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Obituary : James Arthur John Tempany (03/11/1969 – 11/03/2002)


Cite as: (2002) 76(10) LIJ, p.28

James (Jim) Tempany died on 11 March 2002, aged 32.
The following obituary was written by colleagues Jeni Lee and Sophie Delaney.

Victoria’s legal and mental health systems are forever richer for the involvement of Jim Tempany within them over the past five years – for the energy, rigour, compassion and intelligence which he consistently brought to his work in the complex field of mental health. As a talented solicitor, Jim had a natural ability which would have seen his valuable contribution to these systems grow, had his life not been sadly cut short in March of this year. They are forever diminished now by his absence.

Jim’s passionate concern to uphold the rights of people suffering mental illness was deepened by his own personal experience of the difficulties of living with manic depression for more than 10 years. This experience inspired his research while studying law at Melbourne University, during which time he earned high praise for his analysis of the flaws within the mental health legal system and his suggestions for their resolution. It is testament to Jim’s extraordinary charisma that he secured articles at the first firm he approached – Gray & Gray in Northcote. In addition to his work commitments, he worked during 1997 and 1998 as a volunteer at the Fitzroy Legal Service and a volunteer and management committee member at the Mental Health Legal Centre.

In 1998, he was able to secure a position that would enable him to begin to demonstrate his exceptional talents when he became legal officer at the Mental Health Review Board. His own pain as well as his wide knowledge of psychiatric, psychotherapeutic and psychoanalytic literature enabled him to imbue his work at the Board with an exceptional insight into the everyday suffering of the people with whom he had contact. His extensive legal and clinical knowledge, combined with his empathy, enabled him to work brilliantly with all those whose often conflicting interests and rights were affected by the Board. He always made himself accessible to all the Board members as a constant and reliable point of advice and support.

His particular abilities made him an invaluable conduit between the members and the operational side of the Board. For them, the task of writing decisions was made less onerous by the assistance Jim willingly gave. That he is held with such high regard by the staff and members of the Board demonstrates the capacity he had for dealing with conflicting perspectives with both good grace and professionalism. The jurisprudence of the Board is far richer and more rigorous for Jim’s contribution, which in this sense is ongoing. His contribution to the body of mental health law is contained in the collected decisions, the implications of which remain as a lasting testament to his work. It is certain that his influence will endure in innumerable ways. The need he identified, for example, for analysis and improvement of the subjective experience of involuntary patients at the Mental Health Review Board will be pursued.

Not content to simply perform that which was expected of him in his position as representative of the Board, Jim always dealt with inquiries with a genuine compassion, often counselling and always willing to listen. His desire to prevent people falling through the gaps in the mental health legal system, which he had identified during his university career, led him to ensure that if he could not help, they were referred elsewhere.

When representing the Board at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, he would go to great pains to ensure that often unrepresented applicants were cognisant of their rights. He provided that service, it seems, single-handedly. The quality of the assistance he provided is reflected in the rarity of the people he referred to the Mental Health Legal Centre ever having to make that further contact. He was an invaluable resource for advocates working in the area. A significant component of his work was assisting lawyers with advice and research – always promptly, professionally and with deep care about the issues.

All those who came into contact with him appreciated Jim’s pleasant and easy manner. In addition, his bright and often cheeky good humour made him a pleasure to work with for all his colleagues who remain deeply saddened by his death. From the skill and commitment he brought to all his work, to the joy of his company, Jim’s gifted abilities cannot be overstated, neither can the certainty that if the law is approached in the way in which Jim approached it, then the outcomes will inevitably be more just and more ethical. And that is what he strove for.

Our deepest sympathies go to his partner, Nicola, to all of his family, and to those many, many people whose lives are enriched for having known him.


JENI LEE is a senior social worker, solicitor, member of the Mental Health Review Board and Forensic Leave Panel and chairperson of the Psychosurgery Review Board. SOPHIE DELANEY is a solicitor and coordinator of the Mental Health Legal Centre.


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