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Julius Stone (1907–1985)

by Anthony Blackshield

This article was published:

Julius Stone (1907–1985), professor of jurisprudence, was born on 7 July 1907 at Leeds, Yorkshire, England, youngest of three children of Israel Stone, cabinet-maker, and his wife Annie (Ellen), née Cohen (d.1910), immigrants from Lithuania.  His father married Sarah Levi in 1912 and had four more children.  Julius’s older sister Fanny cared for all the children, and she and Julius became particularly close.  Studying in a crowded and noisy household, Stone developed lifelong habits of hard work and concentration.  He was educated at Leeds Central High School and Exeter College, Oxford (BA, 1928; BCL, 1930).  Reading law under Geoffrey Cheshire, who became a lifelong friend, he gained first-class honours in jurisprudence.  Sensitive to anti-Semitism and living mostly on bread and cheese—he could not afford the formal dress required for most college activities—Stone was unhappy at Oxford.  But the lectures of J. L. Brierly awakened his interest in the League of Nations, and he found congenial company in the Inter-University Jewish Federation of Great Britain and Ireland.  His 1927 pamphlet on exclusionary policies in universities was the first of several writings on the plight of minorities in Eastern Europe.

Returning to Leeds, Stone took articles with a firm of solicitors and simultaneously enrolled at the University of Leeds (LL.M, 1930).  While completing his articles he secured a part-time lectureship at University College, Hull, working with J. L. Montrose who, like Cheshire, became a long-lasting friend.  In 1931 Stone accepted a Rockefeller Foundation fellowship to study at Harvard University (SJD, 1932) under Manley O. Hudson.  Two articles on the legal protection of minorities in Eastern Europe were quickly followed by two books on that subject; along with two articles on evidence, they earned Stone an Oxford DCL (1936).  He became an assistant-lecturer in jurisprudence at Harvard, working with Roscoe Pound, the dominant figure in American sociological jurisprudence, who influenced his later work deeply.  On Pound’s theory of 'interests', used to formulate and explain the social policies by which law should be guided, Stone remained ambivalent; he published his first critique of the theory in 1935, and wrestled with it endlessly thereafter.

On 15 August 1934 at the New Synagogue, Chapeltown, Leeds, Stone married Reca Rebecca Lieberman, a dental surgeon.  In June 1936, denied tenure at Harvard, he returned home and later that year secured a lectureship at the University of Leeds.  In 1938 he was appointed dean of law at Auckland University College, University of New Zealand.  Arriving there in 1939, he worked hard to enhance the standing of the law school and to foster relations with the legal profession.  Actively involved in the wider community, in 1940 he became president of the New Zealand League of Nations Union.

In October 1941 the professorial board of the University of Sydney recommended that the chair of jurisprudence and international law be awarded to Stone and that of law to James Williams, from New Zealand.  Lawyers on the university senate, including Sir Percival Halse Rogers, the university chancellor, strenuously opposed the appointments.  Ostensibly their argument was either that no vacancies should be filled during wartime, or that men on active service should be preferred; but their opposition to Stone reflected both anti-Semitism and defence of the traditional practitioner-oriented teaching of law.  On 13 October 1941 the senate confirmed the appointments, but ten days later a rescission motion was carried.  Following the ensuing public controversy, on 3 November the senate overturned the rescission motion and reconfirmed the appointments.

Once installed, Williams, who was dean, insisted that law school policy and administration were matters for the professor of law, not the professor of jurisprudence.  He was backed by Margaret Dalrymple Hay, clerk to the faculty since 1923.  On 24 September 1945 Stone formally complained to the professorial board about Williams’s lack of consultation:  no faculty meeting had been convened since December 1943 and two important postwar planning committees had never met.  On 28 September a faculty meeting condemned Stone and expressed confidence in Williams.  At a further meeting on 17 December Williams insisted that either he or Stone should resign.  Stone remained silent, and Williams walked out.  The senate accepted Williams’s resignation in February 1946, and the professorial board resolved that the teaching of law should in future rely less on part-time practitioners and more on full-time academics.  This was a victory for Stone.  On the other hand, a professorial board committee had resolved in December 1945 that the professor of law should be head of the law school.  After World War II, as the full-time staff of the law department increased, the jurisprudence department remained relatively small.

There were other controversies.  Since 1939 the Jewish community had protested against the British government’s white paper proposing that Jewish migration to Palestine should end in 1944.  Through letters and articles in the Hebrew Standard Sir Isaac Isaacs condemned such protests as hostile to Britain.  Stone replied in a series of articles beginning on 2 December 1943, and consolidated his arguments in the pamphlet Stand Up and Be Counted! (1944), subtitled 'An Open Letter to the Rt. Hon. Sir Isaac Isaacs'.  Isaacs never forgave him.  Stone remained a staunch supporter of Israel, influencing the policies of H. V. Evatt and especially, in the 1980s, of Prime Minister R. J. L. Hawke, but sometimes attracting criticism that, in this respect only, he set aside his wonted objectivity in analysing international relations.

In 1941 Stone’s appointment had been strongly supported by Alfred Conlon, the student representative in the university senate.  After Stone arrived, they became close friends.  In April 1942 Stone was appointed as a major on the Reserve of Officers, Australian Military Forces.  By May he was vice-chairman of the prime minister’s committee on national morale, which Conlon headed.  On 3 January 1944 Stone was co-opted to Conlon’s Directorate of Research (and Civil Affairs) as a temporary lieutenant colonel, Citizen Military Forces.  Stone reverted to the reserve in March 1946 as an honorary lieutenant colonel.

Stone’s book The Province and Function of Law (1946) established him as a major international scholar and in 1964 won him the Swiney prize for jurisprudence.  The work dramatically expanded the concept of jurisprudence then current in British universities by identifying three distinct branches of the subject, all indispensable:  the analysis of legal concepts and arguments, the philosophy of justice, and the sociological observation of legal institutions and processes in interaction with other social phenomena.  Stone insisted that judicial decisions entail creative value choices—not because judges somehow subvert the authoritative legal materials, but because that is precisely what the legal materials require.  The inevitability of choice arose from what Stone called 'categories of illusory reference':  ambiguities, indeterminacies, logical circularities and contradictions, and alternative starting points.  The message was essentially that of American legal realism, stripped of its polemics and relying instead on empirical demonstration in case after case.

Jurisprudence at the University of Sydney was a compulsory final-year subject and Stone influenced some students profoundly.  Michael Kirby recalled that 'he wandered around the classroom interrogating, ruminating, challenging us all', making theatrical use of his pipe and long scarf to offset his diminutive stature.  Students called him 'Big Julie' and his subject 'Juliusprudence'.

In Legal Controls of International Conflict (1954), Aggression and World Order (1958) and the essays collected in Of Law and Nations (1974), Stone combined a tough-minded scepticism towards facile institutional or verbal solutions with a patient commitment to the real, if slow, progress of which he believed humanity is capable.  From 1942 to 1963 he regularly commented on world affairs on Australian Broadcasting Commission radio, often alternating with (Sir) Hermann Black.  In 1960 Stone delivered the annual ABC lectures—later the (Sir Richard) Boyer lectures.  They included his suggestion, adopted in 1963, of a hot line between Moscow and Washington.  A planned second edition of The Province and Function of Law became three books:  Legal System and Lawyers’ Reasonings (1964), Human Law and Human Justice (1965) and Social Dimensions of Law and Justice (1966).

The jurisprudence department was a thriving intellectual centre, with a steady stream of overseas visitors, but relations with the larger department of law had always been difficult.  In 1972, as Stone’s retirement approached, its future was questioned.  The department survived, but in 1999 was replaced by the Julius Stone Institute of Jurisprudence.

Maintaining an active international schedule, Stone visited Harvard, Columbia, Stanford and Palo Alto universities, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Hague Academy of International Law.  From 1973 he made annual visits to Hastings College of the Law, University of California.  He was also invited to join the newly created faculty of law at the University of New South Wales, where he remained as a visiting professor for almost thirteen years.  Zena Sachs, who had worked for him since 1947, described this period, free of the carping hostilities that had dogged his years at the University of Sydney, as 'an Indian summer'.  The University of New South Wales law school holds a portrait of Stone by Clifton Pugh.

Stone was appointed OBE (1973) and AO (1981), elected (1973) an honorary fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia, awarded honorary LL.Ds by the universities of Leeds (1973) and Sydney (1980), and—uniquely for an academic lawyer—was appointed QC in 1982.  He died of cancer on 3 September 1985 in his home at Rose Bay, and was buried in the Jewish section of Rookwood cemetery.  His wife and their daughter and two sons survived him.  Stone’s last letter to the Sydney Morning Herald was published on the day of his death.  His final book, Precedent and Law (1985), was published posthumously.  An unfinished book on the law of evidence, dating from the 1930s, was published (edited by Andrew Wells) in 1991.

Select Bibliography

  • L. Star, Julius Stone (1992)
  • University of New South Wales Law Journal, vol 8, no 2, 1985, p 233
  • University of New South Wales Law Journal, vol 9, no 2, 1986, p 1
  • University of New South Wales Law Journal, vol 20, no 1, 1997, p 215
  • Sydney Law Review, vol 27, 2005, p 323
  • Australian Law Journal, vol 59, no 10, 1985, p 639
  • American Journal of International Law, vol 80, no 1, 1986, p 141
  • Australian, 7-8 January 1984, 'Magazine', p 7
  • Sun-Herald (Sydney), 11 August 1985, p 100
  • Sydeny Morning Herald, 31 August 1985, p 44
  • B884, item N393191 (National Archives of Australia)
  • Stone papers (National Library of Australia).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Anthony Blackshield, 'Stone, Julius (1907–1985)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 24 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (Melbourne University Press), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Julius Stone, 1950

Julius Stone, 1950

National Archives of Australia,SP1011/​1:4353.5

Life Summary [details]


7 July, 1907
Leeds, Yorkshire, England


3 September, 1985 (aged 78)
Rose Bay, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

cancer (not specified)

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