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Obituary

By Law Institute Journal

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Rosemary Balmford AM

15 September 1933 – 8 August 2017

The Hon Rosemary Anne Balmford AM gave long and distinguished service to the people of Victoria, the legal profession, the judiciary and the courts.

Rosemary was the first woman to be appointed a judge of the Supreme Court of Victoria. This was in March 1996 and Rosemary had decided well before then that she enjoyed what she described as “sitting at that end of the room”, that is, “the process of hearing evidence and argument and going away and making a decision”.

She was admitted to practice on 1 March 1957, as one of five women and 27 men. No longer can it be said that law is A Funny Course for a Woman, the response Rosemary received in the 1950s, which she chose as the title to her memoir. She became a solicitor and partner at Whiting & Byrne. She returned there after the birth of her son Christopher and then worked as part of the in-house legal team at the University of Melbourne. While there she did an MBA.

In 1971 she was appointed as the founding executive director of the Leo Cussen Institute for Continuing Legal Education.

It was at the Equal Opportunity Board that Rosemary became aware that she liked adjudication.

In 1979 she heard the landmark case of Deborah Wardley v Ansett. This was the first sex discrimination in employment case contested before the Board. The Board ruled that Ansett’s refusal to employ Wardley was unlawful. Wardley then became the first female commercial pilot in Australia.

In 1982 Rosemary was appointed as a senior member of the Commonwealth Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

Suddenly she was at the centre of Australia’s leadership role in the field of administrative law. She reviewed a decision involving a single parent of a handicapped child who was not entitled to a supporting parent’s benefit because her child was adopted. Rosemary recommended the legislation be changed and within a day or so of handing down her decision the minister announced that the legislation would be appropriately amended.

Ten years later she was appointed to the County Court of Victoria. In 1993 there were no women serving on that Court. The majority of the work was crime.

As a judge of the County Court Rosemary made public her view that there was an overwhelming argument for the opening up of the professions to women. Her argument was that to exclude women was simply to waste the abilities of half of the population.

Two years later the Attorney-General Jan Wade approached her to accept an appointment to the Supreme Court. It would be difficult to overestimate the symbolic significance of this appointment.

There was a palpable sense of euphoria at the Bar among the women, and men, that historically the ground had shifted. Rosemary said at her welcome that she hoped her appointment would help in the process of establishing in the minds of other women an awareness that they could aspire to appropriate positions in the state. In a very real sense Rosemary’s appointment was the foundation for the establishment of women judges both on the County and Supreme Courts.

Soon she was joined by other women judges. As soon as there were three at the same time Chief Justice John Phillips listed an all female Full Court (Justices Balmford, Warren and Dodds-Streeton) to sit on the admissions ceremonies in August 2002.

At the Supreme Court Rosemary occupied the chambers that her father Sir John Norris had occupied. She became the first woman to preside over a murder trial in Victoria. She sat in every area of the Court’s jurisdiction, crime, common law, commercial and equity, and the Court of Appeal. She was the judge in charge of the Valuation, Compensation and Planning list.

Rosemary served the Supreme Court with distinction until her retirement from the bench in 2003.

The women judges of Victoria owe Rosemary a great deal. She was an inspiration to all of us.

More generally, the legal profession of Victoria is indebted to Rosemary for her pioneering contribution.

Rosemary had several principal interests in life including, of course, her family, and ornithology which she shared with her late husband Peter. She wrote Learning About Australian Birds, published by William Collins in 1981. An updated edition The Beginners Guide to Australian Birds, was published by Penguin Australia in 1990.

 

This tribute is from eulogies prepared by Court of Appeal Justice Pamela Tate and Rosemary Balmford’s son Christopher Balmford.


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