I have been appearing in a long running property matter in the SCNSW which Justice Arthur Emmett QC has personally case managed. I am very grateful for the patience, practical approach and pragmatism which his Honour brought to (an emotionally at least) difficult matter. His Honour actually retired in 2016 but has been sitting as an acting judge up until his 78th birthday recently.

One of the matters which appears on his Honour’s resume is that he appeared in the very last Australian case heard in the Privy Council – Austin v Keele (1987) 10 NSWLR 283.

I thought Privy Council appeals had stopped long before 1987. What I didn’t realise was that:

  1. Appeals to the Privy Council (for constitutional matters) were abolished in 1968 (Privy Council (Limitation of Appeals) Act 1968) and the High Court became the highest commonwealth court in the country in 1975 by virtue of the Privy Council (Appeals from the High Court) Act 1975 (Cth); and
  2. There were still appeals to the Privy Council from the state courts until they were abolished in 1986 by s 11 of the Australia Act. 

I clearly wasn’t paying that much attention in “legal institutions” all those years ago.

What I also didn’t realise about Austin v Keele is that Emmett AJA appeared for the respondent with his learned juniors, S R W Emmett (that would be his wife, Silvia) and A W Street (that would be his brother in law, “Sandy”). Of course judicial office runs in the family and the latter are both judges of the (newly merged) Federal Circuit and Family Court.

J M (John) Ireland and D E J (Dermot) Ryan, appeared for the appellant.

Creative commons acknowledgment for the photograph.

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