Did judge misjudge his farewell remarks?

By Fergus Shiel
Law Reporter
August 17, 2004


Thomas Neesham

It was a retirement speech with a difference - including anecdotal references to a young woman's "splendid bosom". But not everyone at the farewell gathering for County Court judge Thomas Neesham earlier this year was amused by his honour's colourful parting remarks.

Several months on, speculation has emerged in Melbourne legal circles that Judge Neesham's farewell speech has cost him an appointment as a reserve judge - at least for now.

At the time of his retirement in May, it was generally believed that Judge Neesham would be made a reserve judge within a short time.

Bar Council chairman Robin Brett, QC, told the farewell function at the County Court on May 6 that it was expected that his honour would return as a reserve judge after a short break.

Law Institute president Chris Dale said Judge Neesham would not fade away - he'd continue to do his duty as a reserve judge.

Now, legal sources believe the retiring judge's cleavage comments were considered by many as highly inappropriate and have cost him his reserve judge appointment.

So what exactly did Judge Neesham say?

A transcribed copy of his speech reveals his recollection of appearing as counsel for a man seeking a court order to make his wife return to the matrimonial home.

He said he had learnt that no matter how proficient one might become in common law, there were two other branches of law that could not be mastered - the law of nature and the law of Murphy.

"It was a summer's day. The respondent wife was young. She wore a light summer dress with a deep decolletage. She was splendidly endowed," Judge Neesham recalled.

"As she ascended the steps of the witness box, his honour's eyes could not pull themselves away from that endowment.

"She took the oath. I do not think his honour was watching the Bible as she did so.

"She spoke of her husband's wickedness. She was visibly distressed. In her distress that splendid bosom heaved. I defy any advocate to compete with that.

"We lost."

Judge Neesham made the remarks in front of barristers, solicitors, law officials, including Solicitor-General Pamela Tate, SC, representing Attorney-General Rob Hulls.

One legal figure said many at the gathering had viewed his remarks as "inappropriate, to say the least". But others doubted whether the speech had cost him the reserve judge appointment, with one saying there was "no sharp intake of breath" and that both sexes had laughed.

All Mr Hulls' spokeswoman is saying is that the legal veteran has not been made a reserve judge "at this stage".

The former judge, who was lauded at his farewell for overseeing a board of inquiry into Victoria Police in the 1980s, grew up in England and has a property on French Island.

Before his 20 years as a County Court judge, he earned a reputation for impeccable fairness as a prosecutor.

Attempts to contact the former judge for comment were unsuccessful.