The John Toohey Oration

Lecture Series


Photo: courtesy of the Toohey family

About the John Toohey Oration: 

The John Toohey Oration is a biannual Oration organised by the UWA Law School. The Oration, which commenced in 1998, honours the career and contribution to public life of a distinguished and extraordinary graduate of The University of Western Australia, the Hon. John Leslie Toohey AC KC. The Toohey Oration is given by distinguished speakers on a variety of topics. Below is a list of the speakers and their topics since its commencement.

About the Hon. John Toohey

Mr Toohey was born in Perth in 1930. He undertook his secondary schooling at St Louis College (now John XXIII). He then went to the Law School of The University of Western Australia.

In 1950, he graduated with an LLB with First Class Honours. He went on to complete an Arts degree at UWA in 1956. Mr Toohey continued to be involved with UWA Law School as a lecturer for many years after his graduation.  After articles and a brief period in practice, he joined the independent Bar in 1967 and was appointed a Queen's Counsel in 1968. After that appointment, Mr Toohey went on to have a succession of roles and appointments, many of which reflected his interest in, and concern for, Indigenous issues. Among them, he established the inaugural Aboriginal Legal Office in Port Hedland in Western Australia, was senior counsel for the Indigenous people involved in the 1975 Royal Commission into relations between Aborigines and police, and was appointed the first Aboriginal Land Commissioner in 1977. As well, he took commissions in the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory and the Federal Court of Australia. 

In 1987, Mr Toohey was sworn in as a judge of the High Court of Australia. He was a judge of the High Court when it delivered landmark cases such as Mabo v Queensland (No 2), Dietrich v The Queen and Lange v Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Mr Toohey remained on the High Court until his retirement in 1998. He continued to be active in retirement. For example, he was a member of the Tribunal established by the government of the United Kingdom to inquire into the events and loss of life on Sunday, 30 January 1972 in Londonderry, Northern Ireland (known as ‘Bloody Sunday’), which published its report in 2010. In 2004, Mr Toohey was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Letters from The University of Western Australia.

Mr Toohey was married to Loma and they had seven children (Jill, Judy, Catherine, John, Paul, Sarah and Stephanie). He passed away in 2015.

Sources include: James Edelman and Natalie Gray, ‘A Short Biography of John Leslie Toohey AC: Justice of the High Court of Australia 1987-1998’ (1998) 8 Journal of Judicial Administration 109; Interview with John Toohey (Julia Wallis, 11 December 2012); Justice James Edelman, ‘A short obituary of John Toohey’ Opinions on High (Blog Post, 12 April 2015)

 Lecture series 

Year  Speaker  Topic 
2023 Hon. Virginia Bell AC

 "The work of the High Court in the Administration of Criminal Justice"

Ms Bell's paper is available here

2021 Hon. Robert French AC

“A True Australian Republic: True to our History, Fit for our Future.”

A copy of Mr French's paper is available on the UWA Research Repository

2019 Hon. Justice Michelle Gordon “The Development of Native Title: Opening Our Eyes to Shared History”
2017 Greg McIntyre SC “The Toohey Legacy: rights and freedom, compassion and honour”
2014 Fred Chaney AO “The long march from Milirrpum to Mabo: great lawyers at work” 
2012 Malcolm McCusker AC KC “The need for Reasons”
2009 Hon. Justice Richard Goldstone “The Prospects for International Criminal Justice”
2007 Hon. Ron Merkel KC “Flawed Justice” 
2004 Professor Hilary Charlesworth “Australia and Human Rights:  The Frozen Continent?”
2002 Hon. Justice Michael Kirby “Genomics and Democracy – A Global Challenge”
2000 Professor Henning Koch One Big Happy Family or a Ménage à Quinze?  The impact of the super-natural structure of the EU on national constitutions:  A Danish case study

Hon. John Leslie Toohey AC KC

Without Fear or Favour, Affection or Ill-Will The role of the courts in the administration of justice

A Matter of Justice   Human rights in Australian law