Hosted by the Newcastle Law School, the Hon. Michael Kirby AC CMG delivered a lecture last week to law students and interested members of the community, titled ‘The Mysteries of Judicial Reasoning: The case of Garcia v National Australia Bank’.
Justice Kirby spoke about the case of Garcia v National Australia Bank to explain the method of judicial reasoning. He started by dissecting the case to show students how to marshal the key facts and identify the issues for determination. Following this, he succinctly explained the method for identifying the binding legal rule from an analysis of judicial precedents.
Justice Kirby explained that a careful analysis of case law is necessary to distinguish obiter dicta (judicial views, observations, remarks or statements which form part of a judge’s reasons for judgment but are not strictly necessary for the decision formalised in the court’s orders) from the ratio decidendi (the rationale behind a court decision), and that statements that do not form part of the rule, no matter the status of the source making them, do not deserve to be followed as binding. He then explained his decision in the case and how he ultimately agreed in the orders issued by the majority of the court despite some reservations.
Justice Kirby graciously accepted questions from students after his presentation. He also interacted with Law School staff over tea.
Justice Kirby was first appointed in 1975 as a Deputy President of the Australian Conciliation & Arbitration Commission, and when he retired from the High Court of Australia on 2 February 2009, Justice Kirby was Australia’s longest serving judge. From 1975-1984 he was seconded as inaugural Chairman of the Australian Law Reform Commission. Later, he was appointed a judge of the Federal Court of Australia, then President of the New South Wales Court of Appeal and, concurrently, President of the Court of Appeal of Solomon Islands. His appointment to the High Court of Australia came in 1996 and he served thirteen years. In later years, he was Acting Chief Justice of Australia twice.
In addition to his judicial duties, Michael Kirby has served on three university governing bodies being elected Chancellor of Macquarie University in Sydney (1984-93). Between 1976-1983 Michael Kirby served on the Council of the University of Newcastle. He was elected Deputy Chancellor in 1978. In 1984 he received the University’s honorary degree of D. Litt. Since its inception, he has been closely associated with the Newcastle Law School.