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Farewell Justice Joseph Kay


Cite as: (2008) 82(4) LIJ, p. 33

Justice Joseph Kay was farewelled from the Family Court of Australia at a ceremony on 15 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 this Court, and to the development of family law in Australia.

Although you had the experience of articles with Morris Komesaroff Aarons & Co, you went to the Bar almost immediately after admission to practice.

At your welcome to this Court, you spoke warmly of your instructing solicitors – and their mixed emotions in congratulating you on your appointment.

One of your instructors recalls the difficult clients he sent your way. One had walked into the sea at Brighton, had second thoughts about such a watery end and gone straight from there to your instructor, dripping water everywhere. I stress that this was before, not after, their encounter with you.

Another claimed to have jumped a horse over the Great Wall of China – and demanded a similar feat from your Honour in arguing his case.

As a judge speaking for the Full Court your Honour was, subject only to anything the High Court might later say, by definition “right”.

As a barrister, all those years ago now, you rarely allowed for any other possibility than that you were right.

Your instructing solicitors remember you as incredibly quick, capable and thorough. They do remember other things – but those are now of no moment.

They certainly didn’t care that you mostly had between three and six briefs on any given day, because you did them all well.

They were even prepared to put up with the overpowering fragrance of the awful Balinese cigarettes you used to smoke.

You were also modest in your fees.

One instructing solicitor recalls your extreme irritation at being briefed with a particular silk, who worked at a very deliberate pace.

However, both at the Bar and on this Court, your Honour worked harmoniously and well with your colleagues.

Your door was always open at the Bar. Your door was always open at the Court.

Indeed, after intelligence, compassion, speed and forcefulness – well, perhaps forcefulness, intelligence, compassion and speed – the qualities universally attributed to you by every judge of whom we made inquiry – were constant accessibility and unstinting assistance in discussing any issue they cared to raise with you.

You also went the extra mile. Not uncommonly, a colleague who had brought an issue to you during the day would come in the next day to a follow-up email from you with further and deeper reflections, and often attached materials. Your email would often reveal that it had been sent in the middle of the night.

In addition to your full commitment to the Appeal Division work, you made time to continue to sit at first instance.

The advantage of speaking last at an occasion like this is that all the details of your professional life and service have been well covered. So I can focus on the very essence:

  • for nearly 22 years, you have brought the power of intellect and compassion to the task of sitting in judgment in this Court;
  • you have been industrious and quick; and
  • particularly in more than 14 years on the Appeal Division, you have made a major contribution to the jurisprudence.

Noone is ever in doubt that you are very much an individual who does things “your way”.

I hope you will take it as a compliment that you are seen as a worthy successor to those you have followed:

  • your Pupil Master, Rod Joske – later Mr Justice Joske of this Court – at whose memorial service you spoke so movingly;
  • Mr Justice Austin Asche; and
  • Mr Justice Stephen Strauss;

whose respective resignation and retirement caused the vacancies in the Court and Appeal Division to which you were appointed.

Austin Asche’s substantial and extremely laudatory welcome to your Honour was published in the Australian Family Lawyer. You have given in full measure the passion for the law, compassion, thoroughness and industry that his Honour described you as bringing to this Court.

And your generosity of spirit is displayed in your personal and ongoing interest in the legal associates. You worked closely with them in the Court, and you continued to support and influence them intellectually and personally in the annual luncheons you held for all legal associates, past and present.

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


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