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15 March, 2004  
Roddy Meagher JA's farewell

Huge turnout to farewell Roddy Meagher from the NSW Court of Appeal. “Hormones” Harrison made a very funny speech about Roddy’s “lectern draping” style of advocacy

imageIan “Hormones” Harrison (right), President of the NSW Bar, made by far the most amusing of the speeches at Roddy Meagher’s farewell ceremony in the Banco Court today (Monday, March 15).

Hormones reminded a packed house of the “lectern draping” method of advocacy pioneered by Meagher and how he taught art appreciation to members of the NSW Court of Appeal (with varying degrees of success).

The Prez of the Bar ‘n Grill also patched-up some of his own earlier loose comments on the topic of women’s advancement at the Grill.

We can do no better than provide you with Hormone’s speech, unexpurgated:

“There was a time when the bench and the bar were populated by more than their fair share of eccentric women and men. The ranks however are thinning. Many of the eccentrics are still around. Indeed, some are here today. I shan’t name them. They know who they are.

Which brings me to Your Honour. I remember Your Honour from my days at law school. Perhaps you remember me as well. Perhaps not. I had the privilege of being taught by Meagher, Gummow and Lehane even before they became Meagher, Gummow and Lehane. It is a great sadness for all of us that the late Justice John Lehane is not here to see you off. Justice Lehane was one of nature’s gentlemen with a delightful disposition. The only time he ever confided in me about things that troubled him was when he confessed that writing a book with your honour had sent his hair prematurely white. That wasn’t as much a concern to him, however, as the fact that your honour’s hair stayed youthfully brown. Justice Beazley told me that she thinks the colour of your hair could now best be described as Dorian Grey!

I also remember your honour at the bar. You were a mellifluous advocate with an inspiring economy of words. You pioneered the style of advocacy known as “lectern draping”, sometimes known as “lectern hugging”. This soon became very popular. Proponents of this technique would loll foppishly across the lectern for hours on end in a sort of Darling Point swoon. The idea was to give their submissions a casual flavour of persuasive indifference. Dyson Heydon used it at the law school when teaching. One QC I know uses it for speeches at all of his weddings. Although your honour perfected the technique, none of your disciples has done as well. Towards the end of your career at the bar you became famous for performing your spectacular “double lectern drape”, but only occasionally and only in the High Court. Those hoping to emulate this feat should understand that it is quite dangerous and should only be attempted under strictly controlled conditions. Jack Kenny QC, who was quite short, could never understand why you would not teach him this technique, despite sharing chambers with you on the eighth floor. It is thought that this is why Kenny developed a strand of advocacy in opposition to the lectern drapers. This strand didn’t use lecterns at all. Instead, barristers shouted at the court from underneath the bar table. T.E.F. Hughes QC joined neither group, preferring to keep all lecterns at arms length, much as he treated Protestants and monarchists.

And then in what seemed like the flash of an eye Your Honour was appointed to the Court of Appeal. You brought colour to the court of appeal but not, if I may say with the greatest of respect, much movement. There was a reason for this. This was made clear by Your Honour in Trevali Pty Limited (trading as Campbelltown Roller Rink) v Haddad (1989) Aust Torts Reports 80-286 at 60.036. In that case you said this:

“Whilst all reasonable people know that any form of physical activity is both unpleasant and dangerous, and probably unhealthy as well; and whilst sport, which is communal physical activity, suffers the added feature of exposing its participants to the perils of tribal barbarism; nonetheless the law has never regarded the playing of sport as contrary to public policy or even unreasonable ”

Justice Hodgson has never read Trevali Pty Limited (trading as Campbelltown Roller Rink) v Haddad. Justice McColl would have dissented. Justice Sheller by contrast hands out copies of the judgment on street corners.

Conformably with this passage Your Honour’s demeanour has been slow and measured. You walk at a sensible pace. You never hurry. You prefer to take your time and you waste lots of it. You have been known to warn Justice Young on ceremonial occasions such as today that he’ll end up knocking over all the justices in front of him like a row of red dominos if he doesn’t slow down. There is considerable wisdom in your caution.

But what of Your Honour’s colour? It has many aspects. Most significantly there is your passionate and abiding interest in art. You introduced art to the Court of Appeal with the same flourish that Justice Powell abolished full stops in the Probate Division and with the same enthusiasm that Justice Wood taught police to keep their legs crossed in the front seat of patrol cars.

imageYou educated your fellow judges in the Court of Appeal about art. Art appreciation on level 11 reached fever pitch. Justice Mason tells me now that even Justice Handley can recognise a genuine work of art. This is because it will have a fraction written in pencil in the bottom right hand corner. Also, with Your Honour’s help, Justice Ipp has been able to master the technique of looking like a Rembrandt portrait; he can sit in court for hours staring straight ahead but, as with all good paintings, the eyes follow you round the room.

I have had the pleasure of appearing before Your Honour many times. I always appreciated the fact that you made it clear, at the earliest possible opportunity, just how counsel could best assist you. On most occasions I liked this. However, on one occasion I remember your honour saying to me:

“Mr Harrison, I am going to sleep now and I don’t want you to be here when I wake up”.

Your Honour also had the remarkable ability to be very pointed in the politest of ways. I recall once when you were delivering an ex tempore judgment you said of counsel:

“Mr Hall has said all that could possibly be said on behalf of the appellant, and more”.

For better or worse Your Honour seems never to have been very far from controversy. Indeed, you have been very energetic and productive in this field. Commendably, Your Honour has never been one to jump into someone else’s controversy, preferring without exception to create your own. You seem with some ease to be able to polarise opinion and create enemies in a way quite out of step with what one would expect of a reasonable man taking proper care for his own safety. Your incautious comments about women at the bar have provoked the fiercest attacks. You must have expected these responses. For women at the bar are confronted with unwanted and unnecessary difficulties that men of equivalent juniority or seniority don’t face. A female barrister explained it to me recently with frightening clarity. She told me that when a male barrister makes a mistake he makes it for himself. When a female barrister makes a mistake she makes it for all women.

But I can’t help thinking that Your Honour’s motives are not as base as some would paint them. Your Honour is, after all, famous for the immaculate line “Oh, surely Your Honour is only teasing me”. When I returned to the speech made by Your Honour on the occasion of your swearing-in, in this room on January 31, 1989, I was reminded that your honour said this:

“Finally, I must thank my wife and daughter for performing handsomely the task for which they as women were designed, namely, to provide me with domestic comfort; and also for their fortitude in embracing the new challenge which confronts them – to supply me with financial assistance.”

Many in this room today know better than I that you were a devoted husband and remain a doting father. It seems to me that some of the comments you have made, which have caused so much fuss, should well have provoked the response: “Oh surely your honour is only teasing me.”

I haven’t troubled to repeat the high points of Your Honour’s stunning career or contributions to legal scholarship. These are well documented, and in any event have already been referred to. I should note, in passing, however, that you served as a President of the New South Wales Bar Association with distinction for two years. The bar is forever in your debt for that service. Nor did you forget those with whom you served on the bar council when finally you became a judge of this court. In State of New South Wales v Coffey you offered the following description:

”[They] were a motley crew. Many of them had psychiatric disorders. Some of them had been patients at institutions. Some were addicted to drugs or alcohol, or both. Most of them were foreigners, and many of them were female.”

This sounds like a description of almost every bar council in living memory.

As I look around the room I see that there are many more people here today than were present at your swearing in. There are possibly three reasons for this. First, you are now more popular than when you were appointed. Secondly, there are just more lawyers now than there used to be.

On behalf of the bar of New South Wales I wish you well in your retirement. Stay close, and don’t get lost in the wilds of Darling Point, wherever that is.”