Supreme Court of NSW
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Swearing in Ceremony of The Honourable Roderick Neil Howie QC



Wednesday 11 October 2000

    1    HOWIE J: Chief Justice, I have the honour to announce I have been appointed a Judge of this Court. I present to you my Commission.
      2    SPIGELMAN CJ: Thank you, Justice Howie. Please be seated whilst the Commission is read. Principal Registrar, would you please read the Commission.
          (Commission read).
      3    Justice Howie, I ask you to rise and take the oaths of office; first the oath of allegiance and then the judicial oath.
          (Oaths of Office taken).
      4    Principal Registrar, I hand to you the oaths to be placed amongst the Court's archives. Sheriff, I hand to you the Bible so you may have the customary inscription placed in it in order that it may then be presented to Justice Howie as a memento of this occasion.
        5    Justice Howie, on behalf of the Judges of the Court and on my behalf I wish you a very warm welcome to this Court. I look forward to many years of service with you. We will hear presently of your many years of service to the people in this State, particularly in the area of criminal law. I look forward to many years of contribution in that and other fields, particularly in the Court of Criminal Appeal.

        6    THE HONOURABLE R J DEBUS MP ATTORNEY GENERAL OF NEW SOUTH WALES: Your Honour, as Attorney General and on behalf of the Bar and legal profession it is with great pleasure that I am able to congratulate you this morning on your elevation to the Supreme Court Bench.
          7    Your Honour was born in Sydney and educated at Mortlake Public School and Homebush Boys' High School (as I was myself a few years earlier).
            8    After leaving Homebush Boys' High, your Honour proceeded to Sydney University, graduating in Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor ofr Arts. At the age of twenty four your Honour worked as an articled clerk and in 1974 you were admitted to practise as a solicitor. Your master solicitor was the well-known Bruce Holcombe, a partner in the firm of Hickson, Lakeman and Holcombe. (He had been my master solicitor a few years before.)
              9    Throughout your time in that firm your Honour practised substantially in the areas of conveyancing and probate, a far cry from the criminal law with which you are today so closely identified.
                10    In 1976 you took up a vacancy as a criminal law solicitor in the Public Solicitor's Office and remained in that office until 1980. In that time you acted as a duty solicitor in Courts of Petty Sessions and instructed Counsel in the District Court and the Court of Criminal Appeal.
                  11    During this period your Honour also returned to University and completed a masters degree in criminology.
                    12    In June 1980 you were admitted to the Bar and appointed as a Public Defender. You served in this pivotal role in the administration of criminal justice in New South Wales between 1980 and 1984. During this period you represented accused persons in District Court trials, the Common Law Division of the Supreme Court and in appeals to the Court of Criminal Appeal and the High Court.
                      13    Between 1984 and 1987 you were the Director of the Criminal Law Review Division of the Attorney General's Department and your particular responsibilities during that period included formulation of the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act, the Director of Public Prosecutions Act, the Criminal Procedure Act as well as major reforms to the Justices Act and the Crimes Act.
                        14    In November 1986 you were appointed Queen's Counsel and between July 1987 and May 1993 you were the Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions.
                          15    May 1993 and May 1996 you worked as the Crown Advocate where you were greatly valued for your depth of knowledge of criminal law and procedure.
                            16    During your career at the Bar you appeared in many notable cases either for the defence or the Crown. These include Veen No. 2, McKinney, Maxwell and Taikato.
                              17    Your Honour has also been attracted to legal writing. Your Honour's work with Peter Johnson in authoring Butterworth's Criminal Practice and Procedure in New South Wales saw that service outstrip any potential rival for accuracy and comprehensiveness. Your Honour was also the major contributor to the section of Halsbury's Laws of Australia on Sentencing and Criminal Procedure.
                                18    Music has also played a practical as well as aesthetic role in your Honour's life. It proved to be a useful fall-back source of income when you needed to finance your way through University. At that time I am informed you played a double bass in a dance band. Your Honour is also an accomplished pianist, fully entitled to put the letters AMSA after your name. At an early stage of your career you also played the cello with a considerable degree of accomplishment.
                                  19    Another particularly interesting phase of your Honour's life, again reflecting your deep interest in music, revolved around a quite different instrument, the bag pipes. This was I suppose a predictable reflection of your Scottish background and you played that instrument in the Sydney University Regiment Pipe Band, although I am bound to say this is an area in which your Honour's earlier career had absolutely no resemblance to my own.
                                    20    Your Honour has a distinguished academic record. You hold Bachelor degrees in Arts and Law from the University of Sydney, together with a Master of Laws with First Class Honours. In proceeding to the last degree you received the J H McClemens Prize for criminology and the Law Graduates Association Prize Medal, this being awarded to the most outstanding graduate in the Masters of Laws degree.
                                      21    Legal administration in this State owes your Honour an enormous debt. Your extensive knowledge of criminal law and procedure has assisted countless Public Defenders and Crown Prosecutors. You have played a major role in the formulation and development of law reform proposals in the Criminal Law Review Division of the Attorney General's Department as Crown Advocate, as a member of the Justices Act Review Steering Committee and as Chairperson of the Model Criminal Code Officers' Committee. Your skill in drafting instant and plausible responses to extract Attorneys General, Directors of Public Prosecutions and others from sticky situations is legendary. All these skills combine to make you an outstanding advocate.
                                        22    Your Honour was, in recognition of the skills I have referred to, appointed as a Judge of the District Court of New South Wales on 15 May 1996, where your Honour has presided with both distinction and compassion.
                                          23    Your Honour was also appointed as an Acting Judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales between September and December 1997.
                                            24    You bring to the Supreme Court Bench deep experience in the law, especially in the criminal law and administrative law. You also possess the personal qualities and ability desired of a Supreme Court Judge and I have every confidence that in that role your Honour will continue to preside with the integrity, fairness and independence you have so ably demonstrated in the District Court. I welcome your experience and expertise which I believe will enrich the Supreme Court Bench to the advantage of all those who appear before you.
                                              25    Once again I congratulate you on your well-deserved appointment and wish you every success on the Supreme Court Bench.

                                              26    MR J F S NORTH, PRESIDENT, LAW SOCIETY OF NEW SOUTH WALES: May it please the Court. Your Honour, on behalf of the Law Society of New South Wales it gives me great pleasure to congratulate you upon your appointment as a Judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales.
                                                27    Your Honour, in viewing your career to date it is evident that you have succeeded as a lawyer and Judge in both serving the community and further advancing the practise of law. As our Attorney has so ably pointed out this morning, you have enjoyed a remarkable breadth of experience during your career, not only as an academic but also as an articled clerk, a solicitor in private practice, a solicitor with the Public Solicitor's Office, a Public Defender, a barrister rising to the rank of QC, Director of the Criminal Law Division of the Attorney General's Department, Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions, appearing in all Courts up to the High Court.
                                                  28    As a Crown Advocate, Deputy Solicitor General, Acting Director of Public Prosecutions and latterly as a Judge of the District Court, and even as an Acting Judge of this Court it is easy to see why you have been appointed to this Court. It might be true to say that you have all bases covered.
                                                    29    My inquiries reveal a paucity of appeals from your Honour's decisions during the time you have been a Judge in the District Court and this is a positive indication as to the calibre of your Honour's decisions. As, no doubt, the Chief Justice has informed your Honour, there is much to be done in the Supreme Court. However between murder trials, complex drug matters and appeal matters, we trust you will find time to enjoy your favourite past time of scuba diving. I hear you particularly enjoy exploring old wrecks and that you have dived in many of the world's exotic dive locations. Although your wife tolerates this idiosyncrasy with great good humour, she positively supports your other passions - an interest in Middle Eastern archaeology and antique furniture. These pursuits have taken you both to many exciting places and countries and provided the foil necessary for an extremely busy and varied professional life.
                                                      30    Your Honour, on behalf of the Law Society of New South Wales, I congratulate you upon your appointment as a Judge of this Court. The Society wishes you every measure of success in your future work. May it please the Court.

                                                      31    HOWIE J: Thank you Mr Attorney and Mr North for your kind words to welcome me to this Bench and your generous statements in support of my appointment.
                                                        32    I believe that I would not be alone in judicial ranks in confessing that one of the most difficult and nerve-racking aspects of taking on judicial office is the necessity to make a speech at one's swearing in. To parody Lady Brachnell, to have to do so once in one's life maybe regarded as a misfortune, but to be required to so do twice seems to look like carelessness.
                                                          33    I went to my swearing in at the District Court with very much the same mixed feelings of anxiety and excitement in which I find myself today. Fortunately, my concerns and apprehension about becoming a Judge of that Bench proved to be completely unwarranted. I relished my term as a District Court Judge and I have considerable regrets about leaving that Bench. In fact it proved to be the happiest and most rewarding period of my professional life.
                                                            34    Many of my misgivings about taking judicial appointment were dispelled on the day of my swearing in. I think one of the strengths of the District Court is the strong collegiate spirit and sense of camaraderie which exists between its Judges. I was from the outset warmly embraced as a valued member of the Court. I was overwhelmed with expressions of support and encouragement and genuine offers of assistance.
                                                              35    Since that day there have been innumerable occasions when I have sought advice from one or more of my fellow Judges. Very often it has been at lunch time at either one of the two common rooms. I cannot pretend that there has always been unanimity in the views expressed and I confess that there have been times, especially in the Downing Centre, when it has resulted in very lively debates indeed, some of which might not have assisted the task of the digestive juices.
                                                                36    But always those whom I asked were unstinting in their time and efforts to assist and they were able to draw on a profound knowledge of the law and often very many years of practical experience. I am honoured to have a number of my erstwhile brothers and sisters present today and I take the opportunity to acknowledge the debt that I owe and the high esteem in which I hold them.
                                                                  37    There was also a lively social side to the membership of that Bench which I greatly enjoyed and which I believe contributed considerably to the sense of fellowship which I felt. The simple fact is I took considerable pleasure from the company of many of the Judges of the Court. I now count a large number of them as amongst my close personal friends and in that sense my life has been enriched by my period of membership of the District Court.
                                                                    38    I enjoyed the challenge and stimulation that the variety and scope of the Court's jurisdiction offered. Even my occasional forays into the civil jurisdiction which I think initially alarmed Judge Garling, proved to be rewarding for me and perhaps even one or two plaintiffs along the way. I must, however, acknowledge my indebtedness to those members of the profession who showed such patience and, at times, persistence in endeavouring to aid me in my early days on the Bench and especially when hearing matters in areas of the law which were completely unfamiliar to me.
                                                                      39    No doubt there will be occasions while on this Bench when I will find myself again in need of the same nurturing and guidance from those who have a specialist knowledge in some particular area of the law. If I receive the same assistance that I routinely received in the civil jurisdiction of the District Court, both I and this Court will be well served.
                                                                        40    There are a large number of barristers and solicitors who have appeared in matters before me in the District Court but who, for one reason or another, do not routinely practise in the Supreme Court. I am aware there are a number of them present today, particularly from the public arm of the profession, both prosecution and defence. I thank them for the professional and competent manner in which they performed their functions before me.
                                                                          41    My short period as a Judge so far has brought home to me the importance of the relationship between the legal profession and the Bench. I learned very quickly how much easier it is to administer justice and how much better that justice is likely to be if the Court is assisted by experienced and well-prepared legal practitioners on both sides of the Bar table. I was fortunate to have found myself in that position wherever in the State I was sitting.
                                                                            42    The circuit work of the District Court was perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of my last four years. My wife and I will have fond memories of visiting towns and cities in this State which we had not found the time or perhaps inclination to visit before I was appointed. I was aware of some grumbling around the corridors of the John Maddison Tower that when I was doing circuit work I was frequently out of my depth and having difficulties keeping my head above water. But the fact that I often sat in locations where I could indulge in my passion for scuba diving was purely coincidental. I think on my appointment to this Court there has been an audible sigh of relief that criminal sittings on the Eastern seaboard might now be freely available to other Judges.
                                                                              43    Of course, those country sittings gave me the opportunity to become acquainted with many persons with whom I would never have come into contact but for being a District Court Judge. These people include members of the local legal profession, both private solicitors and those employed by the office of the DPP, court staff and sheriff's officers. At this time I wish to acknowledge the warmth with which my wife, my Associate and I were welcomed in each of those Courts and the assistance which I in particular received both on and off the Bench from the people I met in those places. Unfortunately, this Court does not generally sit in many of those locations and I sincerely regret I will not be able to renew both the professional and personal contact with many of those persons.
                                                                                44    Of course, I come to this Bench with some foretaste of what lies ahead. I enjoyed the short period I spent as an acting Justice in 1996. I was fortunate enough to experience a range of work carried out by a Judge of the Common Law Division. I had the opportunity to sit on the Court of Criminal Appeal, preside over murder trials and spend one week as duty judge, which gave me the experience of being required to come into chambers one wet Sunday evening to determine an urgent but hopeless application for an injunction.
                                                                                  45    One aspect of criminal trial work I have yet to experience in this jurisdiction is taking a jury verdict. Quite extraordinarily, each of the four trials over which I presided as an acting Justice failed to reach the stage where the evidence was considered by the jury. In one case I was forced to discharge three separates juries, one after the other for quite different reasons. Hopefully the hex has been lifted from me over the intervening years and I can bring the trial which I am about to commence this afternoon to finality, whatever might be the result.
                                                                                    46    As was the situation with the District Court, I have fortunately come to this Bench being well acquainted with many members of this Court, some of whom were once colleagues of mine in one or other of the positions I have held in my career at the Bar. I look forward to the opportunity that will now present itself to renew those acquaintances and friendships and forge new relationships which, as I was already indicated, has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my period as a Judge so far.
                                                                                      47    I expect this appointment will bring with it new demands and challenges which I have not experienced before. I confess to not a little anxiety in that regard. However, I am fortified by the fact that I will be assisted and supported in meeting these tasks by my Associate, Patricia Hew, who was with me in the District Court and who has been prepared to accompany me to this Court. We have now worked together throughout the different offices I have held for the past twelve years and I would be lost without her. But I appreciate that she makes the change with her own regrets and at the risk of breaking ties and friendships which she forged amongst the Associates and staff of the District Court.
                                                                                        48    My parents, members of my immediate family and some of my closest friends both within and outside the legal profession are present today to mark this occasion. I acknowledge the important part these people individually and collectively have played throughout my private and professional life. I thank them for the warm enthusiasm with which they treated the news of this appointment and their attendance here today.
                                                                                          49    It has also been gratifying to receive so many letters, e-mails and phone calls from many Judges of the courts of this State and members of every aspect of the legal profession welcoming my appointment and offering words of encouragement and support. I thank all of them for taking the time and making the effort to convey their good wishes to me.
                                                                                            50    When I was sworn in as a District Court Judge I paid tribute to the person who had been prepared to bear the brunt of the difficulties and crises which so frequently appeared to me to arise during my career at the Bar. That person is, of course, my wife Kay. Thankfully, the road we have travelled together over the last four years has been a straight and smooth one. I think that it may well have been the first time that she was actually happy that she had married a lawyer. However, once more I wish to publicly acknowledge that her love, patience and support have enabled me to reach what I accept is the pinnacle of my legal career.
                                                                                              51    Finally, I thank you all for being present and helping to mark this occasion as a very special one.

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                                                                                              Last updated: 14 October 2005
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