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Sir Lawrence Walter Jackson (1913–1993)

by Nicholas Hasluck

This article was published:

Sir Lawrence Walter Jackson (1913–1993), judge and university chancellor, was born on 27 September 1913 at Dulwich, South Australia, eldest child of locally born parents Lawrence Stanley Jackson, public servant, and his wife Hazel Winifred, née Powell. The family moved to Sydney in 1920 after his father was promoted to assistant deputy commissioner of taxation in New South Wales. Lawrence attended Fort Street Boys’ High School and was awarded a public exhibition in 1931. After studying at the University of Sydney (BA, 1934; LLB, 1937), he was admitted as a solicitor of the Supreme Court of New South Wales in 1937.

Without any immediate prospects in Sydney, Lawrence accepted an offer of employment from his uncle Horace Jackson, who had established a law firm in Perth. On 16 December that year he was admitted as a barrister and solicitor of the Supreme Court of Western Australia. He returned to Sydney and married Mary Donaldson—whom he had met as a fellow student at a university ball—at the Congregational church, Mosman, on 30 December. They left for Perth the following day. He formally became a partner in Jackson, Leake, Stawell & Co. on 1 January 1938. The newlyweds settled at Forrest Street, Peppermint Grove, across the road from his uncle’s home.

In the pre-war period Jackson practised mainly in the fields of industrial arbitration and motor-vehicle insurance. Enlisting as a gunner in the Citizen Military Forces on 28 January 1942 and transferring to the Australian Imperial Force in July, he was commissioned as a lieutenant, Royal Australian Artillery, in August. His World War II service was all in Australia. It included some months in 1943 commanding the 419th Heavy Anti-Aircraft Gun Troop at Buckland Hill, overlooking the approaches to Fremantle Harbour. Having topped the qualifying course in March 1944, he was employed as a gunnery instructor before transferring to the Reserve of Officers on 2 August.

Jackson quickly established himself as a skilled junior barrister. By 1946 he was also a visiting lecturer in the law faculty at the University of Western Australia (UWA). In 1949 he received an offer to be appointed as a judge of the Supreme Court of Western Australia, on the condition that he also serve as president of the Arbitration Court. He accepted, and was president of the court until the end of 1954 when he became a full-time member of the Supreme Court bench. He was the youngest person to have been appointed a judge of the court.

A tall, lean, and athletic man, in his leisure Jackson devoted time to improving his golf handicap and participated in the annual cricket match between practitioners and articled clerks. Determined to contribute to community life, he was president (1951–63) of the Western Australian Cricket Association Inc., inaugural chairman (1959–66) of the council of the Western Australian branch of the National Trust of Australia, a member of the organising council for the 1962 British Empire and Commonwealth Games held in Perth, and chairman (1965–71) of the regional committee of the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust. He became a member of the senate of UWA in 1958. In August 1966 the State government appointed him to chair a committee to examine the needs of tertiary education in Western Australia. The Jackson report was a catalyst for the creation of a second university in the State. Among its recommendations were that UWA limit its student intake on the present site; that the university begin planning for a new campus, one which might later become independent; and that sites be reserved for future tertiary institutions. He became chancellor of UWA in 1968 and the newly opened Murdoch University would award him an honorary doctorate in 1975.

On 2 May 1969 Jackson was appointed chief justice of the Supreme Court, succeeding Sir Albert Wolff. Having been knighted in 1964, he was elevated to KCMG in 1970. Sir Lawrence changed the atmosphere at the court from a combative mood between the bench and the Bar to one of mutual respect. He introduced procedural reforms in a new set of Supreme Court rules in 1972. Soon after his appointment he had been called upon to review proceedings arising out of a collision between two ferries competing for custom. His determination created a valuable precedent as to the workings of the Court of Marine Inquiry. In Nicholas v. Western Australia (1972) he investigated the claim of prospecting companies that the State parliament’s amendment of the Mining Act with a view to extinguishing certain rights was invalid as it was an interference with the role of the courts. Jackson held that the provision lay within the plenary power of a sovereign parliament. A formal sitting of the court on 23 December 1976 marked his retirement. In an interview he quipped that he intended to ‘catch up on the forty years of reading I’ve missed’ (Thomas 1977, 7).

Throughout Jackson’s twenty-eight years on the bench he approached his judicial work with an open mind. In the courtroom he was witty and courteous while remaining firm. His term as chief justice, according to the Australian Law Journal, was characterised by ‘inspired leadership which attracted the loyalty of his judicial colleagues and the ready co-operation of the legal profession’ (1977, 162). His successor, Sir Francis Burt, recalled that Jackson’s judgments were ‘easy to read, easy to understand and never proceeded beyond the question to be decided’ (1993, 12).

Jackson continued to serve as chancellor of UWA until 22 May 1981. The following year the university awarded him the honorary degree of doctor of laws. Survived by his wife, son, and two daughters, he died at Subiaco on 5 June 1993 and was cremated. His career was honoured at a special sitting of the Supreme Court. A barristers’ chambers were named after him and his portrait by Romola Templeman hangs in the Supreme Court. At UWA a courtyard bears his name; a bronze sculpture, The Dancer by Greg James, was erected in his honour; and his portrait by Reginald Campbell is held in the art collection.

Research edited by Nicole McLennan

Select Bibliography

  • Aitken, D. H. ‘A Chancellor Retires.’ University News (University of Western Australia) 12, no. 4 (June 1981): 3

  •  Australian Law Journal. ‘Sir Lawrence Jackson.’ 51 (March 1977): 162

  • Bolton, Geoffrey, and Geraldine Byrne. May It Please Your Honour: A History of the Supreme Court of Western Australia 18612005. Perth: Law Society of Western Australia, 2005

  •  Burt, Sir Francis. ‘Sir Lawrence Walter Jackson KCMG, 1913–1993.’ Brief 20, no. 6 (July 1993): 10–13

  • Davies, Diana. Interview by the author, 2 December 2013

  • Jackson, Alton. Interview by the author, 31 July 2013

  •  National Archives of Australia. B883, WX30457

  •  Thomas, Athol. ‘Chief Justice Looks Back …’ West Australian, 7 February 1977, 7

  •  Virtue, John. ‘Chief Justice.’ Ilex 10, no. 1 (1977): 12–13

  •  Witcomb, Andrea, and Kate Gregory. From the Barracks to the Burrup: The National Trust in Western Australia. Sydney: University of New South Wales Press, 2010

Additional Resources

Citation details

Nicholas Hasluck, 'Jackson, Sir Lawrence Walter (1913–1993)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2017, accessed online 23 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 19, (ANU Press), 2021

View the front pages for Volume 19

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