Dr James Renwick SC

LLB (1985), SJD (1994)

Dr James Renwick SC is a Senior Counsel based in Sydney but practising throughout Australia; an active Naval Reservist, having recently taken over as Head of the Sydney Naval Reserve Panel; and an occasional academic, having received the first SJD from an Australian university in 1993, later taking a mid-career break as a Fulbright Scholar at Johns Hopkins University in Washington DC, and now an Associate at the Sydney Centre for International Law.

Where has the study of law taken you in your career and/or life in general?

In places I could never have imagined: I have been fortunate to live and practice law for extended periods in Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, Darwin, and even, for a short time in 2004, at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba. After over 25 years in practice, comparisons become difficult, but some things stand out: witnessing the wonderful spectacle of group evidence by traditional Aboriginal people in remote parts of the Northern Territory; appearing now and then in the High Court, particularly in hard cases concerning detention without trial; trying to work out and then explain why my client, the highly respected Captain Burnett, ordered HMAS Sydney to close on what turned out to be a Nazi raider which surprised and sunk the Sydney and killed all of her crew, including him; trying to understand and then write about de-radicalisation.

What is your fondest memory of your time at Sydney Law School?

Perhaps the best way to answer that is to say I enjoyed graduate more than undergraduate study, and I enjoy occasional teaching more than either! Current students enjoy a far better learning and social environment than we did in Phillip Street.

What one piece of advice would you give to law students today?

Remember the wisdom of Chief Justice Gleeson in his Boyer Lectures ‘The law restrains and civilises power…whether the power in question is that of other individuals or corporations, or whether it is the power of governments…Law is not the enemy of liberty; it is its partner.’ It is the lawyer’s privilege to play a part, whether it is large or small, in this high expression of our civilisation, and in the 21st century there are so many ways to do so.