Tuesday, 11 February 2014


8: 2006 - Elegy

Word has been sent to me of Judge Kelly's death.  The death of my friend has saddened me greatly.

I have now seen a number of judges I have know very closely die – most of them nought but lovable rogues, but Justice Kelly was as close a saint as I will ever know.

Kelly should not have been a judge - he was at heart a poet and a scholar.  And a very good judge.

For a decade, I had the privilege, first as a solicitor and then as his Law Reform Committee's secretary, of getting to know him and his family.  He, and his wife, always welcomed me into their home – both the old place on Canberra Avenue and then their modest retirement unit overlooking the Murrumbidgee valley.  There, over lunch or dinner made by Mrs Kelly, he took great delight in hearing of the travails of political life, and plotting the acceptance of his Committee’s reports.  But also, he took me into his confidence, told me of his history and of his aspirations, and of the terrible prognosis for the remainder of his life.  With shaking hand and quiet determination, he would read me his poetry, and entrusted to me the rough drafts of those he worked so hard on.

He was a father, husband and barrister long before a judge.  As a husband he committed only one folly of which I am aware – the purchase of a fine Irish fly fishing rod, which sat unused awaiting his safe retirement, for far too long.  As a father, I know of no reproach to the love he and his wife had to their fine children.  As a barrister and judge, he loved his city and honoured his clients.

He and I only fought the once – over my recommendations in relation to defamation law – and it was a long quiet fight which he pursued over many years.  In the end, I do not think the differences between he and I were matters of any real significance (and all which we agreed found its way into the national law).  It was more an opportunity for this gentle man to chide me about the value of the shambolic architecture of the common law and his implacable protection of the right of the judges to chose their own path in the search for truth and justice.

For at his heart he was a person who lived his life according to the strictest principles of ethical behaviour.  He constantly strove for proper decision. 

It was no surprise to me that in retirement he took to studying ancient Greek - that he might more closely feel the touch of the words of his god.

He kept in close correspondence with the judges here and in Canada – from whom he learnt of and adapted the law now generally accepted in Australia relating to victims of crime – and the healing process we have rediscovered in aboriginal law and applied in our circle sentencing models.  I will pass to them the sad knowledge of his death.


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