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Farewell Justice Paul Coghlan


Cite as: April 2014 88 (04) LIJ, p.33

Justice Paul Coghlan retired from the Court of Appeal of the Supreme Court of Victoria on 6 February 2014. Among the speakers was LIV president Geoff Bowyer. 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 in the law over many years.

Your Honour went to school at St Joseph’s Christian Brothers College in North Melbourne. It was a working class secondary school for boys and was known as “North”.

The school had a strong academic tradition. Sir James Gobbo, a former Judge of this Court and Governor of Victoria, went to “North”, as did County Court Judge Paul Lacava and retired County Court Judge, Len Ostrowski.

Sir James Gobbo transferred to Xavier for his last two years of schooling – but acknowledged his debt to the Christian Brothers at “North” – “They taught me English, prayer and football” – the latter “extraordinary . . . in a school that had only a small piece of asphalt to kick a football, although it was often only an old newspaper rolled up”.

Your Honour’s talents lay more in administration than in the swift and sure handling of the ball – and your Honour became the first secretary of the Old Collegians football club.

You cut a distinctive figure at the Old Collegians matches, patrolling the boundary line with a masonite clipboard, and always wearing a full-length stockman’s Drizabone coat – long before that garment became fashionable. Under your secretarial leadership, the Old Collegians were reinstated into the Victorian Amateur Football Association – they had been rubbed out in the 1930s for playing an unregistered player under a registered player’s name in the grand final. Not only was the club restored, but rose from “E” grade to “A” grade in record time; made the grand final every year; and even won some of them.

Your Honour graduated with a bachelor of law from the University of Melbourne and served articles with Maurice Ryan of the firm Maurice Ryan and Francis Green. Only a few months after completion of articles and admission to practice in March 1969, you began more than eight years with the Commonwealth Crown Solicitor’s Office in Queen Street. The Deputy Crown Solicitor in Melbourne was Norman Good.

Most lower court prosecutions were done in-house, rather than being briefed out – and your Honour did substantial appearance work. You became a senior legal officer with the Commonwealth.

Your Honour captained the Commonwealth Crown Solicitor’s Melbourne Office Cricket XI.

During your time at the Commonwealth Crown Solicitor, your Honour and your wife Anne joined the Fitzroy Association working to defend the cty against the Housing Commission and its so-called “slum clearance” policy of replacing small terrace houses with high rise concrete blocks of flats.

Your Honour served on the Fitzroy Council for five years and served for one year as mayor of the city. Fitzroy was the first council to seriously oppose the Housing Commission and the first to engage a town planner.

Your Honour came to the Bar with a solid grounding of experience in the work of the solicitors’ branch of the profession, as well as substantial experience in appearance work prosecuting in the lower courts.

Your Honour has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the criminal law with instant recall of the authorities in precise detail as to both facts and law – but this goes beyond authoritative cases and extends to cases that your Honour has conducted; and, more remarkably, to matters in the carriage of others in which your Honour had only supervisory oversight.

For one whose mind is so ordered, the apparent disarray in your offices and chambers in which every surface, including every inch of floor space, is covered by piles of paper has been, to many, alarmingly inconsistent.

In your Honour’s years as Associate Commonwealth DPP, Justice Weinberg, then director, was constantly astonished at your Honour’s uncanny ability to find things. Your Honour’s nimble fingers would delve into the mounds of papers and deftly bring out whatever was asked for.

This technique is also evident in the wholly different context of dining out on Chinese food with friends. All who were present at this week’s Australian Asian Law Association dinner were told proudly by you, that you can lay claim to a proud Chinese heritage. Your Honour favours sharing – and most people agree to that. However, the occasional dissenter sometimes finds him or herself subject to the flash of your Honour’s chopsticks diving in and plucking out a choice morsel.

Your Honour’s contributions to the administration of justice in your years in the Office of Public Prosecutions and, it’s said, in particular, the confidence engendered in the community by your Honour’s personal attention to the long drawn out gangland prosecutions, were of such value to the government and to the community that you could not then be taken away from that assignment.

It is gratifying that your Honour was finally released and appointed to the Court; and that last year, your contributions as a judge were recognised in your elevation to the Court of Appeal.

On behalf of the LIV and the solicitors of this state, I wish your Honour and your wife Anne – and your family – all the very best in your retirement.


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