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Norris, Sir John Gerald (1903–1990)

by R. L. Sharwood

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Sir John Gerald Norris (1903-1990), judge, was born on 12 June 1903 at Camberwell, Melbourne, son of Irish-born John Alexander Norris, civil servant, and his Victorian-born wife Ellen, née Heffernan.  His father was Victorian auditor-general (1919-37).  Young John was educated at Camberwell State and Melbourne High schools, and Ormond College, University of Melbourne (LL.B, 1923; LL.M, 1926) where, in his final honours examination, he shared first place and the Supreme Court prize.  Following articles with Braham & Pirani, he was admitted to practice on 1 May 1925; he signed the Victorian Bar Roll on 11 June.  He practised until 1939, mainly in equity and commercial law.  On 6 July 1929 at the Methodist Church, Kew, he married Ada May Bickford, a schoolteacher.

Serving part time with the 6th Battalion (Royal Melbourne Regiment), Citizen Military Forces, from 1924, Norris began full-time service after World War II broke out.  On 16 July 1941 he transferred, with the rank of major, to the Australian Imperial Force and was appointed to the 1st Armoured Division.  He was promoted to lieutenant colonel in March 1942 and was posted in July 1943 to New Guinea, where he served with the 2/8th Armoured Regiment.  Attached to the United States Sixth Army, in April 1944 he was present as an observer during its landing at Hollandia, Netherlands New Guinea (West Papua).  He returned to Australia in May 1945 and, having transferred to the Reserve of Officers in October, resumed his law practice.  Honorary colonel (1964-72) of the 4th/19th Prince of Wales’s Light Horse Regiment, he retained an association with the regiment for the rest of his life.

A well-respected barrister, Norris was twice a member of the Committee of Counsel, the Bar’s governing body, and was appointed KC in October 1950.  In the same year he acted for some months as a judge of the County Court, to which he was appointed a full member in January 1955.  From 1968 he acted on several occasions as judge of the Supreme Court, being permanently elevated in January 1973.  Norris retired on 11 June 1975 but over the next six years was involved in four major government assignments.  In Western Australia he was a royal commissioner (1975-76) on the administration of laws relating to prostitution; and in Victoria he chaired (1976-78) a committee to examine and advise on allegations against members of the Victoria Police Force, participated (1978-80) in a review of the Coroner’s Act (1958) and conducted (1980-81) an inquiry into the ownership and control of newspapers in that state.

At the University of Melbourne Norris lectured part time (1932-52) in commercial law in the faculty of commerce and tutored (1933-36) in law at Ormond College.  A member (1954-65) and warden (1962-65) of the standing committee of convocation, he was also a member (1965-81) of the university council.  In 1980 the university awarded him an honorary LL.D.

Of medium height and build, 'Bugsy' Norris was a kind and naturally friendly man, with a keen wit and all the old-fashioned virtues who, while loving the law, led a well-rounded life.  He was active in the Baden-Powell Scout Guild of Victoria.  In 1981 he was knighted.  Predeceased (1989) by his wife and survived by their two daughters, Sir John died on 21 May 1990 at Heidelberg and was cremated.  A daughter Rosemary Balmford was the first female judge (1996-2003) of the Supreme Court of Victoria.

Select Bibliography

  • Law Institute Journal, March 1984, p 249
  • Victorian Bar News, no 77, winter 1991, p 15
  • Victorian Reports, 1990, preface
  • Norris papers (University of Melbourne archives)
  • Norris/Balmford family papers (Victorian Bar archives, Melbourne)
  • B883, item VX59599 (National Archives of Australia)
  • personal information

Citation details

R. L. Sharwood, 'Norris, Sir John Gerald (1903–1990)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/norris-sir-john-gerald-14998/text26187, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 23 February 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

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