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Macquarie Remembers

Judge John Goldring, Dean and Professor of Macquarie University Law School from 1981-1987.

Judge John Goldring (1943-2009)

It is with great sadness that we must report that Judge John (‘Jack’ to all) Goldring passed away on 6 October 2009, at age 66, after a lengthy battle with cancer.

Picture of Judge John Goldring (1943-2009) . Photo courtesy of the Australian Law Reform Commission.Jack was one of Australia’s finest lawyers, with a sharp and inquiring mind, a breadth of knowledge crossing many disciplines, great wit and creativity, a commitment to social justice, and a passion for his work that he readily passed on to generations of students and colleagues.

Jack burst onto the Australian scene as one of the famous radio ‘Quiz Kids’ of the 1950s. Jack was educated at North Sydney Boys High School and the University of Sydney (from which he graduated with a BA and an LLB), and then earned an LLM from Columbia University in 1969 (when that was not such a common thing for an Australian lawyer), which he attended as an Australian–American Educational Foundation Fellow.

Jack’s distinguished academic career was characterised by innovation, energy and accomplishment, and spanned two countries. He was present at the birth of legal education at the University of Papua New Guinea, serving in the Faculty of Law from 1970-1972. Many of his students from that era went on to become major figures in law and government in PNG, and they still speak of Jack with great respect and affection.

Back in Australia in the mid-1970s, he joined and rose through the ranks of the faculty at the Australian National University. He was an important supporter of the community legal services movement at that time, and one of the founders of its principal academic organ, The Legal Service Bulletin.

In Australia, Jack is probably best known for his periods as Dean and Professor of Macquarie University Law School from 1981-1987, and then as Foundation Dean of Law at the University of Wollongong from 1990-1995. Jack deserves enormous credit for his successful efforts in making that new law school a critical part of the local community and the local profession, as well as putting it on the map nationally due to the quality of its academic programs and its commitment to community service. It is perhaps no surprise, then, that a disproportionate number of the legal staff at the Australian Law Reform Commission were Jack’s students at that time, benefitting from his teaching, his scholarly rigour and his incredible willingness to find the time to mentor promising young lawyers.

Sandwiching his Foundation Deanship at Wollongong, Jack also carved out a second career as a distinguished law reformer, serving as a Commissioner of the ALRC full-time from 21 December 1987 until the end of 1990 (and part-time until December 1992), and later as a Commissioner of the New South Wales Law Reform Commission from 1997-1998.

At the ALRC, building upon his recognised expertise in consumer protection law, Jack headed up the reference on Product Liability, carried out in conjunction with the Victorian Law Reform Commission, and culminating in the final report Product Liability (ALRC 51, 1989). Jack also made important contributions to a range of other ALRC reports prepared during his time as a Commissioner, including Grouped proceedings in the Federal Court (ALRC 46, 1988), Multiculturalism and the law (ALRC 57, 1992), Choice of law rules (ALRC 58, 1992), and Personal property securities (ALRC 64, 1993).

In 1998, Jack was appointed a Judge of the District Court of New South Wales—again, a rare move in Australia and a rare honour for a career academic to be appointed to a famously busy trial court. Even more bravely, Jack sought out and soon excelled at handling criminal trials, with all their added pressures and the special need for evidentiary and procedural precision.

When the Australian Academy of Law was founded in 2007, as an attempt to foster dialogue, cohesion and high standards in the Australian legal professions, a group of people were selected to become the Foundation Fellows, with a premium placed on those with expertise and experience across a range of modes of legal practice: as academics, legal practitioners, judges and law reformers. Not surprisingly, Jack was chosen as one of those 36 Foundation Fellows—indeed, he was one of the exemplars. The Academy was an initiative of the ALRC, recommended in the Managing Justice report (ALRC 89, 2000), which also proposed the establishment of the Judicial College of Australia. And again, not surprisingly, Jack became a member of the Council of JCA, nominated to represent the District and County Court Judges across Australia.

Despite this later judicial career, I suspect Jack will be best and most fondly remembered as an inspiring and innovative teacher and scholar (and, critically, a scholar who cared very deeply about teaching) and, throughout, as a great friend and mentor to so many of us. All of this activity was informed by his keen sense of social justice, as manifested in his pioneering socio-legal research and writing on the social cohort of Australian lawyers and law students—first prepared for the Pearce Committee’s national review of legal education in 1986, and later replicated during his time at Wollongong—which led to new programs and policies to support equal opportunity entry into the profession for Indigenous students and those from disadvantaged backgrounds, but still presents unresolved issues.

It is a sign of the high esteem in which Jack was held (as well as the nature of the modern online world) that the news of Jack’s passing travelled quickly around the globe and back, with many people contacting me with reminiscences. And, so, I feel entrusted to mention, in no particular order, ‘Jack’s famous pipe’; his warmth; his laconic sense of humour ; his organisation of cultural tours to India, marrying his love of travel and interest in other cultures; and the devilish, irrepressible chuckle that bubbled out of him from time to time.

Jack Goldring will be greatly missed. Our warmest wishes and condolences go to his partner, Sue Kirby.

David Weisbrot.

My thanks to the Hon Michael Kirby, Carolyn Kearney, Jonathan Dobinson, Les McCrimmon, Rosalind Croucher, Luke McNamara, George Zdenkowski, Ian Ramsay, Bruce Ottley, Denise Tchan, Anne Rees and AbdulHusein Paliwala for providing comments or material used in the preparation of this piece.

Re-published with the permission of the Australian Law Reform Commission.