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Welcome Justice Susan Crennan


Cite as: (2004) 78(3) LIJ, p. 30

Recently appointed Federal Court Justice Susan Crennan was welcomed to the Federal Court of Australia in Melbourne at a ceremony on 3 February. Among the speakers was Law Institute president Chris Dale. An edited version of his speech follows.

Your Honour, we are reliably informed, went to the Bar because of an unusual contact with a firm of solicitors.

You did the second half of a law degree in Sydney and at the end of the third year, despite achieving honours in all subjects, the sub-dean of law urged you to give up a job at the Sydney patent attorneys Arthur S Cave & Co to concentrate on the final year.

Your Honour did give up your day job and took a less demanding job as librarian at Smithers Warren & Tobias, which later became Phillips Fox. You were only required to attend there half the week, and the office next to your Honour was occupied by a retired consultant solicitor, Louis Bennett, father of David Bennett of the New South Wales Bar.

You approached David Bennett and asked to be his pupil.

Dr Bennett already had a pupil for the coming year but, nevertheless, agreed to take your Honour on as well, urging you to come to the Bar straight after completing your law degree.

When this news got out at the firm, as it inevitably did, the intellectual property partner, John Goodyear, with whom you had occasionally worked as a result of already having some qualifications in the field, dashed around to your tiny office, something he was not accustomed to doing.

Mr Goodyear had three questions for you:


had you lost all capacity for rational thought?;


wouldn’t it be better for you to become his articled clerk after completing a law degree and spending at least a short period of time at the firm before going to the Bar?; and


did you understand that the firm could not, acting responsibly, brief someone so inexperienced?

Your response to the first two questions was your customary smile, and in relation to the third question your Honour agreed. The inevitable happened some six months later when the firm’s barrister in a simple matter was suddenly unavailable and the brief arrived.

Phillips Fox, both in Sydney and Melbourne, became one of your great supporters in those early years as a barrister.

Your Honour has sat on several boards of particular relevance to solicitors, including the Legal Aid Commission and the Legal Practice Board.

From time to time, when solicitors themselves were in some personal difficulty or in some difficulty in relation to the regulatory authorities, you were often the counsel of first choice.

When your Honour was chair of the Bar, you enjoyed an extremely constructive and successful working relationship with the Law Institute.

One example was the creation of the Pro Bono Scheme which was set up when you were chair and Mark Woods was Institute president.

Undertaking the role of senior counsel assisting the royal commission into the Tricontinental collapse was a daunting task. It occupied the whole of your time for nearly two years. The Tricontinental group of companies did not keep good records. Indeed, the records were sketchy, to say the least.

The corporate and board structures were minimal and the loan investigation and approval process left much to be desired.

In addition, the principal player, for reasons which I won’t go into, did not only fail to assist the commission but involved the commissioners in delaying litigation which went ultimately to the High Court.

Your Honour and counsel by dint of incredibly hard work and analysis were able to present the story of this unfortunate collapse and enable the royal commissioners to reach detailed findings and make a number of recommendations.

In their final report of 31 August 1992, the commissioners said:

“Counsel assisting, Mrs Susan Crennan QC, Mr Ian Sutherland QC and Mr Anthony Howard, have been an effective and cohesive team. They have worked hard, often under considerable pressure, and have done promptly and very willingly everything that the commission has asked of them” (chapter 24, para 24.2).

Your approach to each case, as if it were your first, is a lesson that has not been lost on those who have worked with your Honour.

Colleagues talk of your unparalleled skills in cross-examination, the thoroughness of your preparation and your Honour’s razor-sharp intellect.

May I congratulate you on your elevation to this Court, commend your appointment, and on behalf of the Institute and the solicitors we represent, wish you all the best for the future.


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