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Sir James Kenneth Manning (1907–1976)

by John Kennedy McLaughlin

This article was published:

Sir James Kenneth Manning (1907-1976), judge, was born on 26 May 1907 in North Sydney, second son of Australian-born parents Herbert William Manning, chemist, and his wife Mary Elsie Stella Mackenzie, née Clarke. Educated at Sydney Grammar School, Manning qualified through Solicitors' Admission Board examinations and was admitted to practice on 14 March 1930. At All Saints Church, Woollahra, on 24 December 1931 he married with Anglican rites Dorothy May Coleman; they were to have one child before being divorced. After brief sole practice, he formed Manning, Riddle & Co., a Sydney law firm. On 25 October 1940 he transferred to the Bar. Manning was commissioned in the Royal Australian Air Force on 2 June 1941. For his service in 1943 as a law officer with No.9 Operational group, Madang, New Guinea, he was mentioned in dispatches. At Air Force Headquarters, Melbourne, he was appointed deputy-director of personnel services in April 1944 and promoted acting wing commander in October. He was demobilized in January 1946.

Returning to the Bar in Sydney, Manning acquired an extensive practice, but specialized in bankruptcy law. He took silk in 1953. Although he had not graduated, he lectured in bankruptcy at the university, while still a solicitor, and returned as Challis lecturer in bankruptcy (1952-55). He long retained those associations, and was later president of the Sydney University Law Society; he was also responsible for establishing the university's law extension committee. Manning wrote standard textbooks on bankruptcy law and on the law of banker and customer in Australia. Honorary treasurer (1950-53) of the New South Wales Bar Association, he collaborated with its president (Sir) Garfield Barwick in having Wentworth Chambers in Phillip Street built as a corporate 'home' for the Bar. Events soon outstripped his imagined 'inn of court' as the decentralization of the courts caused an unprecedented dispersal of Bar chambers.

Manning was appointed an acting-judge of the Supreme Court in September 1955 and confirmed in office on 5 December. He sometimes acted as a judge in the Federal Bankruptcy Court. His robust decisions and efficiency in the previously unrecognized area of case management were admired by some, though he was not universally esteemed by practitioners. A 'stickler for correctness' (as he regarded it), he was impatient and acidulous, and overbearing and abrasive in judicial demeanour. He chaired (1966-69) the New South Wales Law Reform Commission. His contribution was perceptive and effective; under his guidance the commission became a model for Australia. In October 1969 he was elevated to the Court of Appeal.

At St Giles Anglican Church, Greenwich, on 16 December 1967 Manning married Sheila Alison Newton, née Barker, a 51-year-old divorcee. He enjoyed playing golf and bowls, and belonged to the Australian, Union and Royal Sydney Golf clubs. For many years a councillor and honorary treasurer of the Royal Blind Society of New South Wales, he was knighted in 1972. Ill health compelled him to retire from the bench on 28 February 1973. Sir Kenneth died of a cerebral vascular accident on 11 August 1976 in his home at Balmoral Beach and was cremated; his wife survived him, as did the daughter of his first marriage. The New South Wales Bar Association holds his portrait by W. E. Pidgeon.

Select Bibliography

  • J. M. Bennett (ed), A History of the New South Wales Bar (Syd, 1969)
  • J. and J. Mackinolty (eds), A Century Down Town (Syd, 1991)
  • Australian Law Journal, 29, Sept 1955, p 293, Mar 1956, p 646, 47, Apr 1973, p 157, 50, Sept 1976, p 487
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 12 Aug 1976.

Citation details

John Kennedy McLaughlin, 'Manning, Sir James Kenneth (1907–1976)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 27 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (Melbourne University Press), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

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