Edit: For another perspective, here’s an opinion piece written by the man who was responsible for choosing Michael Kirby for the job, former Attorney-General Michael Lavarch, writing in The Australian when Kirby stepped down in 2009. It’s not very well-written but it does remark on some of the Great Dissenter’s judicial accomplishments.
Former Puisne High Court Justice The Honourable Professor Michael Kirby AC CMG is currently on the media circuit promoting a new biography about himself, Paradoxes and Principles.
(For the record, people who keep track of such things have calculated that, in fact, Kirby J dissented in only 48% of his High Court cases. That should silence the critics …)
It’s as good an excuse as any to post a few good quotes I’ve been hanging on to. First, from the man himself, from an address to the Compensation Court of NSW in 2008:
The organised legal profession seems sometimes to have its priorities wrong. Many attach great importance to commercial litigation, much of which is, in truth, nothing but elaborate debt recovery. In the estimate of ordinary citizens, the most important area of the law is, and always will be, criminal law. Citizens are not wrong. They know intuitively that criminal law enshrines the character of the society in which it operates.
Next, his fellow scholar, lawyer, judge and individualist Roddy Meagher QC is quoted as saying that,
[Justice Kirby] loves to make speeches. It does not matter what the subject is. He will speak on any aspect of the law, on modern medicine, on dental decay, on child welfare, on the activities of UNESCO, on the Arab-Jew problem, on music, on economics, on the Stock Exchange, and on the multiple complications of the computer. Recently he spoke to the Loya Jirga at Kabul, on ‘The message of Islam’, and to a gathering of senior monks at Phnom-Penh on ‘The necessity for silence’.
And finally another of my favourites from Meagher, discussing the diverse ways he said judges go about writing their judgments:
One is the way sometimes favoured by our President, Mr Justice Kirby, and others, which is to throw your mind into neutral, close your eyes, open your mouth, and let it all come out.