been on the Chief Justice’s watch that the Federal Court has grown into and taken its place as a pre-eminent institution in the legal system in this country and has had a beneficial influence within Australia’s region. Chief Justice, you have led the Court as its jurisdiction expanded dramatically, largely at your instigation. You have encouraged and guided its innovations; you have used its resources – human and otherwise – to assist legal development and the efficient provision of legal services in the Asia Pacific region. Yours is no small legacy. I speak for the local judges of the Court when I express our gratitude to you for your endeavours on our behalf and our best wishes as you prepare for your next odyssey.
BLACK CJ: Mr Blue, do you move?
MR M.F. BLUE QC: May it please the Court. I appear today on behalf of the Bar of South Australia to honour and celebrate your Honour’s life in the law for almost half a century and your role as Chief Justice of this Court for the past two decades. Your Honour will be retiring as Chief Justice on your 70th birthday on 22 March. I will pass over your Honour’s youth, as my learned friend Mr Mellows will have a word or two to say on that topic. Your Honour read in the chambers of Edward Lloyd and signed the Bar Roll in 1964. Your Honour was much influenced by Woods Lloyd and Maurice Byers with whom you worked closely and from whom you learnt the art of advocacy. You particularly learnt the importance and skill of flexibility on your feet. Just as importantly, or more importantly, your Honour developed a strong passion for justice which has been the hallmark of your approach to the law ever since.
Your Honour was a member of the Victorian Bar Council at an early stage in your career, between 1968 and 1970. Your Honour took silk in 1980 and practised at the Bar for a total of 26 years before your appointment as Chief Justice. Your Honour had a very diverse practice at the Bar; you practised initially in areas including personal injury, commercial, equity, industrial, public law and military law. After your Honour took silk, you specialised in appellate work around the country and appeared in many constitutional, administrative, industrial and environmental cases in the Courts of Appeal and the High Court.
One of your Honour’s many fields of interest has been the environment. These days the importance of preserving the environment is very broadly understood and discussed on a daily basis, but your Honour was a pioneer in the area, appearing in the 70s and 80s in a series of seminal cases to defend the environment. Your Honour succeeded in preventing the erection of a high rise development around the Botanic Gardens in Melbourne; your Honour appeared in the High Court for the Wilderness Society in Commonwealth v Tasmania in 1983, which decision prevented the building of a dam across the Gordon River. Your Honour also appeared in the Lemonthyme case, Richardson v Forestry Commission in 1988, and the Daintree case, Queensland v The Commonwealth, in 1989. Your Honour also did valuable work for the Save the Whale movement in the course of which, I understand, you spent no less than seven weeks studying the mating habits of whales in the ocean.
Your Honour appeared in many other seminal cases, including Legione v Hateley and The Commonwealth v Verwayen. Your Honour also appeared in very many pro bono matters; your Honour had a large involvement in Legal Aid and served on the Legal Aid Committee in Victoria.
Your Honour also had a large role in the education of lawyers and barristers. Your Honour had no less than 10 readers while at the Bar, including now fellow Justices Finkelstein and Middleton of this Court; the late Justice Flatman of the Court of Appeal and Justice Vickery of the Victorian Supreme Court. Your Honour was instrumental in the establishment of the advocacy course as part of the Bar Readers Course in Victoria and served as Chairman at the Bar Readers Course from 1981 to 1987.
Your Honour’s range of interests can only be described as eclectic, ranging from trains, boats and steam engines to architecture, to art history, to Italian food, Italian wine, the Italian language, Italian history and especially Italian cars. Your Honour’s qualities and interests made you ideally suited to the role of Chief Justice of this Court and you have served in that position since 1 January 1991. At your Honour’s ceremonial sitting in Sydney in 1991, Gavin Griffiths QC, then Solicitor-General for the Commonwealth, prophesised that in 20 years’ time we would say that the first two Chief Justices of this Court were great Chief Justices and that has come true in spades.
Over your Honour’s tenure the work of the Court has grown considerably, as Justice Finn has observed. In 1991 there were 33 justices, now there are 44 full-time justices of the Court and a staff of 370. New and extensive jurisdictions have been added to the Court including migration and native title matters. Your Honour has earned the respect and admiration of the Bar and the legal profession at large in your role as Chief Justice, proceeding wherever possible by consensus and with a high level of consultation. The Court under your Honour’s stewardship works very closely with the Law Council’s Federal Litigation Section and, in particular, its Federal Court Liaison Committee.
Your Honour has been instrumental in many changes at the Court, including the introduction in 1997 of the individual docket system; the introduction in 1997 of the specialist panel system leading, to what are now nine specialist panels; the introduction in May 2007 of a pilot fast-track list in Victoria and its recent introduction in April 2009 across Australia; the development of electronic filing and access to the Court; the introduction of electronic discovery and the electronic exhibits at trials; the introduction and development of video conferencing and the encouragement of Court-referred mediation. Your Honour has displayed great energy reducing the time and cost of legal actions. The Court’s most recent annual report records that 90 per cent of cases were completed within 18 months and 80 per cent of reserved judgments were delivered within three months.
Your Honour has also seen the building of new Federal Court buildings in Melbourne and Adelaide and refurbishments in Hobart and more recently Sydney. This is where your Honour’s interests in architecture and justice have melded perfectly. Your Honour was inspired by the architecture in the US of both courts and buildings used for legal purposes. Your Honour has also been instrumental in opposing moves to demolish the old High Court building in Melbourne. Your Honour was very largely instrumental in advocating the construction of a purpose-built Court building in Melbourne which opened in 1999. Your Honour was inspired by the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright and other architects a century earlier in introducing natural light into buildings.
Your Honour worked closely with Paul Katsieris of Hassells in a concept design for the building of the Court in Melbourne. The officials from the Department of Finance and Administration were focused on a building comprising walls, roof and square meterage but your Honour rightly saw a Court as much more than this. Your Honour fought hard for windows and light and ultimately prevailed. My sister, Virginia, was with Hassells in Adelaide when they were engaged to design the new Adelaide Federal Court building, in which we appear today. She attended regular meetings with your Honour and officers from DoFA. She testified to your Honour’s advocacy skills in persuading DoFA that a Court building should not be a barren, inhuman place but a place reflective of human emotion and aspirations. This is reflected now, for example, in the skylight above our heads in this room and the use of copper, both outside and inside the building. I can only put Virginia’s subsequent move from this perfect city to Melbourne as a further testament to your Honour’s advocacy skills.
Your Honour’s retirement as Chief Justice is no doubt a bittersweet experience. May I finish with an illustration of the upside? At the time of your Honour’s appointment you drove a Lancia and you now drive an Alfa. Word of your Honour’s passion for Italian cars has of course spread and in typical fashion grown at the Melbourne Bar, and in a good demonstration of why we have the hearsay rule, you were recently told by one barrister, “I hear you drive a Ferrari now.” Your Honour naturally replied, “No, no, I have an Alfa.” But after 22 March 2010, freed of judicial constraint, your Honour can properly respond with a big wink, “Well, actually I have three.” On behalf of the Bar, I wish your Honour and your wife Margaret a long, fruitful and happy retirement. May it please the Court.BLACK CJ: Thank you, Mr Blue. Mr Mellows, do you move?
MR MELLOWS: If the Court pleases. Chief Justice, we are delighted you have chosen to include Adelaide in your round of farewell sittings and we again welcome you most warmly to our city to which you are no stranger. Could it be that your Honour has a soft spot in your heart for Adelaide, or could it be that you wanted one last opportunity to sit in this magnificent building in the creation of which you were a driving force and in which you have justifiable pride? Whatever the reason, we are grateful to have this opportunity to say farewell to you. Therefore on behalf of the Law Society of South Australia and the profession I offer the best wishes, our best wishes, to your Honour upon your retirement and our congratulations to you on such a long and distinguished legal and judicial career.
Chief Justice, you retire on 22 March at the end of 19 years of exemplary service to Australia as Chief Justice of this Court. Today, the South Australian profession in its farewell to you expresses its warm appreciation to you for the significant contribution you’ve made as Chief Justice, to the jurisprudence and the administration of this Court and to the administration of justice. The Federal Court was established in 1977 and since then until now has only had two Chief Justices, so farewelling a Chief Justice of this Court is not an event which occurs very often. My learned friend Mr Blue has already spoken of your time at the independent Bar, of your appointment as Queen’s Counsel in Victoria and your ultimate appointment as Chief Justice of this Court in 1991; I will therefore confine my remarks to some of your early life prior to your admission to the Bar and beyond.
Your Honour was born in Egypt where your father was a serving officer of the Royal Air Force. I understand your Honour was educated in Australia, then in Egypt and then in England before returning to Australia when in 1953 you studied at Wesley College. You attended Melbourne University from which you graduated in 1961. While at university you met your wife Margaret, and with your wife Margaret you have been blessed with two children, Rufus and Sarah. At university you were President of the Law Students Society and a member of the Students Representative Council. On graduation you did articles at Middleton McEarchern Shaw & Birch, now the firm of Corrs Chambers Westgarth. You were admitted to the Bar at the age of 23 and took the bold step of going to the Bar as a reader straight from articles under the late Woods Lloyd QC. I also note in passing that in 1998 your Honour was made a Companion of the Order of Australia for distinguished service to the law, to the legal profession and to the judiciary.
Your Honour, is known and will be remembered as a humble, gracious and courteous man with impeccable manners both inside and outside the Court. Within the Court your Honour has led by example and the Court is renowned for the courtesy it extends not only to counsel but to the public. The staff of the Court speak of your many kindnesses and your care and consideration for them, no matter how junior they may be. Your Honour has never been too busy to take the time to show a personal interest in their wellbeing and their working conditions.
At the time of your appointment to the Court you acknowledged the importance of the work of those who are in your words and I quote, “undramatic, unseen and often unrecognised,” and you expressed your gratitude to them. Your Honour’s thoughtfulness to all of those engaged in the administration of justice is commendable. Your Honour will also be remembered as an innovative and progressive person. One of the Court’s most memorable achievements during your Honour’s tenure was the introduction of the individual docket system, of which Mr Blue has already spoken.
Mr Blue has also pointed out the efficiencies that you have brought to the Court with your administrative skills. Your Honour is justifiably proud of the docket system and the profession is grateful to you for its institution. Your Honour has also been, as has been pointed out, responsible for implementing a specialist panel system which allocates judges with a particular legal expertise to certain types of dispute. I understand there are now nine such specialist panels. Your Honour’s Court has also been at the forefront of the introduction of technology into Court processes, such as holding the world’s first national video conference and being the first Australian Court to screen the handing down of judgments live on television and then to the internet. Quite apart from your outstanding legal skills, your Honour has a compassion for and a commitment to the principle that the law and the courts are there to serve the community, that the law should be accessible and transparent. It is therefore no surprise that this building evokes feelings of light, transparency, quality and access. At the opening of this building on 3 February 2006, your Honour said, and I quote:
It is important to recall that architecture never stops speaking. So it is that the architecture of this building will speak to those who use it for so long as it remains and that it will be for a very long time. The architecture of public buildings should speak highly of public ideals, especially when the public building is one as is important as a Court of Law. This building speaks about our system of justice. It speaks of light and of access. Both concepts are closely associated with the ideal of justice and symbolic of it. The building has the dignity appropriate for the importance of the work that is undertaken within it, but it also speaks of concern for the public for whom, uniquely, views and natural light are provided from every single courtroom and from all the principle public spaces within the building. More generally the building speaks as it should of the high value that the community places on its system of justice.
Your Honour has led a Court which has grown enormously in national importance as its jurisdiction expands throughout the whole range of human activity. It is a Court of innovation, an outward looking Court, with a reputation for judicial excellence and the efficient disposition of its business. Your Honour’s enormous influence on that will endure long after your retirement. On behalf of the society and the legal profession of South Australia I wish you and your wife Margaret a long and enjoyable retirement. May it please the Court.
BLACK CJ: Thank you, Mr Mellows. One is almost inclined not to have a further farewell, such has been the generosity of the comments that Justice Finn, you, Mr Blue, and you, Mr Mellows, have so kindly made. I appreciate them very much indeed. Of course, the Chief Justice is absolutely one of the judges and in one sense first amongst equals and one should never forget that, and I do not.
The Court is greatly honoured by the presence on the Bench with us, as our guests, of the Chief Justice of South Australia, the Honourable John Doyle, and by the presence of Mrs Doyle in the Court. We are also honoured by the presence as guests on the Bench of two very distinguished former members of the Court, the Honourable Robert Fisher and the Honourable John von Doussa. We are honoured too by the presence in the Court of judges of the Supreme Court of South Australia and the Family Court, Federal Magistrates, Administrative Appeals Tribunal and other judicial colleagues, State and Federal.
In this, my final sitting in Adelaide, I want to take the opportunity to express my gratitude to the staff of the Court here. I know you will all think it right for me to take a few minutes to do so because the staff richly deserve the expression of gratitude that I am about to make. I also express the gratitude of my judicial colleagues.
The staff: every member of the staff is important and many of them are, for practical purposes, actually the face of the Court that is seen by the general public. We have been exceptionally well served by them and it is good that many of them have been able to be present today; it is very good to see them. They have faced substantial challenges over the years. We had to make the best we could of the old premises in Grenfell Street, unaffectionately known as the black stump, which we then had to refurbish and enlarge. We then had to work on the planning of this building and finally to undertake the very substantial task of moving the entire registry from Grenfell Street to here.
I want to express my special thanks to our District Registrar, Mrs Patricia Christie, who has served the Court with great distinction for nearly 10 years and is also a District Registrar for the Northern Territory, which as you know is substantially served from Adelaide. I am particularly grateful to her personally for her support in the administrative affairs of the Court, primarily in Adelaide but also nationally where her work has also been influential. She has been, and truly is, an outstanding District Registrar.
I would also like to make special mention of our Director of Court Services, Ms Julie House, who has served the Court for longer than I have and whom I remember particularly for her efforts in the planning of the new building and in ensuring the smooth transition to this building. She continues to deal with all building issues and, I am delighted to say – because she has very safe hands – regularly conducts tours of the building for community groups, expressing in the most approved manner all the qualities of this building that she had a part in creating. Ms House will achieve the rare distinction of having served the Court under three Chief Justices; one of a diminishing number of people.
I would also like to recognise our library manager, Ms Georgia Livissianos – another person who has served the Court for many years. There are two inducements to use her library; one is the excellence of the collection; the second is the bowl of sweeties on her desk which provide a well appreciated blood sugar boost at times of some stress. Mike Sarson, our Assistant Director of Court Services is one of these “can do” people and I thank him too, and all members of our client services team, and the Court officers, and the chamber staff and the four executive assistants and four associates, who all work together very well here.
As Mrs Christie pointed out to me – she is a great advocate – our staffing is very lean and efficient and our client services staff work together brilliantly as a team to provide excellent service. Her advocacy is a reflection of the fact. Our staff do work hard and there are not many of them. They also epitomise the mutual commitment of all of us to innovation and excellence. We are proud of you – by “we” I mean all the judges who are sitting here today and the rest of the Court. Thank you for your great work. It certainly gives me great satisfaction to have taken a little time to place this well-deserved recognition of your work before the profession in South Australia and on the public record.
Next, I want to express my heartfelt thanks to my judicial colleagues in South Australia, past and present. I appreciate deeply their presence with me on the Bench today and also the presence of my two judicial colleagues and friends from elsewhere: the senior puisne judge of the Court, Justice Spender, from Queensland and Justice Jacobson from New South Wales.
In Adelaide, I have been immensely fortunate to have had, as my colleagues here, Justices von Doussa, Finn, Mansfield, Lander and Besanko, and also the Honourable Catherine Branson. What excellent and brilliant colleagues they have been, and are! I thank them for their work and for their friendship as colleagues. I am delighted too that Lady Joanna Forster has been able to be here, reminding us of the great contribution her late husband made to this Court.
I pause, however, to recall with sadness the great loss to the Court and to South Australia during my time as Chief Justice with the passing of the former Solicitor General, and later judge of the Federal Court, Bradley Selway. He was an outstanding servant of South Australia and of the Commonwealth. I also recall the sadness of the passing of another great South Australian, my former colleague and friend, Maurice O’Loughlin. I pay tribute to them.
I also want to thank the profession: solicitors and members of the Bar alike. I was fortunate in my practice at the Bar that it developed a large federal element and that this brought me to Adelaide quite frequently during the decade or so prior to my appointment to the Court. I came here for sittings of the High Court, the Federal Court and the Australian Industrial Relations Commission, and by the time in 1991 when I was appointed, I had developed a strong attachment to this city, its profession, its people and its distinctive architecture, especially its architecture of earlier times.
I also developed a strong attachment to the superb planning concept of the City of Adelaide, and I note in passing that this building occupies the space set aside for public purposes by Colonel Light in his original plan, a copy of which we have on display here. It is unlikely that the good Colonel conceived it of a federal public purpose, but nevertheless the building is faithful to his ideal.
I would like to say a little about the building, but before I do so I express my thanks to the profession for their commitment to the service of the great matter of justice according to law, and for the excellence and independence of their work before the Court as I and my colleagues have experienced it.
A distinctive feature of the past two decades, maybe three, has been the growth of the independent Bar in South Australia, which is now of considerable size and great strength. The role of specialist advocates is very important in the administration of justice and the aim of the independent Bar is to foster independence and excellence in that branch of the profession. I wish the independent Bar continued growth and success, while at the same time acknowledging the fundamental importance of its professional partners as represented by the Law Society. There should be harmony between the two branches because they are joint labourers in the great work of the legal profession. A strong and independent legal profession, with a strong and independent Bar, provides the underpinning of the rights of the citizen, whether they are human rights, commercial rights, or any other sort of right.
On a personal note I should say how very pleased I am to see in Court today, and at the reception kindly given for me last night, which I really enjoyed, members of the Adelaide profession with whom I worked when I was myself an advocate. I am also very pleased to see members of the Victorian Bar with whom I have worked.
I should say one more thing about the profession. In this connection it is of great importance to remember that a strong and independent legal profession not only ensures protection of rights, but should be one of the engines that drives the reforms that are necessary if the endemic twin problems of cost and delay are to be confronted and brought under better control.
The Court’s own reforms in case management, including its reaffirmation last year in Practice Note CM 1 of the fundamental purposes of case management, were adopted nationally by us last year – as it happens at a meeting of the whole Court here in Adelaide. Those reforms have to continue and they require not just the co-operation but the enthusiastic support of the profession to do so. That is a continuing challenge but I know the profession in this State is up to it. I should add that in the process of reform the Court has been greatly assisted by the Law Council of Australia and particularly by the federal litigation section of the Law Council whose work I gratefully acknowledge on behalf of us all. I am especially pleased to recognise your work, Mr Blue, and the exceptional work of Mr David Gasner in that regard. I thank you both and your colleagues very much indeed, and I do so on behalf of us all. The reforms of which I have spoken will proceed because they are necessary and the Court has committed itself nationally to them.
Another reform which represents a large step along the road in the use of technology, and is a journey that the Court has been taking since it was founded, will be the introduction later this year of the mandatory lodgement of all documents electronically. This will offer large benefits and large savings in costs to all practitioners; it will provide greater access for practitioners in country and remote areas and it will certainly facilitate the work of practitioners in the cities.
Of course, facilities will be available in the registries for those who are not able to use electronic means to lodge but, generally, it will be the way in which it will happen. This will present challenges to our staff and to the profession but they are challenges that will produce great benefits, particularly in the reduction of cost. Here, again, the Court greatly values the cooperation that it is already receiving in the pilot programs being conducted with the profession.
As a final comment, I would say there is absolutely no reason why fundamental reforms should be left to the two largest capital cities; a city such as Adelaide has every bit as important a part to play. It is, after all, a city of ideas.
So to this building: the Court is very proud of it. It does develop architecturally concepts of light and transparency and access beyond their development in the Commonwealth Law Courts building in Melbourne. It is a development facilitated by the site of this building and by a vision shared with Justice von Doussa and fostered by him and by Justice Dawe of the Family Court (who was a member of the original committee) and embraced by Justice Mansfield when he was appointed to the Court and took over as the Federal Court’s representative on the Building Committee.
The decision to move the site for Commonwealth Law Courts from King William Street to Victoria Square was unquestionably correct, although it caused us anxiety at the time. At the ceremonial sitting of the Court in Adelaide, in November 2005, from which Mr Mellows has kindly quoted. I did pay also public tribute to the architects and to the craftspeople and to the builders who created this building, many of whom I am pleased to say were present on that occasion. The Court’s tribute to them is on the public record, and rightly so.
Architecturally and artistically, this building is exceptional in many respects. One of its exceptional attributes is its many connections with its environment including its intellectual environment. Some of these connections will be obvious; some much less so. There are more evident connections with the Adelaide Hills and beyond – and even with the Outback; these are made by the colours and materials in the façade. Other evident connections include those that this courtroom has with Victoria Square, and the flagpole in the Square. There is a connection too, and it is not remote, with the Murray Darling Basin and the lower reaches of the Murray; that is made through the use of the timber of a single ancient River Red Gum, harvested by the craftsman who made this room from an ancient tree in the Coonawarra. The River Red Gum, eucalyptus camaldulensis to botanists and Karra in the language of the indigenous people of this region, is a beautiful timber that speaks of the heart of our country.
Another suggestion of the significance of the River Red Gum comes with Nici Cumpston’s nine-part work in the foyer; which a visitor to this Court will pass. Her work evokes a connection with her people of the river country and also, incidentally – and I think unintentionally – with South Australia’s iconic painting Afternoon Reflections. There is a moving and interesting connection there too.
But there is another connection, not evident unless it is pointed out and perhaps tenuous but I like to think important, and that is a connection with the cultural history of Adelaide as a place of ideas. In the mid 1990s, and through to the year 2000 when the concepts of this building were being settled, there was much concern, as indeed there still is, about the health of the Murray Darling Basin. This reflected a much wider concern about our environment. There were particular concerns about the future of the River Red Gum, which is sensitive to these changes in the environment, and its central place in the ecology of the river country.
The organisers of the 2000 Adelaide Festival had evidently absorbed these concerns and, it seems, prompted by them, created an exhibition at the Festival Centre. In that exhibition, which they called Karra, many artists – painters, ceramic artists and poets too – presented an unforgettable and diverse vision of the River Red Gum and its place in our world. As it happened, during that festival Margaret and I were in Adelaide to attend the funeral of that very great Australian, Dame Roma Mitchell, after whom this building is named. And as it also happened, the author Drusilla Modjeska had a week or so earlier herself contributed to the themes of which I have spoken by writing a superb essay about our relationship with the genus eucalypt, using as a focal point of the exhibition – Karra – at the Adelaide Festival.
We saw the exhibition together and were deeply moved by it and ideas sprang from that, and they included the use of the River Red Gum as the timber for the principal courtroom of the Federal Court in Adelaide.
One may argue about causation – and lawyers do, as do philosophers – but we can speak with confidence about connections. Using that broader and less disciplined notion, I would assert that this building has this further connection – a connection with themes that emerged from the intellectual life of this city. But whether the connections are seen or whether they are not, the matter of overriding importance is that a building was created for the Commonwealth in Adelaide that is appropriate for the conduct of the great business of the law and which, at the same time, reflects notions of access to the law and which also invites the community to come in and see the workings of the law.
Thank you all for your attendance. Thank you all for your contributions in so many different ways to the work of the Court and thus to the cause of justice according to law.
There is one other expression of special thanks, and I conclude with it. That is, my thanks to my spouse Margaret whose support and inspiration has been constant and fundamental.
Adjourn the Court!


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