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Working Hardly: Laughs from the Bench

High court of Australia

It's exam season so we thought we'd share some of our favourite quotes from the bench. Anyone who says that the law is boring or that judges don't have a sense of humour probably hasn't read some of these cases. We knew there had to be a lighter side to to this degree...

MR JACKSON: Your Honours, as she sat down -

GUMMOW J: Presumably the light were on. When they first went into the cinema, presumably the lights were on.

MR JACKSON: Yes. As she sat down she missed the seat completely but she sat down in a way – the angle at which she was sitting down – and, as I said, she struck the coccyx on the metal support. Your Honours, the Court of Appeal, if I can take your Honours to volume 3 at page 665, in paragraph 22 of its reasons held that there should have been a warning sign in the foyer saying words to the effect:

“Take care. Seats retract automatically. Ensure your seat is down before you sit”.

KIRBY J: Did it have to be in the foyer? Could it not have been on one of those tedious pre-film snaps that you get when you go into the cinema, telling you to buy all sorts of products -

MR JACKSON: From the Canadian Film Corporation, normally.

KIRBY J: - – - including, I think, cigarettes.

MR JACKSON: I would not be able to tell your Honour about that, not for some years, anyway, but, your Honours, I suppose the sign could be anywhere, really.

McHUGH J: Well, it may not be effective if you have it on the screen. There are plenty of people who do not get to the cinema until about 15 or 20 minutes after the advertised starting time, so they do not have to sit through trailers and advertisements.

KIRBY J: But then you might miss out on a seat.

MR JACKSON: All those things are possibilities, your Honours.

-Hoyts Pty Ltd v Burns S450/2002 [2003] HCATrans 719 (8 May 2003).


GLEESON CJ: There are some cases where people who write headnotes deserve a medal, Perre v Apand is one that comes to mind.

-Zorom Enterprises Pty Limited (In Liquidation) v Zabow [2007] HCATrans 800.


COWDROY J: “To use the rather colourful imagery that internet piracy conjures up in a highly imperfect analogy, the file being shared in the swarm is the treasure, the BitTorrent client is the ship, the .torrent file is the treasure map, The Pirate Bay provides treasure maps free of charge and the tracker is the wise old man that needs to be consulted to understand the treasure map.”

-Roadshow Films Pty Ltd v iiNet Limited (No. 3) [2010] FCA 24 --- STARKE J: This is an appeal from the Chief Justice, which was argued by this court over nine days, with some occasional assistance from the learned and experienced Counsel who appeared for the parties. The evidence was taken and the matter argued before the Chief Justice in two days. The case involves two questions of no transcendent importance, which are capable of brief statement, and could have been exhaustively argued by the learned Counsel in a few hours.

-Federal Commissioner of Taxation v S Hoffnung & Co Ltd (1928) 42 CLR 39. --- VINCENT JA: Perhaps not unsurprisingly, I find my own reasoning in Arundell quite persuasive and am comforted that other members of the Court agree that the decision was correct.

-R v Roussety [2008] VSCA 259. --- LEHANE J: The principles being, I think, to that extent uncontroversial, perhaps I may be excused for referring simply to Meagher, Gummow and Lehane, Equity: Doctrines and Remedies 3rd ed 1992, paras 609 to 613 . -Zaknic Pty Limited v Svelte Corporation Pty Limited, Harry Sialepis, Crypta Fuels Pty Limited and Robert Joseph Hagan Harry Sialepis and Svelte Corporation Pty Limited v Crypta Fuels Pty Limited [1996] FCA 1704.


GLEESON CJ: The deceased appears to have maintained simultaneous domestic establishments with all three women and their respective children. In terms of division of his time he appears to have given preference to Margaret Green, but it seems that he spent two nights a week, regularly, with the respondent and, at least according to her evidence, gave what she regarded as a plausible explanation of his absences. Presumably, over a number of years, he managed to achieve the same result with the other women. This is consistent with his apparent success as a used car salesman.

-Green v Green (1989) 17 NSWLR 343 at 346.


CALLINAN J: It was frowned upon if you drank light beer. Page 16, line 15:

"Full strength?---Oh yeah, it's frowned upon - you're a wuss if you drank that light stuff".

KIRBY J: What is a wuss?

MR HANKS: I think in Victoria it is a wooz.

KIRBY J: What is it?

McHUGH J: It is you when you drink only one glass of beer.

KIRBY J: I would not fall out of the window.

McHUGH J: This whole case is about men being men, is it not? I mean, he talked about "I'm competing with guys 17, 18 and 19. I've got to lead from the front. My pride's in it. It's not a question of pain. I'm prepared to suffer the pain. I've got to do this, I've got to do that. I'm jumping out of planes".

CALLINAN J: Forty-nine jumps he did as a paratrooper.

MR HANKS: He did, your Honour, after this injury.

CALLINAN J: This is real Clint Eastwood, John Wayne stuff.

-Roncevich v Repatriation Commission [2005] HCATrans 208 (21 April 2005)

For some more law laughs, check out Classic Kirby: Kirby J's Best Court Comments.

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