Hearsay ... the Journal of the Bar Association of Queensland
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Ceremonial Farewell for the Hon. Justice Michael Black AC Print E-mail

handshake_intro.jpgThe speech delivered by Richard Douglas SC, President of the Bar Association of Queensland, on 26 February 2010 on the occasion of a ceremonial sitting in Brisbane to mark the forthcoming retirement of the Hon. Justice Michael Black AC, Chief Justice of the Federal Court of Australia, is reproduced below.


It gives me great pleasure on behalf of the Queensland Bar to address the Court on this important occasion. Chief Justice, we gather here north of the Tweed to bid you farewell. In doing so we acknowledge your outstanding contribution to this Court and to the administration of justice in this country.

Your Honour enjoyed an outstanding and diverse career at the Bar. Your longstanding interest in the environment was well demonstrated by your appearance in the Tasmanian Dams Case. You appeared for the Tasmanian Wilderness Society. Closer to home, you appeared in 1989 in Queensland -v- Commonwealth – the Daintree Case. You should also be proud of your work as a Defence Force Advocate and your advocacy on behalf of the men and women of our Armed Services.

You came to this Court with a reputation as a fine advocate with a sharp intellect.

Your time on the bench has been characterised by unstinting courtesy, fairness and compassion. Cognate with that has been your dignified treatment of citizen litigants. The benefit of that approach is not unilateral. In an address to the International Organisation for Judicial Education in Sydney in October last year, you observed “…the ultimate and strongest safeguard of judicial independence is an informed public.”

As Chief Justice, Your Honour travelled extensively throughout Australia speaking with practitioners and members of the wider community. This did much to enhance the perception and standing of this Court. It also spawned a greater understanding and appreciation for the role of the judiciary in the legal process, and the important part judges play in ensuring the maintenance of the rule of law.

Your Honour is a strong advocate of judicial education. You observed, also in the October 2009 address mentioned earlier, that judges:

… should not be so conceited to assume, as perhaps we once did, that … a judge is created on appointment as a perfectly formed being, equipped with everything necessary to carry out his or her task and we should not be so conceited as to assume that this perfectly formed being can continue to perform, without any further training, for another 10 or 20 years.

For judges, like all of us, education never ends.

That commitment to judicial education transcends Australian shores. Your Honour has been active in fostering international judicial relations, together with judicial independence and administration in developing countries.

Your Honour has spoken on many occasions about the collegiate life of the Court. This is natural in any judicial body, but it is essential in a widely dispersed national court. Your colleagues have told me that they are grateful for your contribution to and nurturing of the collegiality of this Court, and for your well known good humour, charm and engaging personality. These qualities, harboured by you as Chief Justice, have acted as steady foundations for a close Court.

Your stewardship of this Court through difficult times must be recognised. This was particularly so in the sad days in 2005 which saw the retirement of Beaumont J due to ill health, and his ultimate death, together with the deaths of Justices Cooper, Selway, Hely and Hill.

Your Honour also presided over enormous changes within the Court in both technological terms and processes designed to ensure the timely disposition of the courts work.


Your Honour has a well known interest in architecture, in particular, court architecture. On the ABC television program “In the mind of the architect”, your Honour made these observations about the new Federal Court Building in Melbourne:

It was to be a building that was to be full of light and the light was to make it a very pleasant place to work, but it was also to have the symbolic reflection of access to justice, openness and transparency.

If you’re a modernist architect, a public court house is the perfect building. A chance to reflect the big ideas of Australian law and democracy. These law courts see decisions from Mabo and land rights, to the daily dramas of broken lives.

Such is your Honour’s interest in design and architecture that some say that you should be known as “Michael the Builder”, rivalling the well known “Bob”.

During your two decade tenure, you have given the Federal Court two significant “homes”. Much of your Honour’s own personality and view on life are reflected in the Commonwealth Courts in Melbourne and Adelaide – You have commented that some of the architectural elements in the Commonwealth Courts in Adelaide were inspired by the reflection of the Brisbane River in the glass of this building.

The Victorian and South Australian buildings are a lasting testament to your vision that, and again I quote you:

… a court building that opens itself to the world is indicative of justice that is open to the world and is transparent and of course light is an illumination of truth.

Your Honour has been a strong advocate of the independent referral bar. You have supported the work of the Australian Bar Association and have been a ready contributor to the work of the Queensland Bar through your willingness to present at our conferences and events.

On your many visits to this State, it was not uncommon for you to be observed wearing one of Brisbane’s most prized sartorial statements – the Queensland Bar tie.

Your Honour has presided over a Court which, since your appointment has grown in size, stature and reputation. Today the Court boasts some 49 judges and 370 staff members.

Chief Justice, you can depart this Court with the satisfaction of knowing that it is an even greater institution now than you inherited on your appointment in 1991 – something I know you have strived to achieve.

Your Honour has the enduring respect and admiration of the members of the Queensland Bar. We congratulate you on your outstanding service to the law and to the administration of justice in this country.

For the next stage of your life, we wish you, and your wife Margaret, every happiness and personal fulfilment.

Richard Douglas SC


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