High Court of Australia Quotations

In a speech delivered at the National Judicial Orientation Programme by Chief Justice Murray Gleeson, his Honour cautioned against the excesses of judicial wit, a topic that

concerns what might generously be described as judicial humour. Some judges, out of personal good nature, or out of a desire to break the tension that can develop in a courtroom, occasionally feel it appropriate to treat a captive audience to a display of wit. Sometimes this is appreciated by the audience, but sometimes it is not. When it is not the consequences can be very unfortunate. Judges and legal practitioners may underestimate the seriousness which litigants attach to legal proceedings, and they can become insensitive to the misunderstandings which might arise if the judge appears to be taking the occasion lightly or, even worse, if the judge appears to be making fun of someone involved in the case. Without wishing to appear to be a killjoy, I would caution against giving too much scope to your natural humour or high spirits when presiding in a courtroom. Most litigants and witnesses do not find court cases at all funny. In almost ten years of dealing with complaints against judicial officers … I have seen many cases where flippant behaviour has caused unintended but deep offence.

Without intending to detract from these words, or to speculate as to the attributes of a ‘killjoy’, this webpage celebrates those noble, perhaps reckless, members of the judicial branch who have chosen to disregard his Honour’s warning — at least in those instances where hilarity (however unintended or unnoticed) is the result.

Browse by jurisdiction:

TitleCaseAttributed toDatesort icon
Free choice and compulsion

Tofilau, Marks, Hill & Clarke v The Queen [2007] HCATrans 81

13 May 2012
The Lesson

Wilson v The Prothonotary (S127/1998) [1999] HCATrans 108 (16 April 1999)

13 May 2012
The Dictator

Wilson v St George Bank Ltd (S284/2001) [2003] HCATrans 597

13 May 2012
Logically incontestable

Ex parte Professional Engineers Association (1959) 107 CLR 208, 272.

02 January 2008
A wrong thing

Western Australia v Commonwealth (1975) 134 CLR 201, 251.

02 January 2008
Learned and experienced counsel

Federal Commissioner of Taxation v Hoffnung & Co Ltd (1928) 42 CLR 39, 62

02 January 2008
An early funeral

Anecdotal

02 January 2008
BMX bicycle: A definition

Leyden v Caboolture Shire Council [2007] HCATrans 475

22 December 2007
The Sony Playstation

Betfair Pty Ltd v Western Australia [2007] HCATrans 634

22 December 2007
Cricket in the High Court

Betfair Pty Ltd v Western Australia [2007] HCATrans 634

22 December 2007
Perre v Apand

Zorom Enterprises Pty Ltd (in liq) v Zabow [2007] HCATrans 800

22 December 2007
Wuss

Roncevich v Repatriation Commission (2005) 222 CLR 115

22 December 2007
Hammered

Joslyn v Berryman (2003) 214 CLR 552

22 December 2007