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Sir William Webb

Sir William Webb

Early Life and Education

William Flood Webb was born on 21st January 1887 in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. He was educated at St. Mary's School in Warwick, Queensland. His father's name was William Webb and mother Catherine, she died in 1891. His father remarried Bridget (Catherine's sister) after the death of Catherine. After the death of his father (Webb senior) in 1898, Bridget, took the children to her sister's home.

He completed his Bachelor of Laws from the University of Queensland. He was also admitted to the Queensland Bar after securing 71.5% on the bar examination. He married to Beatrice Agnew on 17th March 1917 at the Sacred Heart Church located in Sandgate. William's three brothers died in infancy. He liked to play tennis and golf. He also hosted many tennis parties at his home. William Flood Webb was tall and slim man with smooth face and brown eyes. As a devout Catholic, he remained conscious of the duties and teachings of his faith and religion.


Webb received many awards and honors. Webb was made a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1954. He was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Laws by the University of Queensland in 1967. He also won a State scholarship. Having secured second position in the Queensland Public Service examination, he was assigned to perform his duty in the Home Secretary's Department on 3 February 1904.

 He was the state Public Defender in 1915 for Queensland. He was the Crown Solicitor from 1917 to 1922. In 1922, he was promoted to the Solicitor-General of Queensland and he took this responsibility till 1925. He was a Judge of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration for five years (1922-1927). As a President of the Queensland Court of Arbitration, he spent twenty years (1925-1945).

Legal Career

On 24th April 1925, he was appointed as a puisne judge to the Supreme Court of Queensland, a position he held until 17th May 1940. In the same court, he became senior puisne judge. In 1940 he was promoted to Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in the year 1940 and continued his position until 15 May 1946. For investigation of allegations of Japanese war crimes during World War II Webb was appointed by the Australia Government in 1943.

He was famous for producing crime report against Australian prisoners of war between 1943 and 1945. He visited London in 1944 for the purpose of giving advice on his reports to the United Nations War Crimes Commission.

Notably, from April 29, 1949 Webb presided over the sittings in Tokyo of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East. The proceedings were very cumbersome and lengthy. It took two and a half years to complete and was recorded in a transcript pages. Personally, Webb was worried because he had to speak on behalf of the judges due to convention.

Webb started his tenure on the High Court of Australiain May 1946. Webb's first case was Nelungaloo Pty Ltd v. Commonwealth, which was heard in the Full High Court in (June and July 1947). He sat in many important constitutional cases including succession of transport cases involving section 92 of the Constitution and pharmaceutical benefits case.

As an efficient judge, he carried out his duties with great vigor and enthusiasm. In his tenure, as a judge, he gained tremendous successes in the Full Court and the Court of Criminal Appeal with cases involving, succession duty, divorce, income tax, stamp duty and compulsory acquisition and compensation, and with criminal prosecutions and appeals. As crown solicitor, he had been involved in the heavy litigation between the Labor Government and those opposed to or affected by its actions. On 16 May 1958, he retired from the High Court and accepted the chairmanship of Electric Power Transmission Pty Ltd. He was also a member of remuneration tribunals set up by the Queensland Government.

He was hard-working and famous for his politeness and courteous behavior. He always tried to provide reasonable answers to the problems. His name will be inscribed with golden letters in Australian history for his calm reasoned answer to the problems, an answer refrain from emotional considerations. As a barrister, judge of the High Court, Chief Justice of Queensland and public servant he had a great contribution to Australian judicial system. He died on 11 August 1972 in South Brisbane. The William Webb Drive road, located in the district of Belconnen, Canberra is named after him. He was cremated in Nudgee and survived by 2 sons and 4 daughters. One can take a look his portrait drawn by Archibald Colquhoun, hangs in the High Court building in Canberra, Australia.

Justice of the High Court of Australia
In office 16 May 1946 – 16 May 1958
Nominated by Ben Chifley
Preceded by none
Succeeded by Sir Douglas Menzies
Personal details
Born 21 January 1887 Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
Died 11 August 1972

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