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Vale Leslie Zines AO



19 August 2014

Vale Leslie Zines AO
Vale Leslie Zines AO

It is with sadness that we note the passing earlier this year of Emeritus Professor Leslie Zines AO, one of Sydney Law School’s most distinguished alumni, having graduated with First Class Honours in 1952. On 4th August 2014, a memorial service was held in his honour at the Great Hall of University House at the Australian National University at which he had been Robert Garran Professor of Law (1977-1992), previously Professor of Law (1967-1977), and subsequently appointed to the Arthur Goodhart Chair of Legal Science, Cambridge University (1992-1993). He had been the Dean of the Faculty of Law at ANU on two occasions. He had been a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australian since 1987 and an Honorary Fellow of Wolfson College, Cambridge since 1983. Prior to the commencement of his formal academic career, he had joined the Commonwealth Attorney-General Department and worked, inter alia, in the prestigious advisings branch. In 1956 he obtained a master of laws degree from Harvard University and upon his return to Australia confronted those cross-roads common to so many outstanding young lawyers: to the Bar or to the Academy? He chose the latter, rendering the Bar’s loss ANU’s (most considerable) gain.

In 1992, he was awarded the Order of Australia for services to the legal system, especially in the field of constitutional law. And in 1994 he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Laws by ANU.

At his memorial, tributes flowed from the distinguished array of eulogists (Sir Anthony Mason, Professors Geoffrey Lindell, Dennis Pearce and Fiona Wheeler and Mr Tom Halbert), a common theme in their encomiums being the excellence of his contribution as a scholar, teacher, friend and colleague, consultant (inter alia) to the Australian Constitutional Convention, the Commonwealth Attorney-General, the United Kingdom Government, serving on the Australian Constitutional Commission, and practitioner — he was involved in landmark constitutional cases in the High Court such as Tasmanian Dam, Seas and Submerged Lands, Koowarta v Bjelke-Peterson, and Ngo Ngo Ha v NSW.

Sir Anthony Mason, former Chief Justice of the High Court, has observed that ‘with the retirement of the eminent constitutionalist Geoffrey Sawer, Professor Zines became the leading commentator on the Australian Constitution.’ Professor Jeffrey Goldsworthy of Monash has referred to him as ‘the most influential scholar of constitutional law of his generation.’

In his Foreword to one (of the two) Festschrifts in Professor Zines’ honour, Justice William Gummow of the High Court (now Professor of Law at Sydney Law School) stated: ‘One of the reasons, I suggest, for the pre-eminent position which the work of Professor Zines continues to occupy in the field of federal constitutional law, is that readers of discernment appreciate that he writes as one who has retained his grip upon the fundamentals of a wide range of private law.’ He added that ‘the development in the methods of constitutional interpretation over the last thirty years has been influenced, in significant measure, by the work of Professor Zines.’

This is in no small part due to his leading, indeed peerless, text, The High Court and the Constitution, now in its fifth edition, together with the myriad of learned articles and book chapters which have emerged from his hand, as well as the 2nd and 3rd editions of Cowen's Federal Jurisdiction in Australia and his published Smuts Memorial Lectures, Constitutional Change in the Commonwealth and the casebook which he wrote with Professor Lindell, Sawer’s Australian Constitutional Cases (4th edn). The High Court and the Constitution has been, for at least a generation, the staple text (combined with casebook) of the undergraduate constitutional law course at ANU and also at Sydney Law School —and no doubt many other leading law schools — challenging students to strive for the very highest of standards in legal scholarship.

Vale Leslie Zines AO
Vale Leslie Zines AO

Justice Gummow, in the same Foreword, remarked on the challenging nature of Professor Zines’ lectures. No student could hide from his probing questions, uncompromising but courteously addressed, in the socratic dialogue he maintained with them. Referring to the example of certain outstanding teachers at Sydney Law School which inspired ‘as an undergraduate at Sydney, the young Zines’ — ‘whatever the method [they] were great teachers’ — Professor Gummow remarked: ‘Indifferent students were made to apply themselves sufficiently to pass (Honours then being a rarity) and the better students were taught to think about the law and to continue to ask “why?”’

The brilliance of Leslie Zines, was, by his own rigorous, self-effacing and exacting application, converted into its diverse manifestations, as above-mentioned. His name will remain amongst the most revered of all those whose contribution to constitutional law and Australian constitutionalism has set them apart. As we continue today to speak of Harrison Moore, who taught and wrote a century ago, so will students of the law, practitioners and jurists speak of Leslie Zines one hundred years hence.

Sydney Law School may justly claim a modest share of the reflected glory; as may Sydney High School, that very eminent lycee which already has an embarrassment of intellectual riches amongst its old boys, of which Leslie Zines was one.
The obituary of Professor Geoffrey Lindell, a long time colleague, and Oliver Mendelsohn sets out admirably the course of the life of Professor Zines and his extraordinary contribution to his students, to the law, and to the Commonwealth. Our readers are invited to read it at this link.

Vale Leslie Zines.

Peter Gerangelos
Professor of Constitutional Law
Sydney Law School