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Speech Chief Justice Pascoe AC CVO Retirement




May it please the Court.

May I begin by acknowledging the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, the traditional custodians of the Sydney area, and pay my respects to all of Australia's Indigenous people.

It is a great privilege to be here today, on behalf of the Australian Government and the Australian people, to farewell the Honourable Chief Justice John Pascoe AC CVO and to celebrate your Honour's long and distinguished legal career culminating as the Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia, and prior to this, the Chief Judge of the Federal Circuit Court.


The high regard in which your Honour is held is demonstrated by the number of esteemed guests in attendance today.

I won't repeat the long list of acknowledgements already made, but If I may pay particular attention in the acknowledgment of your Honour's family, including your wife Jane and your three children, Rodney, Camilla and Cameron and two grandchildren.

I am well aware of the importance to your Honour of your family. The reality is that any individual who has achieved as much in the law and given as much service as a lawyer and Judge as you have, could never manage that without the support of a close and loving family.

Some people will see the tip of the iceberg of sacrifice that comes with public service in the judiciary.

But what few conceive is that the long hours and the varied strains that accompany a professional life spent deciding complicated and often fraught matters that so fundamentally effect peoples' lives arises because judicial service is at its most fundamental level a sacred promise to resolve matters for people who come before the Court, usually at the most difficult time of their lives, justly and fairly.

That promise means that you have personally done your best, which has been very good, to resolve the problems of thousands of people.

Inevitably, in volunteering into the intensely difficult job of doing the best you can to resolve the problems of other families; a great forbearance and support is required from your own family who are conscripts into this type of public service.

And this is one of those rare occasions where on behalf of the profession and the Government we can acknowledge and recognises the sacrifices of the family which has made your great public service possible. So a profound note of appreciation is offered from the Government to you Jane and to Rodney, Camilla and Cameron.

When I told my toddler I was going to work yesterday; he asked what I did and I instinctively applied that I was a lawyer (there is some advice I am sure that says it is still permissible for a politician to self-identify as a lawyer if they are also AG – just).

In any event he then followed up with; what's a lawyer? The simplest answer it seemed to me was "someone who helps other people with their problems"

Maybe this is how we all like to see our profession and likely its mostly true most of the time.

But in writing this address (shortly after that conversation) it occurred to me that if helping people with their problems is what we should all aspire as lawyers to achieve - few careers have made that aspiration a reality better than your Honours.

Early education, legal studies and legal career

A full exposition of your Honour's achievements would occupy more than permitted by my allotted time. 

From Broken Hill High School and Arts and law at ANU with Honours, your Honour was admitted to practice in the Supreme Court of New South Wales in 1972.

Following admission, your Honour commenced a legal career at the firm then known as Stephen Jacques and Stephen, which has now become King & Wood Mallesons.

You quickly rose to become partner of that firm in 1973, and continued in that role until 1982. 

From admission to practice in 1972 to partner of a national firm in 1973 is a rise so impressive and swift it occurs to me that it might just be possible that the re-adoption by major Australian law firms of this 1970s promotional policy could at least be a start to accommodating the ambition of millennial lawyers in 2018.  Just a thought.

In any event your Honour's success in private practice has been paralleled with a successful career in business and on private, government and community sectors Boards, including that Your Honour served as Deputy Chancellor of the University of New South.

Your Honour also served as CEO of George Weston Foods from 1985 to 2000, transforming the company into an immensely successful Australian business.

Service on the Bench

After working as Managing Director at Phillips Fox from 2001 to 2004, your Honour was appointed as the Second Chief of the Federal Magistrates Court.

In late 2004, that Court became the Federal Circuit Court and your Honour became its first Chief Judge and your Honour was appointed to the Chief Justiceship of the Family Court in 2017.

Your commitment to advancing the interests of children in family law has seen your Honour become an Officer of the Order of Australia.

And your commitment to the best interests of children has been both inside and outside the Court

Your Honour has worked with experts from across the globe to develop principles on surrogacy arrangements. 

And you are the Australian Representative to the Hague Conference on Private International Law Experts' Group on Parentage and Surrogacy.

Your Honour led the adoption of a nation-first Reconciliation Action Plan for the Court.

And alongside a dedication to the policy advancement of family law and the welfare of children has been a personal and practical commitment to orphaned children in South East Asia. Your Honour is a Patron of the LawAsia Family Law and Family Rights Section and a member of the Board of Trustees of the Advisory Board for the Cambodian Children's Fund Australia.

Finally, your reputation amongst your colleagues is as a man possessing the rare qualities of humility and patience and pastoral care. In court you are known for being courteous, thoughtful and considered even in the most difficult of circumstances.

I am told by one former colleague of yours that during a George Weston Foods company retreat, the senior executive team underwent a Myers Briggs personality profiling exercise.

All but one member of the large number in the corporate team were assessed as being in the top right quadrant of that test; a can-do hard-nosed corporate administrator type.

Your Honour's profile however, suggested someone in the bottom left quadrant, an intuitive, thoughtful and caring person, suggested career paths were not in actual fact partner of national firm or Chair of Corporate Board or even Head of Jurisdiction.  Rather, I am reliably informed, they included a barefoot existential philosopher or faith healer or strolling thespian!

Perhaps now one or all of those pastimes can be explored more thoroughly.


In concluding, your Honour, it has been an absolute privilege to be here today to celebrate your remarkable career, your professionalism and dedication to your judicial roles and to the broader community.

On behalf of the Australian Government and the Australian people, I would like to thank you for your dedicated service over the past 14 years, both as Chief Judge of the Federal Circuit Court and as Chief Justice of the Family Court, and also to the legal profession and international community more broadly.

I extend to you, on behalf of the Government and the people of Australia, best wishes for your future endeavours and a long and happy retirement.

May it please the Court.