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Francis Charles (Frank) Hutley (1914–1985)

by John Kennedy McLaughlin

This article was published:

Francis Charles (Frank) Hutley (1914-1985), judge, was born on 22 October 1914 at Lithgow, New South Wales, elder child of Arthur Hutley, an English-born medical practitioner, and his Sydney-born wife Ethel Mary, née Plomley (d.1916). After the family moved to Sydney early in the 1920s, Frank was educated at Chatswood Boys’ Intermediate High and North Sydney Boys’ High schools. Having won an exhibition to the University of Sydney (BA, 1935; LL B, 1939), he graduated with first-class honours in English, philosophy and law and was awarded university medals in philosophy and law. The uncompromising intellectual integrity and rigorous academic discipline for which he became renowned were cultivated by his contact with Professor John Anderson, who held Hutley in the highest esteem. He became a lecturer in jurisprudence and private international law at the Sydney University Law School and in 1940 edited Blackacre, the law students’ publication. While still a student he had been articled to G. L. Baldick and on 21 February 1941 he was admitted as a solicitor.

On 22 December that year Hutley enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. Commissioned in July 1942, he joined Alf Conlon’s research section before transferring to the Australian Army Legal Department (later Corps), with which he served in Papua (May-November 1944). He then returned to Conlon’s Directorate of Research and Civil Affairs. Having attended (July-October 1945) the United States Army’s School of Military Government, Charlottesville, Virginia, he carried out military liaison duties as a temporary major with the British Commonwealth Occupation Force, Japan, from April to December 1946. He transferred to the Reserve of Officers on 3 January 1947.

Hutley briefly resumed his academic career at the Sydney University Law School, before commencing practice at the Bar in 1948. He had been admitted as a barrister on 18 February 1944, while serving in the legal corps. An acknowledged expert in probate law and all matters concerning estates, he was also retained by several trade unions in important industrial litigation. His undoubted forensic abilities and his professional competence were recognised by his appointment as QC in 1967. He had an unusual mannerism of speech that he seemed to have deliberately cultivated, by which he underlined a statement, an oratorical hit or the punch-line in a story, with a growling sound that continued for many seconds after the words concluded.

A part-time lecturer in probate, succession and admiralty law at the Sydney University Law School, Hutley acquired, and almost certainly delighted in, a fearsome reputation for imposing high standards. No academic leniency or compromise was ever allowed by him, although doubtless many solicitors, and perhaps even judges, relished the subsequent opportunities for revenge. He wrote two standard works, Cases and Materials on Succession (1967) and Australian Wills Precedents (1970), and contributed articles to the Australian Law Journal and other learned publications in law and philosophy. The last editor (1970-71) of the New South Wales State Reports, he was the first editor (1971-72) of its successor, the New South Wales Law Reports; he also edited (1970-71) the New South Wales Weekly Notes. He was a director (1958-72) of the mining company Coffs Harbour Rutile NL.

Hutley was appointed a judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales and an additional judge of appeal on 9 October 1972. His appointment to the Court of Appeal became permanent on 9 February 1973. As a judge he was relentless in his pursuit and exposure of error, whether from a lower court or in the legal submissions being presented to him. He was fearless, as a practitioner and as a judge, in expressing his conclusions as to what was right and just. The story that he once advised a client to sue his instructing solicitor (albeit very much in character) was rebutted by Hutley upon his retirement. Despite his daunting image, he was a most generous and helpful colleague at the Bar and his advice was leavened with the most denunciatory and defamatory anecdotes and comments. On the Court of Appeal, although he could be equally as devastating to counsel as the colleagues with whom he sat, his manner was dictated not by any personal animus but by an overwhelming desire for right to be done.

Within the Supreme Court administration Hutley was a member, and later chairman, of the New South Wales and of the Commonwealth-State joint law courts library committees. He was also a member (1973-74) and president (1975) of the Joint Examinations Board of the Supreme Court. Following a three-month visit to the United States of America in 1979 on a Fulbright scholarship, he lectured on his experiences.

Opposed to cronyism, whether by solicitors in briefing counsel or by governments in making judicial appointments, at his 1984 retirement ceremony Hutley said: `A solicitor who briefs counsel on the basis of cronyism, social or political, is as much a menace to his client as one who raids the trust account’. He denounced the tendency for the executive government to interfere in proceedings between citizens and to pressurise the courts, stating that the judgment of which he was most proud was in Corporate Affairs Commission v. Bradley; Commonwealth of Australia (Intervener) (1974).

Hutley had married Margaret Walkom, a broadcasting executive, on 6 March 1946 at St Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Sydney; they divorced in May 1949. On 2 July at St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Chatswood, he married Lelia (Lee) Frances Walshe, a solicitor. She served as an alderman (1962-71) on the Mosman Municipal Council. Their country property, Robin Hill at Mount Wilson in the Blue Mountains, acquired in the mid-1950s, was a much-loved family retreat. Hutley was able to indulge his delight in gardening, and to participate in acrimonious disputes among the local residents (including Dr Charles Currey) at meetings of the Mount Wilson

Progress Association. Survived by his wife and their two sons and two daughters (all of whom were lawyers), he died of myocardial infarction on 2 September 1985 at St Leonards, Sydney. An agnostic, he was cremated without religious rites.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Kerr, Matters for Judgment (1978)
  • New South Wales Bar Association, Annual Report, 1984, p 17
  • Australian Law Journal, vol 46, no 10, 1972, p 540, vol 59, no 1, 1985, p 59, vol 59, no 11, 1985, p 689
  • Australian Bar Review, vol 1, no 3, 1985, p 185
  • Mt Wilson & Mt Irvine Historical Society, History Papers, Sept 2001, p 5
  • series B883, item NX79702 (National Archives of Australia)
  • A. McGrath, interview with F. Hutley (transcript, 1983, National Library of Australia)
  • private information.

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Citation details

John Kennedy McLaughlin, 'Hutley, Francis Charles (Frank) (1914–1985)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 22 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


22 October, 1914
Lithgow, New South Wales, Australia


2 September, 1985 (aged 70)
St Leonards, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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