Hearsay ... the Journal of the Bar Association of Queensland
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In Memoriam: Bruce McPherson Print E-mail

McPherson-intro.jpg23.9.1936 to 7.10.2013

Bruce McPherson was a great judge. In twenty years' time, barristers will still cite his judgments for their lucid and authoritative statements of principle; that is something that cannot be said about most of his contemporaries on the Bench. He was also a great scholar: he wrote the leading Anglo-Australian text on the law of company liquidation, a history of the Supreme Court of Queensland and his magisterial work, "The Reception of English Law Abroad". And, through his work on Queensland's Law Reform Commission, he was responsible for the "Trusts Act", and Queensland's most successful and long‑standing piece of law reform, the "Property Law Act 1974".

McPherson1.jpgBut it is not McPherson the judge or the scholar or the law reformer that I wish to call to mind now. In the journal of the Bar, it is appropriate to recall McPherson QC, the barrister. It is fitting to do so, notwithstanding that, because he was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1982, the vast majority of barristers now in practice never saw McPherson at work on their side of the Bar table.

Within Roberts and Kane, the firm of solicitors in which I was articled, McPherson QC was regarded as a legal wizard. We went to him with the most difficult matters. I had the great good fortune to instruct him in a number of these difficult cases, and quickly came to realise that McPherson QC was a model of what every barrister should aspire to be: diligent, energetic, selflessly dedicated to his client's cause but able to remain sufficiently detached to provide candid assistance to the court, a master of the facts in the brief and the relevant law, courteous and courageous.

His opinions were models of learning and lucidity. They were beautifully written; always a joy to read. There was authority for every proposition, but never an anxious display of knowledge for its own sake; and always an appeal to principle rather than to rules for their own sake.

McPherson2.jpgIn his arguments in Court, he never allowed the citation of authority to obscure the clarity of his appeal to principle. His ability always to craft his arguments, so that they contained the clearest statements of principle and proposed the most reasonable solution to the problem at hand, characterised his advocacy.

His example inspired all who saw him, and fostered the development within the Queensland Bar of the modern conversational style of advocacy with which all members of the Bar are now familiar.

Just as in the field of criminal advocacy, Casey and Brennan inspired Cuthbert, Sturgess and Spender who, in turn, inspired others, and so left the legacy of a cohort of criminal barristers which is, to this day, the equal of any in Australia, so McPherson and his able contemporaries inspired the subsequent generation of civil advocates.

McPherson QC, and his cohort of brilliant rivals, made a vital contribution to the improvement in the quality of the work of the Supreme Court. It was in this era that the Queensland Bar shook off the torpor and genteel poverty of the 1950s and 1960s. The Bar flourished and the Supreme Court became a better Court because of the quality of the assistance it received in difficult civil cases from McPherson QC and his gifted colleagues at the Bar.  

McPherson3.jpgMcPherson QC and his able contemporaries helped to bring the quality of the work of the Supreme Court of Queensland to a stage of development where it is adorned by judges whose ability is second to none in the federation.

Through all this, McPherson QC made a crucial contribution to the elevation of the esteem in which the Queensland Bar is held by the Australian legal profession in the other States.  

For these reasons, it is fitting that every member of the Queensland Bar, even those who never saw McPherson QC in action, should remember that our Bar and our Courts are stronger and better institutions because of his time with us.  And we should be grateful.

Photos provided by the Supreme Court Library.

The Hon Justice Patrick Keane,
Justice of the High Court of Australia.

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