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Farewell for Justice Geoffrey Arthur Akeroyd Nettle

Farewell for Justice Geoffrey Arthur Akeroyd Nettle

By LIV Media


May it please the Court.

I appear on behalf of the Law Institute of Victoria and the solicitors of this state to farewell Your Honour Justice Geoffrey Nettle as a justice of the High Court of Australia.

We acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we gather and pay our respects to their Elders, past and present, and to any Elders with us today.

Your Honour, when you joined the High Court just a few short years ago, you compared your late-career appointment to the example set by none other than Josh Mann-Rea.

For non-rugby nuts, Mann-Rea has been described as “a late bloomer if ever there was one”.

His was “one of the most remarkable comeback stories” in Australian rugby.

Having missed several chances to take his game to the higher levels, ‘Bongo’, as he was known, quietly shuffled off to work in the New South Wales coal mines.

It took years of shovelling coal but suddenly – just like that – his undeniable talent was recognised, and in what is normally the down-phase of a career, big old ‘Bongo’ was swept into the world of top-class games, including a stint with the Wallabies.

Now, Your Honour, we do not suggest for a moment that 11 years spent on the Victorian Court of Appeal, plus two earlier years in the Trial division, is at all comparable to toiling in the coal mines.

That is for others to judge.

But to labour the rugby analogy, Your Honour put in the hard yards and overhauled the ‘try’-line year after year to reach the highest levels of Law.

It must be said, your talent was never in question.

It was evident in the first class honours you attained while studying Law at the University of Melbourne in 1975, and again the following year while studying a Bachelor of Civil Law at Oxford.

It is more than evident in your brilliant and clear jurisprudential work, your fine and classy legal scholarship and your exceptional capacity for hard work.

And it was evident in the way you would often engage counsel in deep and respectful oral argument, preferring to untangle the puzzle rather than let it sit.

Such diligence and clarity of thought also came to the fore when you worked alongside Justice Ashley of the Court of Appeal to develop reforms to streamline the operation of the appeals court and reduce the backlog of cases.

The reforms enormously improved the operation of the Court of Appeal, and the people of Victoria thank you and your colleagues for implementing them.

You have motivated many lawyers to strive for exactitude and excellence, and to commit – as you did – to the highest standards of integrity.

Yet you have done all this with characteristic modesty and discretion.

In all, your gentle and dry wit, your generosity to other lawyers in imparting knowledge, and your deep commitment to further learning have contributed to your reputation as an extraordinary member of the Australian – and, of course, the Victorian – legal community.

Those elements combine to highlight a career that, in our view, ranks among the finest in Australian law.

We cannot let your considerable sporting prowess go unmentioned.

Indeed, Your Honour has run 14 times in the Melbourne Marathon since 2004, averaging better than 11 kilometres per hour for the first 21 kilometres of the run.

And in 2018, when you recorded a not-so-good official marathon time, you still came seventh in the above 60s category!

We’ll just let that sink in.

Your Honour, in honouring your formidable career, we want you know that you have inspired more than a few lawyers that they, too, might one day attain a seat on the highest court in the land.

Whatever the next stage of your life holds for you, your wife Wendy and your much loved family, we wish you well.

May you get to tinker with your classic cars, sail on calm and breezy seas, and may you never lose your keen and devilish humour and the joyous twinkle that shines from your eyes.

May it please the Court.

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