Former judge controversially sacked by Hawke dies

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Former federal judge Jim Staples has died at the age of 86.

Staples was controversially manoeuvred out of the peak industrial tribunal by Bob Hawke, first earned the attention of ASIO as a member of the Communist Party of Australia.  He was later expelled in the 1950s and became a barrister in Sydney before being appointed to the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission in 1975.

According to a report by the Canberra Times, Staples died at a nursing home in Gloucester on Wednesday night.

Staples served as deputy president of the Commission until 1989, when it was abolished by Hawke and replaced with the Industrial Relations Commission.  Staples was the only judge to not be appointed on the new body.

The decision was due to a lack of confidence in Staples by other members of the judiciary, Hawke explained in parliament, citing his reasoning for some decisions for the lack of confidence.

“It certainly was very unusual and had never happened before in the federal sphere,” said former High Court judge Michael Kirby, who was appointed to the commission himself in 1974.

“In a court it was not possible to remove a judge, but the technical point was taken he was not a member of a court.”
Kirby described Staples as an unusual judge with a colourful turn of phrase.

According to the Canberra Times, Kirby briefed Staples as a young solicitor for the Council of Civil Liberties.

“He was a very good barrister and advocate, he was a terrier, and he was legally imaginative,” Kirby said.

“He had great success before juries and won several important defamation cases.  Many people said he should have stayed at the Bar because there is more scope for imaginative ideas there.
 
“The real tragedy of his case was that he never really found an appropriate niche after this happened to him.  He was a charming, gregarious, kind and determined advocate, and that's where he really excelled.”

According to an Australian Bar Review article, Kirby said Staples was expelled from the Communist Party in 1956 when he published the text of a secret speech by Nikita Khruschev concerning the crimes of the Stalin era, who was at the time, the secretary general of the Soviet Union Communist Party.
 
  • Louise Steer on 2/05/2016 7:36:55 PM

    Jim Staples was a great man. An excellent judge with a passion for democracy and for upholding workers' rights. A true progressive, so rare in the Australia legal profession. Hawke treated him shamefully. Sacking Staples was the beginning of the end of the Industrial Relations Commission, which became fair game for political interference after that major attack. Staples' resignation had little support from the "leaders" of the profession, short sighted as usual.

  • Abraham Edsten on 2/05/2016 4:36:47 PM

    Great judges don't die. They get benched.

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