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Francis Mervyn (Frank) Neasey (1920–1993)

by Stefan Petrow

This article was published:

Francis Mervyn Neasey (1920–1993), judge and author, was born on 13 September 1920 at Latrobe, Tasmania, elder of two sons of Tasmanian-born Herbert Henry Neasey, carter, and his wife Elsie Beatrice, née Tyler. Frank was educated at Burnie Convent School and Burnie High School, where he was a senior prefect. 

In 1939 Neasey became a student teacher at Hobart’s Philip Smith Teachers’ College. He taught at Elizabeth Street Practising School until 16 September 1941 when, mobilised for service in World War II, he began full-time duty in the Citizen Military Forces (Australian Imperial Force (AIF) from July 1942). He served as a sergeant (1942) in anti-aircraft batteries—the 13th in Hobart (1941–43) and the 32nd and 23rd in Port Moresby (1943–44)—and with the 1st Naval Bombardment Group on Morotai (1945). While on leave, on 7 January 1943 he married Patricia May Killalea at Launceston’s Catholic Church of the Apostles.

Having been discharged from the AIF on 15 January 1946, Neasey doubted that his temperament was suited to teaching, and thought that a legal career would better secure his future. From 1946 to 1949 he studied law at the University of Tasmania under the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme (LLB, 1949).  Admitted as a legal practitioner in September 1949, he joined the firm Murdoch, Cuthbert and Clarke, where he had been an articled clerk. He became a partner in June 1950. A formidable trial lawyer, he excelled at advocacy, mainly taking on civil cases. At the University of Tasmania, he lectured part time in evidence and procedure (1956–62). He served terms as president of the Southern Tasmanian Bar Association (1961–62), of which he had been a founding member in 1952, and as president of the Medico-Legal Society of Tasmania.

Elevated to the Supreme Court of Tasmania in 1963, Neasey became renowned for ‘his independence, scholarship, intellectual integrity and articulate exposition of his reasons’ (Kirby 2004, 6). He supported reforms to the profession, including dispensing with wigs, using technology to secure accurate transcriptions of proceedings, videotaping police evidence, and simplifying legal language. Ending his judicial career in September 1990 as one of Tasmania’s longest-serving Supreme Court judges, he was praised by the president of the Tasmanian Bar Association, Pierre Slicer, for his ‘great intellectual understanding of legal concepts’ and for his ‘humanity’ (Leary 1990, 29).

Neasey recognised that the law had to evolve to meet the needs of a changing society. In 1969 he had become part-time chairman of the Law Reform Committee and then chaired the Tasmanian Law Reform Commission (1974–75). In this role he took pride in introducing compensation for accident victims, and in modernising the Criminal Code. He was a member of the Australian Law Reform Commission (1980–84), where his major contribution was in reforming evidence law; he lamented that very little of what the commission recommended was implemented. The government appointed him chair of the Royal Derwent Hospital’s board of management (1968–73), and of a royal commission into urban public passenger transport (1974). For service to the law and law reform, he was appointed AO in 1987.

His athletic build made Neasey a fine tennis player. A reserved man with a scholarly disposition, he loved classical music and was a keen student of biography. He began writing a book on his judicial hero Andrew Inglis Clark, which was completed by his son Lawrence in 2001. Survived by his wife, two sons, and two daughters, he died on 6 August 1993 in Hobart and was cremated. The Neasey scholarship at the University of Tasmania assists students studying for a higher degree in law.

Research edited by Malcolm Allbrook

Select Bibliography

  • Hunt, Ann. ‘Neasey Ends 27 Years on the Supreme Court Bench.’ Advocate, 15 September 1990, 18
  • Kirby, Michael. ‘Three Tasmanian Law Reformers.’ University of Tasmania Law Review 23, no. 1 (2004): 1–14
  • Leary, Angela. ‘Humanity Marked Rise to the Top.’ Mercury, 12 September 1990, 9
  • National Archives of Australia. B883, TX10342
  • ‘Personalia.’ Australian Law Journal 37, no. 1 (1963): 29
  • Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office. ED 190/1/1726, Personal Files of Teachers
  • Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office. SC207/1/693, Documents Relating to the Admission of Legal Practitioners.

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Citation details

Stefan Petrow, 'Neasey, Francis Mervyn (Frank) (1920–1993)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2017, accessed online 15 April 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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