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John Toohey

John Toohey

Early life and Education

Toohey was born in the year 1930, to Albert and Sylvia Toohey. He had two younger sisters and a younger brother. At St. Louis School (Catholic school in Perth) he completed his secondary education. He completed Law and Arts at the University of Western Australia. In 1950, he also completed graduation with first class honors in law. He received the FE Parsons Prize and the HCF Keall Prize. He worked as a judge the High Court of Australia from 1987 to 1998.


During his life span, he was awarded many honors and awards. In 1986, he was made an Officer of the Order of Australia. In 1988, Murdoch University of Australia awarded him an honorary doctorate in laws.

Legal Career

He started his legal career after completing his law degree. Toohey commenced his article of clerkship at the Perth law firm Levan & Walsh. In 1952, he was also admitted as a legal practitioner. He had expertise in taxation and property law. As a senior lecturer in Law, he spent one year (1957 to 1958) at the University of Western Australia. He started law practice in 1966 and was the 10th member of the Western Australian Bar Association.

He had expertise in criminal law, contract law and property law. He was also a president of the Western Australian Bar Association. He played a key role in establishing the Port Hedland office of the Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia. From 1972 to 1973, he served as a President of the Law Society of Western Australia. In the year 1972, he was famous for his judgment on an important case relating to the construction of section 34 of the Property Law Act 1969 (WA).

The year 1977 witnessed his appointment as a justice of the Federal Court of Australia. As a Presidential member of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal in 1980, he exhibited great talents. Having appointed as the inaugural Aboriginal Land commissioner in 1977, he held this position until 1982.

As a commissioner, heard claims under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 (Cth). According to this Act, the commissioner would be granted wide statutory powers and the Commissioner's decision could be appealed directly to the Full Court of the High Court. As a commissioner, many of his decisions were appealed to the High Court including R v Toohey; Ex parte Attorney-General (NT), R v Toohey; Ex parte Northern Land Council , and R v Toohey; Ex parte Meneling Station Pty Ltd.

After completion of his term as Aboriginal Land Commissioner in 1982, he came back to Perth and worked as full-time Federal Court judge. He was also appointed as a member of the Constitutional Commission for reviewing the Australian Constitution. Until 1987, he continued as Federal Court judge. He was also appointed to the High Court of Australia by replacing Justice Lionel Murphy. As a puisne Justice, he took an oath on February 6, 1987.

On the same day, Sir Anthony Mason also took an oath as a Chief Justice, and in the same year Mary Gaudron was sworn in as a puisne Justice. Toohey retired from the bench in February1998. Serving as a judge in the judicial system of Kiribati, and as a justice of the Supreme Court of Fiji after his retirement, Toohey earned name and fame. John Toohey was very confident and firm in taking judicial decisions. He always tried to aloof from controversies. In his life, what he delivered, before and after his appointment to the High Court was completely based on his judicial firmness and excellency.

The other subjects he chose were of the same order: minorities, legal aid and legal access, the position of victims in the judicial process and human rights. His contribution to a conference on constitutional change held in Darwin in October 1992 was rememberable. His speech hit the headline. The speech was titled "A Government of Laws and Not of Men".

He always tried to draw attention to the fact that Australia was unusual among the Western democracies in lacking express constitutional protection for most fundamental rights. He was in favour of individual liberties that should be enjoyed in Australia to a greater extent. Among the three independent members of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, chaired by Lord Saville, he was one of them. Now he is a Visiting Professor in Law at the University of Western Australia.

As a legal practitioner; Senior Lecturer, Law School, University of Western Australia; Judge of the Federal Court of Australia and Supreme Court of the Northern Territory; Aboriginal Lands Commissioner (Northern Territory); and Justice of the High Court of Australia, he had laid the real foundation of Australian law and order. His role in establishing the Port Hedland Office of the Aboriginal Legal Service in 1974 would not be neglected.

John Toohey had tremendous experience and knowledge about the land of law. He was aware of the real importance and significance of Australian history. Most of his judicial decisions were based on jurisprudence and aiming at wellbeing Australians.

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