Hearsay ... the Journal of the Bar Association of Queensland
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History of the Queensland Bar Print E-mail

interview_intro.jpgTwo years ago at the dinner to celebrate the Honourable Justice Kiefel’s elevation, James Crowley QC listened with great interest to Her Honour’s reminiscences. It was then that he decided to undertake the daunting task of updating the Association’s history. After a couple of years and 60,000 words he has almost completed the documentary research and is turning his attention to some of the Bar’s rich oral history.

Susan_Kiefel.jpgSo what was it about Kiefel J’s words that tweaked his interest?

According to Crowley QC, “In her speech Justice Kiefel opined that barristers, as a group, showed many indicia of a native tribe because much of their history has been passed down orally from older members to younger members. It was an accurate observation”. He then continued, “Barristers both young and old are inspired, as much as entertained, by hearing stories of forensic triumphs and tragedies”.

Those who have visited the Supreme Court Library in the last three months may have seen Crowley beavering away. “The older records of the Association are held by the library and it has been a ‘devil of a job’ to go through them” he said. “Looking back over the last 40 years reminded me of issues that seemed critical then, but are now long forgotten”. 

The difficulty for those seeking to record the profession’s history has become very apparent. For Crowley “much of the documentary material, though informative, does not always convey the colour and life of the profession. That is why I am looking for members’ help”.

Who were the great barristers?

“I am very aware that this work should not be merely a personal reminiscence. To convey both the colour of life at the Bar and to broaden the source material for the history I am keen for input from members” Which advocates should be identified? Who do members think are worthy of mention from each decade and why?

Being one of a dying breed of ‘generalists’, Crowley is sympathetic to the Criminal bar. “I am aware that those who practise in crime may be discriminated against because their work at nisi prius is not reported. That is why the opinion of members is so crucial; they will know through their professional experiences who are worthy of recording.”

From his long experience Crowley remarks, “Incidentally, I have seen some barristers with the potential for greatness elevated before their full potential at the Bar could be realized. It is hard to judge the true value of counsel who had barely slipped on silk before they moved to the Bench”.
He notes that there are others who may not rank amongst the great advocates but still deserve a mention. “I would like to hear members’ views of who, though not notable in the overall scheme of things, may have played a significant role in the history of the association. For example, Trevor Chapell is a minor figure in the history of Australian cricket but he made a significant contribution to the game” he said.

What were the great cases?

Crowley QC is also seeking members’ opinions on what important cases have come from Queensland. “I am very aware that this history should not be of interest only to barristers. I want it to depict the role the Bar played in the larger social context. I am interested in recording our role in the development of the law”. 

On this note Crowley points out “the arguments and legal issues raised by counsel are the issues the court considers. An argument developed in counsel’s chambers often becomes the core of a judgment and the precedent”, he said.  

dan-casey-1.jpgSearch for additional material

With the majority of the work on the documents having been completed, Crowley is looking for other material of historical value. “Outside of the Association’s papers and newspaper reports, documentary material is scarce” Crowley said. “Barristers often hoard. I’m hoping that transcripts, diaries, even scrape books may emerge that can give me something more to work with.”

Further, Crowley noted the number of sons and daughters of chief justices, judges, queen’s counsel and second generation barristers at the Bar. “I am hoping that they may provide access to correspondence or personal papers that prove useful.”

Oral History of the Bar

Finally of less historical value but of great entertainment value are the stories of forensic triumphs and tragedies that are so much a part of our culture. Crowley is interested in tales of legal dramas for possible inclusion in the book.

“Modern communication has made it so much easier to supply information.” If members can help with information they are asked to e-mail James Crowley QC at jcrowley@qldbar.asn.au.

Hearsay will keep track of his progress and provide regular updates.


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