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Obituary: Peter Jones

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Cite as: April 2015 89 (4) LIJ, p.31

14 September 1944 - 10 January 2015

Criminal advocate, mentor, great character

Peter Richard Michael Jones was the youngest son of Jim and Marie Jones. He had two brothers, David and Geoffrey.

He went to Parade Preparatory College at Alphington and then the senior school in Victoria Parade. He was very bright intellectually but had difficulty applying himself in that environment.

Peter wanted to leave school. Jim relented and he left after completing leaving. He joined Bowen and Pomeroy timber merchants in North Melbourne under a cadetship. Later he joined Stegbar Windows. What Peter learned about people and life in these jobs would be an invaluable asset to him as a barrister.

About this time Peter started his relationship with Pat, a relationship that would continue for more than 50 years. They married in 1968 and the twins (Andrew and Simon) were born in 1970. Peter had a great affection for Pat’s family. Their passion for the Hawks was caught by Peter and they were all regulars to games. The 2014 premiership gave Peter a great thrill.

Peter decided the building industry was not for him. The law beckoned but first he had to matriculate and then graduate, a formidable challenge to a person with a young family. He joined the public service and obtained a position as a clerk in the criminal law division of the Crown Solicitor’s Office. It was a turning point in his career for it resulted in his love of the criminal law. Under the guidance of people such as Jack Gaffney, Peter instructed senior prosecutors. He would recount his experiences as an instructor with a flourish and some embellishment.

He matriculated and then commenced law at the University of Melbourne with the benefit of a scholarship. He finished his degree in 1973 and went to Wodonga where he was articled to Jack McHarg of McHarg Gunson.

The family returned to Melbourne and Peter was admitted to practice. The Bar was the place for him and he signed the Bar Roll in 1975 and read with David Cross. Thus Peter’s stellar career as an advocate was launched.

In 1995 Peter and Pat purchased their terrace in East Melbourne. It was there with Pat, Andrew and Simon by his side that Peter peacefully passed away.

Peter’s career spanned 40 years over which he established himself as an outstanding criminal advocate. He prosecuted and defended and was without peer at both. He was a very good lawyer with tremendous forensic skills, a lethal combination. His understanding of people and ability to communicate meant that he had a great rapport with juries. They listened to him, they understood him, he spoke their language. He was very rarely overturned on appeal. He was a dangerous prosecutor because he was so fair. He didn’t play games or tricks. He identified the issues that counted and concentrated on them. He went for the jugular. He could be mischievious. He was prosecuting a trial before the Hon John Nixon (one of his favourite judges), a sword was involved. In his closing address defence counsel wanted to demonstrate it was blunt so he smacked it into his hand. But to his horror blood started to flow. Next morning Peter and his instructor arrived with their hands bandaged. There was uproar.

Perhaps Peter’s biggest trial was the manslaughter trial involving an alleged exorcism in Horsham. It went for three months and the defence was that the accused believed they were acting lawfully as they were carrying out a genuine and lawful exorcism. It was before the Hon Graham Crossley, another of his favourite judges, his greatest favourite being the Hon Michael Kelly. The cross examination of Father Shanley by Peter on exorcisms was one of his best and one he greatly enjoyed. All accused were convicted and all the 150 grounds of appeal failed.

Peter loved circuit, particularly Bendigo and Mildura. After returning to work in 2009 after his cancer treatment, Peter appeared full time to prosecute in Bendigo up until September 2014 when he just physically couldn’t go on. He received tremendous support from his instructors and many friends at Bendigo. The Sandhurst Club was a favourite place. He could run his own show, make his own pace. The 70th birthday DVD prepared by his instructors is a gem and testament to their respect and admiration for him.

Mention has to be made of Seabrook Chambers which Peter and other barristers purchased in the early 1980s. It was an old wine store they had superbly restored. There was a great camaderie among them. Peter was served very well by his clerk Michael Green.

Expressions by colleagues well sum up Peter as an advocate and person: larger than life, one of the Bar’s great characters, a man with a big loud personality, friend and mentor, brave and irreverent, did it his way, one of life’s treasures, unique, much admired, spoken of with praise and affection, a great bloke. They also spoke of his forensic skills, knowledge of the law and fairness.

Peter was diagnosed with lung cancer in early 2008. He was given two years to live but lived nearly seven. He was extraordinarily brave. In the final months he had virtually no lung capacity but he kept going saying, “I need to get back to work”.

Throughout, he received heroic support from Pat right to the end. He packed everything he could into his 70 years.

Peter was a much loved and loving husband, father, grandfather, father in law, son, brother, brother in law, uncle and cousin. He had many friends. Over time young barristers will ask who was this Jonesy and be told by their seniors who knew him, “Ah, he was really something special, pity you didn’t see him in action”.

This is an edited version of the eulogy delivered by brother and former County Court judge the Hon David Jones.

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