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Sir Bernard Sugerman (1904–1976)

by M. Z. Forbes

This article was published:

Sir Bernard Sugerman (1904-1976), judge, was born on 5 July 1904 at Rockdale, Sydney, son of Solomon Ruben Sugerman (d.1922), a commercial traveller from Scotland, and his native-born wife Florrie, née Green (d.1905). Solomon remarried in 1907. Bernie (as his name was registered and as he was known to his friends throughout life) excelled at Sydney Boys' High School, gaining an exhibition to the University of Sydney (LL.B., 1925); he graduated with first-class honours and shared the university medal in law with L. J. Pilkington. He was admitted to the Bar on 12 March 1926 and set up practice in Chancery Chambers with his friends Ernest Roper and (Sir) Alan Taylor. Although Sugerman had a retiring nature and lacked gifts of advocacy, he managed 'to survive those early difficult years'. At the Great Synagogue, Sydney, on 4 January 1928 he married Sarah Rosenblum, a schoolteacher from South Africa.

Editorial work and writing augmented Sugerman's earnings and helped him to establish a reputation for erudition. He lectured (1926-43) on contracts, mercantile law and torts at the university. In addition, he founded and was first editor (1927-46) of the Australian Law Journal; he was also editor in chief (1934-39) of the Australian Digest, an invaluable source of reference for the published decisions of the courts. From 1942 to 1946 he edited the Commonwealth Law Reports. He was a council-member (1939-43) of the New South Wales Bar Association and deputy-president (1941-43) of the Solicitors Admission Board.

Sugerman gradually acquired a sound practice. In October 1943 he was appointed K.C. He began to appear before the High Court of Australia in important appeals in constitutional cases. On 15 April 1946 he was appointed to the bench of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration to hear the application by fifty-three trade unions for a standard working week of forty hours. Following a protracted hearing, he was one of the three judges who unanimously upheld the unions' claim.

Resigning from the arbitration court, Sugerman was elevated to the Supreme Court of New South Wales on 10 September 1947. He presided over the Land and Valuation Court from that year until 1961. Much of the litigation related to resumption of property by the Crown and issues of compensation. Claims resulting from untested town and country planning schemes often proved difficult for the court to resolve. In disposing of numerous matters arising under the various provisions of the Crown Lands Acts, Sugerman took into account the public interest as well as the demands of justice.

Sugerman sat mainly in the Equity jurisdiction. Later he became a more regular member of the Full Court and of the Court of Appeal. He was objective, courteous and attentive, and his judgements clarified legal principles relevant to the case. In 1960 he sat on the Full Court that dismissed an application for an injunction sought by (Sir) Hector Clayton to prevent the government proceeding with an enabling bill to hold a referendum on the abolition of the Legislative Council. That he was not appointed first president of the new Court of Appeal in 1965 caused him pain and displeasure, but he became its second president on 22 January 1970, the year in which he was knighted. He was twice acting chief justice between 1971 and 1972, and administrator of the State, briefly, in 1970. Ill health obliged him to retire on 29 September 1972.

Within the Sydney Jewish community, Sugerman was involved with the Australian Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, the Friends of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and the Australian Jewish Historical Society. A Freemason, he was a life-governor (1962) of the Benevolent Society of New South Wales and president (1969-70) of the Australian Academy of Forensic Sciences. He belonged to the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust, the Kabeiroi dining club of the University of Sydney, the University Club and the Selden Society, London. In June 1976 the University of Sydney conferred on him the degree of doctor of laws. Sir Bernard died on 3 November that year at Bellevue Hill and was buried in Rookwood cemetery; his wife and their two sons survived him. Sugerman's judgements reflected his scholarship and a wisdom broadened by his wide jurisprudential approach to the law and society.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Law Journal, vol 20, 1946, p 16, vol 46, 1972, p 481, vol 50, 1976, p 613
  • New South Wales Reports, 1960, p 572
  • Australian Jewish Historical Society , 8, 1977, p 143
  • M. Forbes, 'The Most Distinguished Life of Sir Bernard Sugerman', Journal (Australian Jewish Historical Society), 14, 1999, p 614
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 15 Apr 1925, 15 Oct 1943, 31 Oct 1946, 9, 11 Sept 1947, 28 Dec 1961, 13 June 1970, 27 Aug 1971, 5 Nov 1976
  • Australian Jewish Times, 11 Nov 1976
  • Sugerman papers (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

M. Z. Forbes, 'Sugerman, Sir Bernard (1904–1976)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 20 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (Melbourne University Press), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


5 July, 1904
Rockdale, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


3 November, 1976 (aged 72)
Bellevue Hill, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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