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General / Thematic: The Individual Judge

Judicial Biography in Australia: Current Obstacles and Opportunities


Tanya Josev

Judicial biography – or the scarcity of it – is a matter of ongoing complaint in legal and academic circles in Australia. Judicial biography has been variously described as ‘an undeveloped branch of scholarship in Australia’,[1] ‘as rare as hen’s teeth’,[2] ‘small and undistinguished’,[3] Supreme Court judges, or judges of the colonial era, seem to have fared somewhat better than their High Court and Federal Court counterparts in having their intellectual portraits sketched by biographers,[4] but this is not to suggest that there is burgeoning scholarship in the area in any sense.

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(2017) 40(2) UNSWLJ 842:

  1. Stuart Macintyre, ‘What Makes a Good Biography?’ (2011) 32 Adelaide Law Review 7, 16.
  2. Michael Kirby, ‘Kitto and the High Court of Australia – Change and Continuity’ (Speech delivered at the Sir Frank Kitto Memorial Lecture, Armidale, 22 May 1998) <>.
  3. Neville Crago, ‘Book Review – Isaac Isaacs’ (1967) 8 University of Western Australia Law Review 270, 270.] having ‘received little academic attention’,[footnote* Sarah Burnside, ‘Griffith, Isaacs and Australian Judicial Biography: An Evolutionary Development?’ (2009) 18 Griffith Law Review 151, 151.] subsisting within the ‘wider malaise … afflict[ing] the study of Australian legal history’,[footnote* David Ritter, ‘Greatness as Measure? Recent Writings on the High Court of Australia’ (2004) 50 Australian Journal of Politics & History 434, 434–5.] and, rather damningly, as an area of scholarship in ‘parlous condition.’[footnote* James Thomson, ‘Biographies and Biographical Writing’ in Tony Blackshield, Michael Coper and George Williams (eds), The Oxford Companion to the High Court of Australia (Oxford University Press, 2001) 63, 64.
  4. See, eg, James A Thomson, ‘Judicial Biography: Some Tentative Observations on the Australian
    Enterprise’ (1985) 8 University of New South Wales Law Journal 380, 380–1, and Appendices A and B.