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Farewell Justice Barry Beach

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Cite as: (2003) 77(4) LIJ, p.32

Justice Barry Beach was farewelled from the Supreme Court at a ceremony on 14 February. Among the speakers was Law Institute president Bill O’Shea. An edited version of his speech follows.

Your Honour was educated at Geelong College and studied law while working as an articled clerk. You were admitted to practice in 1953 and appointed Queen’s Counsel in 1968. You were appointed to the Supreme Court Bench in 1978 and was chairman of the Council of Law Reporting Victoria from 1984 to 1997.

Let us return for a moment to the subject of your Honour’s education. Your exceptional scholastic abilities quickly became evident as during this time you were successful in achieving a number of scholarships.

One is worthy enough. Two might be regarded as remarkable. The number of scholarships went on... Well, by this time it was clear that Geelong College had an extraordinary student on its hands. Indeed, your Honour collected scholarships like other boys of your age collected matchbox cars.

Your Honour began working life with the firm Wighton & McDonald in Geelong, at the same time studying for the articled clerk course. You would receive your university papers in the mail and study at night, unhindered by such trifles as lectures and tutorials, and luxuriously unencumbered by the frivolous indulgence of the law library.

One can only wonder at the capacity for self-discipline and resourcefulness of which your Honour is capable.

Your ability to work unassisted and unsupervised at this tender age no doubt stood you in good stead for the judiciary, for I think it was the American journalist HL Mencken who said that a judge is merely a law student who marks his own papers.

This proficiency for self-education did not cease after you became a QC.

Your Honour acted for a London engineering firm during the inquiry into the collapse of the Westgate Bridge. One of the more demanding aspects of this trial was that you were required to discuss complex matters of engineering in great technical detail.

This would have been challenging for any layperson, but when one considers that you only passed second year mathematics, it is again a testament to your capacity to quickly absorb ideas.

I think it is fair to say that the law has been your life. It is a passion passed down to you from your father and one that your Honour has in turn passed onto your two sons, David and Jonathan, who are both silks.

Yet, perhaps even your Honour would never have guessed that your work would have taken over your life to the extent it did during the Beach Inquiry. We, too, would like to note your contribution to this landmark inquiry which led to such profound changes to the Victoria Police.

Many here today might not realise that during the inquiry you and your family were subject to vilification, including anonymous threats and public personal attacks, throughout which you kept a courageous and dignified silence. It is to the credit of your Honour and your wife Del that throughout this trying time your family remained a tightly-knit unit.

As a judge, your Honour is well known to be extremely hardworking, with a flexible and lateral way of thinking. Many attest to your efficiency, practicality and fairness on the Bench.

It is on record that your Honour is unlikely to be fazed, does not indulge in grandstanding and is no headline seeker, despite being the subject of many headlines in the past. Any thinking person is aware of how easily one can be misquoted in the press and having been the subject of much media coverage in the past your Honour has no doubt been, at one time or another, a victim of lazy journalism.

On behalf of the Law Institute’s Professional Standards Department and the busy litigation area, I would like to extend to your Honour our heartfelt gratitude for facilitating the hearings in this Court that related to urgent applications for receiverships and unqualified practice. Your practical, speedy and balanced approach in determining orders and judgments will always be remembered.

The administration of justice has generally been the winner. Your approach has resulted in shutting out those practitioners who are not fit to engage in practice. Again, the community has been a winner.

With the most profound best wishes of the Law Institute of Victoria, we wish your Honour the very best for the future.

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