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Sir Edward McTiernan

Sir Edward McTiernan

Personal Life and Education

Australian lawyer, jurist and politician Sir Edward Aloysius McTiernan was born on 16 February 1892 at Glen Innes, New South Wales. He was the second of three sons of Patrick McTiernan and Isabella Diamond. His father was a police constable. Edward’s schooling started at Metz Public School and later Christian Brothers taught him at Lewisham as his family shifted to Sydney. He matriculated from St Mary’s Cathedral High School in 1908. But due to lack of financial support he could not join any university as a regular student. However, Edward followed his father’s advice and started working as a clerk in the new Commonwealth Public Service.

McTiernan utilized his little amount of salary in studying Arts at the University of Sydney. Though he studied the subject as a part-time student, he got very good results. After completion of BA, McTiernan resigned from his job and entered the legal profession. He joined a firm of solicitors and worked there as a junior clerk. After office hours he studied law and completed graduation with first-class (honors) in 1915.

In 1916, McTiernan got admitted to the New South Wales Bar when he was working as an associate with Justice (Sir) George Rich. Earlier in 1911, McTiernan had joined the political Labor League. In 1920 he fought for parliament at the NSW state election. At the age of 28, he turned out to be a member of the NSW Legislative Assembly and continued till 1927 by holding responsible posts such as Attorney-General and Minister of Justice.

Sir Edward McTiernan as a Judge

Ultra-cautious McTiernan did not contest in the 1927 election. Later, he joined the university as a Challis lecturer in Roman law in 1928. To his credit, idealist McTiernan was elected to Federal parliament as the member for the Sydney seat of Parkes in 1929.  After one year in 1930, Prime Minister Scullin decided not to fill two vacancies on the High Court, as an austerity measure. After a few days, Scullin and the attorney-general Frank Brennan had to travel out of Australia and at that time caucus finalized that the government should assign to the Bench two men who have social outlook compassionate to Labor. In this situation, against Prime Minister’s wish McTiernan and H. V. Evatt joined the highest court of Australia.

Sir Edward McTiernan oversaw a number of important cases in legal history of Australia. Some prominent cases are:  

  • Bank of New South Wales v/s Commonwealth, which was a major obstacle for an effort to nationalize the banks
  • Australian Communist Party v /s The Commonwealth, which was a hurdle to outlaw the Communist Party of Australia
  • R v/s Kirby; ex parte Boilermakers' Society of Australia, which toughened the set of guidelines of the separation of powers

Committed to fairness and justice, McTiernan worked under five Chief Justices and in 1951 he himself was honored with the highest judicial post. With 46 years of service in the High court of Australia, he has the longest-serving-judge record on his name.

At an age of 84, in 1970 McTiernan was not interested to resign from the bench. But he broke his hip when he was chasing a cricket with a rolled newspaper and Chief Justice Barwick turned down the proposal of installing a wheelchair ramp to allow McTiernan to come back to the bench. As a result, a long chapter in Australian judicial history was closed and McTiernan got retirement from his profession.

At the age of 97 on 9 January 1990 he died at Turramurra, Sydney.

Justice of the High Court of Australia
In office 20 December 1930 – 12 September 1976
Nominated by James Scullin
Appointed by John Baird, 1st Viscount Stonehaven
Preceded by Sir Isaac Isaacs
Succeeded by Sir Keith Aickin
Personal details
Born 16 February 1892 Glen Innes, New South Wales, Australia
Died 9 January 1990 (aged-97)

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