Two Supreme Court judges top Queen’s Birthday honours list

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The top judge in New South Wales has risen even further up the ranks, and the recently retired Chief Justice of Tasmania has received the highest honour awarded to any Tasmanian in this year’s Queen’s Birthday honours list.

Both judges were two of just seven to be made a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC), one of the highest recognitions in Australia - second only to the recently reintroduced title of knights and dames in the ladder of civic honours.

Ewan Crawford, the retired Chief Justice of Tasmania, received his award yesterday for eminent service to the judiciary and to the law, to the development of the legal profession, to tertiary education, and to the community of Tasmania.

Meanwhile, the honour list cited that Thomas Bathurst, the Chief Justice of the NSW Supreme Court, was being celebrated for his “eminent service to the judiciary and to the law, to the development of the legal profession, particularly through the implementation of uniform national rules of conduct, and to the community of New South Wales”.

Bathurst issued a statement soon after the announcement saying he was “honoured and humbled”.

“I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the tireless effort and dedication of those who work within the court system to deliver justice to those who come before it and particularly to my colleagues in the Supreme Court whose tireless and dedicated work I have the privilege of seeing on a daily basis,” he said.

Appointed Chief Justice of NSW in 2011, Bathurst is known for being outspoken about the obligation all lawyers have to contribute to public debate in order to educate and inform the populous and correct any misconceptions.

After a number of judges were attacked and vilified for making unpopular decisions, he held several symposiums between members of the media and legal representatives in an effort to increase general understanding of judicial decision making in sentencing.

“If we are to improve community understanding of the sentencing process and the administration of criminal justice generally, then the courts must play a role in stimulating informed debate. There remains a judicial reticence to engage in public discussion, in keeping with Lord Kilmuir’s old rule that ‘so long as a judge keeps silent when off the bench, his or her reputation for wisdom and impartiality remains unassailable’,” Bathurst said during a speech in February.
 
“Thinking of some of the things that were said on the bench in past decades, I’m not sure if that rule ever held true. Any of you who have opened a newspaper in the last five years will know that silence is certainly no longer deemed to imply wisdom.”
 
The other illustrious Companion of the Order award winner, Chief Justice Crawford, retired last year after 25 years as a Supreme Court Judge.

He was also the first Chief Justice in Australia to do away with the red and white robes and ceremonial wigs in court, stating they are “out-of-date”, and is well known for his tireless work to highlight the increasing underclass of young Tasmanians.

During his address to mark his 2008 appointment to Chief Justice, Crawford made clear his intention to make positive changes to the court system.

“When I first became a judge, the [criminal] lists were small and trials were often being conducted within six or seven months of the alleged crime. Today it is common place for the lists to be far too long and for trials to take place up to two years or more after the alleged crime. Whereas I once had pride in the shortness of the lists and our achievements in disposing of criminal cases promptly, that is no longer the case,” he said. “In any event I give notice that the Court will make available a significantly greater number of days for the criminal jurisdiction. I am hopeful that the lists will be reduced and that delays will also lessen.”

But Crawford and Bathurst weren’t the only members of the legal profession to be recognised for outstanding service.

Other lawyers to receive awards in yesterday’s Queen’s Birthday honours list announcement included:
 
  • Her Honour Chief Judge Patricia Wolfe, Officer (AO) in the General Division, for distinguished service to the judiciary, to the law through legal education reform, and as a mentor and role model for women.
  • The Honourable David Collier, Member (AM) in the General Division, for significant service to the judiciary and to the law, particularly through the Family Court of Australia, and to legal education.
  • The Honourable Philip Cummins, Member (AM) in the General Division, for significant service to the judiciary and to the law, to criminal justice and legal reform, to education, and to professional associations.
  • John McLaughlin, Member (AM) in the General Division, for significant service to the judiciary and to the law, particularly through the documentation and preservation of  Australian legal and constitutional history, and to the community.

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