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Judges
18 March, 2004  
On the occasion of the retirement of the Hon Mr Justice Roderick Pitt Meagher

Finally, Roddy Meagher’s own farewell speech emerges from a lengthy process of proof reading. There’s plenty of enjoyment as he makes cracks about Spigelman CJ’s tubbiness and Gleeson CJ’s chilliness. Even more distressing are his thoughts about the superior qualities of leading NSW barristers


MEAGHER JA: Thank you, Chief Justice, Mr Harrison, Mr Salier for your comments – (or most of them) – ladies and gentlemen. I have also received very kind letters from Sir Laurence Street, Mr Malcolm McClelland, Dr Geoffrey de Q Walker. In addition I have received a letter from somebody who describes himself as a “citizen of Bossley Park.” The last-named gentleman has expressed his regrets at my departure, but has also intimated that he would be able to control his sorrow within reasonable bounds. On the whole, I think I shall be unable to say that I have been, to adopt the jargon of President Bush, “misunderestimated”.

I thank you, Chief Justice. Although you are short in stature, (or should I say vertically challenged?), and although you used to be somewhat tubby, (or should I say gravitationally challenged?). I say “used to be” because you have recently lost so much weight that, behind your back, the puisne judges of the court have taken to calling you “Old Twiggy”. You have always, in whatever morph you take, conducted a cheerful and friendly court. People actually like being in your court. Things were not always like that. In the chilly reign of your predecessor, only the Yeti felt comfortable in this court.

At your Coronation in 1998 you proclaimed that you would preside over creative and progressive measures and you have done that. With very little provocation, and as soon as could reasonably be expected, you removed the name of Lady Jane Grey from the Regnal years set out in the Law Almanac.

You obviously have great legal skills. Your very name inspires an awe, whose every word is sense and law. But, your interests are not confined to law. They go well beyond legal boundaries. For example, you have many skills in the discourses of economics, politics and art; and you have shown yourself to be a very authoritative student of mediaeval history. I am glad to see that your speeches on St Thomas—Beckett will soon be published in book form. It has been a privilege to work for such an accomplished man.

Mr Harrison, as far as the bar is concerned, I thank you enormously for your compliments. I should like to take the opportunity to say that in my many years in the court I have always been impressed by the quality of the bar. Despite some unfortunate exceptions, I have always found that counsels’ arguments helpful, often decisive, and sometimes scintillating. Indeed, I think for the purposes of comparison, the leading barristers of the New South Wales bar, would be superior to top barristers in any other court in the English speaking world. The only difficulty with my point of view in that regard, is that my brethren do not agree with me.

I notice that you seem to hint at an idea that I am of somewhat conservative, or even right-wing, views. I do not know where you got that idea from. I am, and always have been, left-wing, though in a rather balanced way. As a matter of fact, I am thinking now that I might inch a little to the right.

Mr Salier, as far as solicitors are concerned, I am burdened by the fact that we rarely see your members in court. I do wish that more solicitors would exercise the right of audience which they have possessed since the 1890s. I have often wondered why they did not. Perhaps the simple explanation is that they have more important things to do.

As far as my colleagues are concerned, I must confess that it be possible to live a contented, if not conspicuously merry, life with them.

Departure from their midst will leave them with the task of producing their judgments without delay, making certain that those judgments are only short, if for no other reason, because as Chief Justice Gleeson would say, “nobody reads them”. I trust they will be written in readable English and will avoid both split infinitives and political correctness. I feel a, sort of, fluctuating confidence that these objectives will be met.

In fact, in the whole of my long period of 15 years service, there are only two matters which could be classified as disagreeable. One was the habit of my brother Handley of switching off every possible light at the slightest opportunity so the rest of us were always falling over ourselves, and each other, breaking our legs and suffering soft tissue injury. It is probably because my brother was so saturated with spiritual illumination that he did not realise that his more terrestrial brothers needed electricity.

The other is the unpleasant nature of the top public servants who administer the Attorney-General’s Department. They are awful people. They hate judges. They hate judges’ motor vehicles and they loathe dogs. I thought the first wave of them, when I first came to the court, was bad enough, but they have been replaced by a second wave which is even worse. Some of them are sons of public servants and, in turn, beget public servants. It runs in the family. Indeed the worst thing that can be said about public servants is that they do not devour their young.

For me the major event in the last 15 years was the death of my beloved wife, gentle, gentle Penny; an event which left me capsized and devastated. However, my daughter, Amy, has been very supportive to me in every way.

For my Associates, particularly Jenny Ainslie, Edwina McLachlan and Maria Heraghty, I feel infinite gratitude. They have not only provided me with secretarial services, but also all sorts of personal service; they have prepared my income tax returns, they have paid my bills, they could inform me when my siblings’ birthdays occur, they have instructed me in the geography of Sydney, bought food for me, manipulated my modern typewriter, taken me out for little strolls, told me where to buy bonnets for the child, and generally acted as my nanny.

My various tipstaves – too many to mention individually – have also always been very kind to me and I am very happy to relate that they have now become my personal friends. I am very lucky. I thank them all.

I now return to where I started from; a desk on that best of all barristerial floors, Eighth Floor Selborne.

SPIGELMAN CJ: The Court will now adjourn.