Forbes Lecture

The Annual Forbes Lecture is an important event in the Forbes Society calendar. It provides a forum for prominent legal identities, selected by the Society’s Council, to present a public lecture on a substantial topic of interest.


The Annual Forbes Lecture is an important event in the Forbes Society calendar.  The 2016 lecture was delivered by Professor Jane Stapleton on 14 July 2016 at 5.15pm in the NSW Bar Association Common Room.


The Hon Justice Virginia Bell AC  chaired the lecture.


Professor Stapleton is a Professor at the Australian National University and the University of Texas, School of Law.  She is the Master of Christ’s College, University of Cambridge.


The title of Professor Stapleton’s lecture was “Lady Margaret Beaufort and the Law”.  Lady Margaret Beaufort was the mother of King Henry VII and, among many other things, established Christ’s College, Cambridge in the 1500s.  Professor Stapleton’s well attended lecture provided a fascinating insight into this remarkable woman and her relationship with the law.

The recent Francis Forbes Oration delivered by David Ash LLB, LLM, BA, for the Francis Forbes Society for Australian Legal History, Thursday 24 October, 2013 in the town of Forbes. Details and text of the speech are available at the site, Evening With Sir Francis, which opened the 2013 River Arts Festival in the Town of Forbes, New South Wales.


James Dowling

Why should we remember James Dowling, the second Chief Justice of NSW? Coming between two great chief justices, Francis Forbes and Alfred Stephen, Dowling is usually overlooked. But at his death in 1844, he left behind about 250 judicial notebooks from his time on the NSW bench. Among them was a collection that he called ‘Select Cases’. Dowling had intended to publish these as the first law reports in any Australian colony. Now, after a delay of 160 years, the Forbes Society intends to publish them.

Tim Castle will explain why Dowling and his ‘Select Cases’ are so important to the development of the law and the courts in NSW. Bruce Kercher will then refer to a few of the Select Cases, highlighting the process by which received English law was adapted in order to meet the needs of a frontier society. In the cases concerning Aborigines in particular, we can see a struggle over the legal recognition of Aboriginal autonomy. The case law contained therein is richer than many people would imagine today.


On 15 October 2003 the Hon PE Powell AM QC, formerly a judge of the NSW Court of Appeal and of the Equity Division of the Supreme Court of NSW, delivered the second, annual Francis Forbes Lecture on Australian legal history.

The lecture was entitled: ‘The origins and development of the Protective Jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of NSW’.

Before his elevation to the Court of Appeal in 1993 he served as the court’s Protective Judge (1982–1993) at a time when that jurisdiction came under close public scrutiny. His Honour’s judgments were instrumental in development of the law, as was his participation in processes for legislative reform in both the civil and criminal arenas.


The inaugural Francis Forbes lecture on Australian legal history was held on 28 November 2002, delivered by Ian Barker QC, speaking on ‘The history of trial by jury in New South Wales’. Ian Barker QC was president of the New South Wales Bar Association between December 1997 and November 1999.