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Farewell Justice Bernard Teague


Cite as: (2008) 82(4) LIJ, p. 31

Justice Bernard Teague was farewelled from the Supreme Court of Victoria at a ceremony on 14 February. Among the speakers was LIV president Tony Burke. This is an edited version of his speech.

I appear on behalf of the LIV and the solicitors of this state to pay tribute to your Honour’s service to the law, to the Court and so to the people of Victoria.

Your Honour is the only practising solicitor appointed to this Court in 156 years. We trust you are not the last. And all solicitors take particular pride in your outstanding service on the Court.

You had planned, out of articles, to go to the Bar and read with Bob Brooking – later Mr Justice Brooking.

We’re so glad you chose the incredibly early offer of partnership at Corrs in 1963, a year after admission to practice – a choice of family over career, for no-one then would have considered it remotely possible for a solicitor to achieve the eminence you have.

You said recently that when you came to this Court, more than 20 years ago, your philosophy and resolve was to be “conservative and sound in [your] judgments, and constructively innovative in other matters”.

You are, may I suggest, the very best kind of “conservative”, one who is indeed “sound”, but also thoughtful and imaginative – on occasion bold.

The Solicitor-General has spoken of your very first case as a judge, in which you applied the then-evolving principle of unjust enrichment. She also spoke of your decision in 1995 to allow camera crews into court for your decision in a sentencing hearing.

We all immediately think of your ground-breaking work with juries; your work in legal and judicial education, and in judicial ethics; your nearly 20 years on the Council of Legal Education.

Not only have you always worked hard and long – with notorious 5 or 6 o’clock in the morning starts seven days a week – but you are a stayer.

You were 26 years at Corrs; 13 years on the Law Institute Council (including two terms as president) – appropriately recognised by honorary life membership in 1988; and you have been 20 years on the Court.

In those 20 years, it’s said you never took a single day of sick leave. That was so even on the day you had a bicycle accident while riding to court at the crack of dawn. Your bike caught in tram tracks, and you fell, dislocating your shoulder. You were taken to St Vincent’s Hospital.

But that day you were presiding in a criminal trial, and insisted that you had to be in court. The trial was, you said, at a critical point. You were concerned that it would not be fair to delay the hearing. So over the strenuous protests of the doctor you discharged yourself and came into court.

Speaking of your early morning starts, most of those who are astonished by your 6am starts at Corrs and 5am starts at the Court – seven days a week – don’t appreciate that before then you had walked the dog and, more often than not, cycled to work.

However, whatever hour it was when the Herald & Weekly Times called, you were immediately wide awake.

In March 1987 the Liberal Party had a conference in Melbourne. Late Saturday night, on day one of the conference, there was a car-phone conversation between a Mr Jeff Kennett and a Mr Andrew Peacock.

Unfortunately for them, two amateur radio hams picked it up on their scanner.

It was, to say the least, a very “frank” conversation about John Howard. It went well beyond “the rodent” and has politely been described as “replete with expletives”.

The Age declined the story. Colin Duck, the editor of The Sun, called you.

You had, as always, to advise on the spot. You did so, and extracts of the conversation were the front-page lead in the next day’s Sun.

There was a firestorm.

The editor woke up to the 7am radio news and Kennett’s voice saying “Colin Duck should go to jail for this”.

You got another call. It was the editor.

“Bernie, I know you said last night ‘it’s a grey area’ – but jail?”.

You remained calm: “Colin, worst-case scenario, three years”.

“What’s a slightly-better-case scenario, Bernie?”

“Go on the front foot, Colin – talk about the responsibility to publish in the public interest.”

Mr Duck got a call from Rupert Murdoch: “Colin, I thought you’d be in jail by now”.

Next the editor had a visit from the Federal Police. But your advice was sound. The public interest prevailed, and Colin was never even charged.

It is fair to say that the appointment of David Jones to the County Court in 1986, and your appointment to the Supreme Court in 1987 were not without controversy.

Neither of you were barristers.

Every judge on both Courts had been a barrister, a member of the “Bench and Bar”.

Your Honour acted with complete grace and integrity, as well as proving yourself an outstanding judge.

On behalf of the LIV and the solicitors of this state, I wish your Honour and your wife, Patrice, every happiness in your retirement.


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