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Douglas, James Archibald (Jim) (1917–1984)

by M. W. D. White

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

James Archibald (Jim) Douglas (1917-1984), judge, was born on 14 August 1917 at Townsville, Queensland, second of five children of Queensland-born parents Robert Johnstone Douglas, barrister, and his wife Annie Alice May, née Ball. Jim’s grandfather was Premier John Douglas. Educated locally and at St Joseph’s College, Nudgee, Brisbane (1929-34), he became an associate to his father, who was then northern judge of the Supreme Court of Queensland at Townsville.

On 15 March 1940 Douglas was appointed as a lieutenant, Australian Imperial Force. He joined the 2/12th Battalion in Britain in August. Next year he took part in the defence of Tobruk, Libya, as a platoon commander. In May he and his men withstood a strong German attack on their section of the fortress’s perimeter. His comrades believed that he should have been decorated for his part in the action. He served with Northern Territory Force in 1942-43. On 1 February 1943 at Holy Spirit Catholic Church, New Farm, Brisbane, he married Marjorie Mary Ramsay, a civil servant. From August 1944 he assisted with the repatriation of Australian prisoners of war as a major with the AIF Reception Group, United Kingdom. This work took him to Russia and Poland in February-June 1945. His AIF appointment terminated in Australia on 15 October.

Completing his law studies, Douglas was admitted to the Bar on 25 November 1946. He set up chambers in Brisbane; his practice was mainly in the common law jurisdiction but he was a capable practitioner in all fields, including appellate work in the High Court of Australia. For three months in 1956-57 he was an acting-judge of the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory. In 1960 he was appointed QC. He appeared (1963-64) for the Queensland Police Union of Employees at the royal commission into allegations of police corruption in relation to the National Hotel, Brisbane.

President (1963-65) of the Bar Association of Queensland, he helped Graham Hart to develop the Inns of Court as a home for the Brisbane Bar. He was an executive member (1963-65) of the Law Council of Australia and vice-president (1964-65) of the Australian Bar Association. On 11 February 1965 he was appointed a Supreme Court judge. Conscientious and careful, he was outstanding in his ability to conduct trials in both criminal and civil jurisdictions. He could appear stern but his overriding concern was to ensure litigants were given a fair hearing and appropriate representation. Members of the profession whom he considered had not properly discharged their duty to the court or to the client were reprimanded. He served (1968-71, 1973-74) on the law faculty board, University of Queensland, and chaired (1972-82) the Central Sugar Cane Prices Board.

When Sir Charles Wanstall, the chief justice, and George Lucas, the senior puisne judge, retired on the same day in February 1982, Douglas, as the next most senior judge, had the support of the attorney-general, Samuel Doumany, and of the Bar to replace Wanstall. He was passed over for both offices by (Sir) Johannes Bjelke-Peterson’s cabinet in politically controversial circumstances—reputedly because he had voted at the 1972 State election for the Australian Labor Party.

A devout Christian, Douglas was chairman (1967-83) of the advisory board of Mount Olivet Hospital, Kangaroo Point, and Queensland president for some ten years of the St Vincent de Paul Society. In the latter role he helped to serve Christmas lunch to the poor before returning home to his own family’s festivities. He was made a knight of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta in 1975. A modest collector of Australian art, he also retained a love of ballet that had developed in Russia in 1945. He enjoyed gardening, served as patron of the Queensland Hibiscus Society, relished convivial meals and fine wines with colleagues, family and friends, and often attended reunions of his World War II battalion. Douglas was a member of the Queensland, United Service, Johnsonian, Tattersall’s and Queensland Turf clubs, and of the Wine and Food Society. Amply proportioned, he was known affectionately as `Big Jim’ or `Jumbo’. He was noted for his courtesy, integrity and moral courage.

Survived by his wife, and their daughter and three sons, he died of cancer on 2 February 1984 in Mount Olivet Hospital and was buried in Nudgee cemetery. In his valedictory, the president of the Queensland Bar, Bill Pincus, described him as `one of the last of the great Civil jury advocates in Queensland’. All three sons became barristers and took silk. Two, Robert Ramsay (d.2002) and James Sholto, were appointed judges of the Queensland Supreme Court in 1999.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Graeme-Evans, Of Storms and Rainbows, vol 1 (1989)
  • Australian Law Journal, vol 38, 1965, p 428, vol 58, 1984, p 477
  • Sunday Sun (Brisbane), 6 Dec 1981, p 19
  • Telegraph (Brisbane), 3 Feb 1984, p 1
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 4 Feb 1984, p 15, 7 Feb 1984, p 2
  • Australian, 17-18 Sept 1994, `Magazine’, p 46
  • valedictory ceremony speeches (typescript, 1984, copy on ADB file)
  • personal information.

Citation details

M. W. D. White, 'Douglas, James Archibald (Jim) (1917–1984)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/douglas-james-archibald-jim-12432/text22353, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 12 December 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

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