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Welcome of Judge Alister Mcnab

Welcome of Judge Alister Mcnab

By Steven Sapountsis

Courts Family Court Leadership 


Address on the occasion of the welcome of judge Alister Mcnab at the federal circuit court of Australia by Steven Sapountsis, president of the Law Institute of Victoria on Tuesday, 31 May 2016 at 9.30am in courtroom 4a.

May it please the court.

I appear on behalf of the Law Institute of Victoria and   the solicitors of this State to welcome Your Honour Alister McNab as a judge of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia.

It is extremely rare, if not unique, that any judge can claim – tenuously, but certainly arguably – a link to Barbara Streisand, the Rolling Stones and our very own John “The Voice” Farnham.

Your Honour’s woodwind repertoire as a professional musician during university,  with numerous rock bands and backing singers, included working with Venetta Fields,  a talented singer who was enlisted by the aforementioned superstars.

Your Honour, of course, has a much stronger and closer musical connection to the law, as saxophonist in the legendary and pulsating Melbourne lawyers’ band, the Lex Pistols – to name just one of a number of musical connections of note.

In what must be a first anywhere, that band’s line up will now include two judges, with Your Honour joining the drummer, His Honour Justice Lex Lasry of the Supreme Court of Victoria.

A trip down musical lane with Your Honour hits the high notes past a veritable cavalcade of crooners, swooners, rock bands, orchestras, choirs and classical performances.

Your Honour’s love for, and achievements in music, are paralleled in Your Honour’s outstanding legal credentials.

Law did not run in Your Honour’s family, but that was no impediment to a fine legal career.

Your Honour’s father worked travelling Queensland as a livestock auctioneer and later as a manager of a large meatworks.

Your Honour’s mother was a nurse, but it was through her enthusiasm as a pianist that Your Honour developed a love of music – a chord that was also struck with two of Your Honour’s siblings, who are also fine musicians.

Your Honour and Your Honour’s younger brother were members of the St Paul’s Cathedral Choir,  which helped Your Honour gain a scholarship to Trinity Grammar.

An education there led the school’s “Mr Music” to Monash University and a Bachelor of Laws.

Between 1986 and 1987 Your Honour was an articled clerk at Williams Winter & Higgs – now Williams Winter – a firm established in 1873, whose original Queen Street offices had a somewhat “Dickensian” feel.

Your Honour’s principal was the legendary Bruce Curl, who liked to have has his articled clerks sit at a desk in a corner of his room.  And many a fine lesson was there learned.

At that time, articled clerks were obliged to undertake two professional subjects, Evidence and Accounts at the University of Melbourne. Your Honour took those subjects with Tim Seccull, a good friend, who is now a  barrister.

While Mr Seccull then worked nights as a chef, Your Honour was engaged as a musician, an occupation known for firing up after midnight- after most kitchens had closed.

Towards the end of one grinding afternoon class at the University of Melbourne, Mr Seccull’s concentration was shattered by a sudden, solid thud at his right shoulder – Your Honour had fallen asleep, head slumped.

To this day Mr Seccull strongly denies that Your Honour’s snooze had anything to do with an allegedly shared pre-class detour that each of you may or may not have made, to a restaurant in Hardware Lane on the way to university.

It may or may not, also have involved the partaking  of a weisswurst sausage on a roseti with onion gravy and a glass of Riesling- but that jury has long been out,  and is most certainly hung on those allegations .

Your Honour was admitted to practice in 1988, and as we have heard, then worked as a solicitor at the firm Purves & Purves, where Your Honour’s principal was Tony Johnson.

Mr Johnson, a reserved and respected man who was a great support to Your Honour, once enquired early one January how Your Honour had seen in the New Year.

Your Honour’s response that it was spent preforming a gig at a nudist camp near Monbulk, in the hills outside Melbourne – as one does – sent Mr Johnson laughing so hard it almost toppled him from his chair.

Although a friend had outlined the bare details of what the gig required, Your Honour – curious and perhaps a little unwisely – fulfilled the unusual  booking, but wisely remained fully clothed during the performance.

From the stage, Your Honour and the other band members – who were a piano accordion player, a very poor bass guitarist and a drum machine – watched a throng of very happy dancing nudists.

Your Honour’s early work after signing the bar roll in 1990,  involved the every-day “crash and bash” contests, summary assault briefs and defending the indefensible – insurance claims against truck drivers.

The winning strike rate was, predictably, low.

Malcolm Woolrich, then a solicitor with the firm McKay Willis in Beaumaris, recalls Your Honour’s unbridled confidence when he briefed Your Honour, who he regarded as a counsel who always gave his best, pushed as hard as one could and was pleasant and personable with clients.

With every lost case, Mr Woolrich was handed a five page report, that he remembers to this day as indicative of Your Honour’s diligence - a trait clearly seen throughout a legal career which has included more than 25 years at the bar.

As we have heard, for the majority of those years Your Honour practised in the area of commercial law and industrial relations, appearing in most higher jurisdictions in lengthy and complex matters, including the Cole Royal Commission and numerous significant cases.

Your Honour has provided advice, conducted examinations, drafted applications and statements of claim and was been briefed regularly in a broad range of matters – and the citations we have heard of some of the cases Your Honour has been involved with, are testament to why we are here today. 

As we have heard, Your Honour taught law on aid-funded programs, notably in remote Indonesian towns and the jungles of Kalimantan. Your Honour did this for more than a decade, together with other barristers, including Professor Timothy Lindsay and Michael O’Connell SC.

Your Honour’s appearance at these sessions – immaculately dressed in a favourite check suit, tie and cufflinks – suggested Derby Day at Flemington rather than a law tutorial in a steaming equatorial rain forest.

In the evenings, after sunset and with a soothing drink on the verandah, Your Honour would serenade the assembled locals with jazz classics on a trusty, travelling miniature tenor sax.

Back in Melbourne, Your Honour enjoyed a treasured family life, a busy practice and regular,  vigorous walks to Victoria Market – moving “like a steam train”, says one familiar with the sight - for a bratwurst sausage lunch laced with chilli and a Riesling.  If only that hung jury, about which we heard earlier,  was allowed to hear similar fact evidence.

We have been told, but stand to be corrected,  that Your Honour’s unique filing system may be a challenge for Your Honour’s court associate. It has been described as a “massed paper mountain” where only its creator can locate a particular document, and a system once described in another context as the “Biblical” filing system- seek and ye shall find.

At last year’s annual Victorian Bar dinner, it was Chief Justice Robert French of the High Court and Victoria’s Chief Justice Marilyn Warren who first hit the dancefloor to the Lex Pistols’ opening number, “Beast of Burden”.

I understand that the band belted it out again last Friday at the dinner, while only the week before Your Honour had played classical clarinet with the Melbourne Lawyers Orchestra in a performance of Mozart’s “Requiem”.

Gifted is a word often applied to a brilliant musician, and it has been applied to Your Honour - but in Your Honour’s case it is also a talent that has engendered a compassion and many kindnesses for those that may be more battling buskers, than rock royalty.   

Such qualities, and Your Honour’s great understanding of human nature and its foibles, and a wonderful sense of humour, will make for a fine career on the bench.

The Law Institute of Victoria and the solicitors of this State wish You Honour well for what is bound to be a wonderful career as a Judge of this Court.     

May it please the court.                     


LIV Media Department

T: 03 9607 9389


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