Forbes Lectures


The Annual Forbes Lecture, titled,  ‘She was looking for her child’ Evatt J’s dissent in Chester v the Council of Waverley Municipality, was  to be presented by Gideon Haigh, the author of a recently released book on Chester v Waverley Corporation, on Wednesday 9 June 2021, starting at 5.15pm.  A link to the book on the publisher’s website:

We are very grateful for the use of the Supreme Court facilities, courtesy of Chief Justice Bathurst.

Please click here for:  2021 Annual Forbes Lecture Programme and News Update _09 06 2021


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 2020 Lecture delivered by Justice Leeming is hereForbes Lecture 2020_ Justice Leeming


2019 Lecture

We are very grateful to Professor Anne Twomey  who delivered the 2019 Forbes Lecture  on Wednesday 5 June 2019 .

20190605 – Pitt Cobbett – A Pre-Engineer’s Ghost Speaks from the Grave ( Forbes Society)


 The title was ‘Pitt Cobbett – A Pre-Engineer’s Ghost Speaks from the Grave’.

 Professor Twomey’s abstract follows.

In Spence v Queensland, the High Court recently referred to the whispers of the pre-Engineers ghosts. One of those ghosts is Pitt Cobbett, a former Professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Sydney who died on the last day of Sir Samuel Griffith’s term as Chief Justice.  Cobbett wrote a great opus on the Constitution but its publication was frustrated by the Engineers Case and the new constitutional order it created.  A century after Cobbett’s death, his work is about to be published and his voice heard from the grave.  Join Cobbett’s successor, Professor Anne Twomey, as she explores what is surprising and what we can learn from Cobbett’s century-old understanding of the Constitution.

Further details on Pitt Cobbett’s life can be found at the Australian Dictionary of Biography Entry:


Another 2019 Lecture:

A lecture co-sponsored by the Forbes Society and the Selden Society, was given by the Hon John Bryson QC titled “Henry VIII’s Will and the Politics of Succession”. On Wednesday 6 November 

Henry Viii King Royalty England

The Lecture was introduced by the Hon Justice Lucy MacCallum of the Court of Appeal.

The Forbes Lecture for 2018

Centenary of Women’s Legal Status Act of 1918

2018 marked the centenary of the landmark Women’s Legal Status Act on 1918 which gave women the right to practise as lawyers in New South Wales.

Wednesday 30 May 2018: We were delighted that the Hon Justice Virginia Bell AC could  deliver the 2018 Forbes Lecture to mark the Centenary of the Women’s Legal Status Act 1918 (NSW). The lecture was chaired by Arthur Moses SC and was very well attended and  we thank her Honour for the fascinating presentation.

Anyone interested in the background to the passage of the Act can find further details in the following article on the topic  published  in Bar News Summer, 2010 – 2011.  Background to the Women’s Legal Status Act 1918,

Women Marching in Sydney in 1917 - reviewed by Lady Helen Munro Ferguson.

The Forbes Lecture for 2017


The Hon Justice MJ Beazley AO* President, New South Wales Court of Appeal

This paper was presented in the Banco Court of the Supreme Court of NSW, on 28 September 2017.

 The speech is available at:

The Forbes Lecture for 2016

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.

Another speech of note – October 2013

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.


Forbes Lecture 2012

On 31 October 2012 Tony Cunneen of St Pius X College, Chatswood, delivered the 2012 Forbes Lecture (entitled “A Man for All Seasons: The Life and Times of Chief Justice Sir William Portus Cullen”) in the Common Room of the NSW Bar Association.  Cullen was Chief Justice of New South Wales between 1910-1925.  He was the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of NSW who was born, and wholly educated, in Australia.

The Society was honoured by the service of the current Chief Justice of New South Wales, Justice TF Bathurst, as Chairman for the Lecture.  His Honour was welcomed to that task by Emeritus Professor Bruce Kercher.

The Lecture brought to life the tumultuous times during which Chief Justice Cullen presided over the Supreme Court and, as a leading member of Australian society, helped to steer New South Wales through the traumas of World War I and a period of social upheaval that, at times, bordered on revolution.

The Society anticipates that the paper on which the Lecture was based will be published in the Australian Law Journal.

Forbes Lecture 2011

On 16 November 2011 Dr Shaunnagh Dorsett of UTS delivered the 2011 Forbes Lecture (entitled “Adapting Law to Circumstances of the Colony: The First Supreme Court Rules of New South Wales and New Zealand”) in the Common Room of the NSW Bar Association.  Associate Professor Dorsett was introduced by Emeritus Professor Bruce Kercher, with Bernard Coles QC (the President of the NSW Bar Association) serving as Master of Ceremonies.  The paper on which the Lecture was published as “Procedural Innovation: The First Supreme Court Rules of New South Wales and New Zealand” (2011) 35 Aust Bar Rev 128.


Forbes Lecture 2010

On 17 November 2010 Dr Lisa Ford of UNSW, delivered the 2010 Forbes Lecture (entitled “Thinking Big about Early NSW: Colonial Law in Global Perspective”) in the Banco Court, Supreme Court of NSW. The event was chaired by Justice Virginia Bell of the High Court of Australia.    Dr Ford was introduced by Emeritus Professor Bruce Kercher, Dr Ford’s paper was published in (2011) 34 Aust Bar Rev 204.

The Lecture provided an occasion to celebrate the success of Lisa’s Settler Sovereignty: Jurisdiction and Indigenous People in America and Australia, 1788-1836 (Harvard University Press, 2010).  In 2008 it won the Thomas J Wilson Memorial Prize awarded by Harvard University Press for “outstanding content, style and mode of presentation” of a “first book” approved by that publisher for publication.  In 2010 it won two further awards.  First, it won the 2010 NSW Premier’s Prize for the best general history book.  Subsequently it was awarded the 2010 Littleton-Griswold Prize for the best book in any subject on the history of American law and society, awarded by the American Historical Association.


Forbes Lecture 2009

On 5 November 2009 Associate Professor Mark Lunney of UNE, delivered the 2009 Forbes Lecture (entitled “the History of the Law of Tort in Australia”) in the Common Room of the NSW Bar Association. He was introduced by the Hon Justice Michael J Slattery with the Hon John Hamilton QC as MC on the night.  Professor Lunney’s paper was published in (2010) 33 Aust Bar Rev 77 as “Federation and Beyond: What the History of Australian Tort Law can tell us”.

Forbes Lecture 2008

On 6 November 2008 Professor Rosalind Croucher, then a Commissioner of the Australian Law Reform Commission, delivered the 2008 Forbes Lecture (entitled “150 Years of Torrens – Too Much, Too Little, Too Soon”) in the Common Room of the NSW Bar Association. She was introduced by Anna Katzmann S.C., President of the Association. Her paper was published in (2009) 31 Aust Bar Review 245.


Forbes Lecture 2007

On 8 November 2007 Andrew Tink, formerly Shadow Attorney General in the NSW Parliament, delivered the 2007 Forbes Lecture on “The Life and Times of William Charles Wentworth” in the Bar Common Room.  He was introduced by Anna Katzmann S.C., then President of the Bar Association. His biography of Wentworth was published by Allen & Unwin in 2009. His Forbes Lecture was published in (2009) 32 Aust Bar Review 316.


Forbes Lecture 2006

A setting for justice: building for the Supreme Court of New South Wales

The 2006 Forbes lecture delivered by Rosemary Annable on 9 November 2006 in the Common Room of the New South Wales Bar Association.  

In October 1819 Governor Macquarie laid the foundation stone for ‘the new Courthouse in Hyde Park’, the first permanent, purpose-built home for the Colony’s law courts.  Intended as a handsome ornament to the town of Sydney, it was to be designed by the emancipist architect, Francis Greenway. Eight years later when the building was finally completed, it was on another site, to a different design and was already too small for its important purpose. In 1833 its judicial occupants thought it ‘inconvenient, inadequate and comfortless’. A hundred years later the complaint was just the same.

When it finally vacated the site in 1977, after one hundred and fifty years of use, to move into a new building on Queen’s Square, it seemed as if the Supreme Court’s continuing association with its first court house would be only token. But twenty years later the Supreme Court moved back and as work began to conserve and enhance these much complained of buildings, some of their history began to be revealed.

Where did it all go wrong? Whose design was it? And why could no-one put it right?

About the lecturer

Rosemary Annable is a consultant historian who has worked for over twenty years in the field of heritage studies, researching buildings and sites for conservation projects. She is a Fellow, and past President, of the Royal Australian Historical Society; a Fellow of the Federation of Australian Historical Societies; and the Honorary Archivist of St James’ Anglican Church, the Supreme Court’s closest and oldest neighbour. She is currently a member of the Heritage Council of New South Wales and the Chair of its History Panel. Rosemary’s research on the King Street Courts was undertaken for the firm of PTW Architects, on behalf of the Attorney-General’s Department, as part of the extensive programme of restoration and refurbishment undertaken on the King Street Courts site since 1997.

Forbes Lecture 2005

‘New quilts from old rags’

The Francis Forbes Society for Australian Legal History held its annual lecture on Thursday, 3 November 2005 in the Bar Association Common Room. Titled ‘New quilts from old rags’, it was delivered by the Hon Justice B H McPherson CBE, of the Queensland Court of Appeal.

Justice McPherson discussed three of the principal ways in which English law was transmitted to British overseas territories: letters patent and colonial charters, the king’s
duty of protecting his subjects and the ‘theory of colonial birthright’.

Following the American Revolution, the British Parliament did not legislate for most communities of free English settlers beyond the seas. The colonies in eastern Australia differed insofar as many of the early arrivals were either ‘under military discipline’, or convicted felons who had been sentenced to death and so were attainted and unable to sue or own property. It was for this reason, McPherson JA argued, that in 1828 English law was directly extended by an imperial Act of the Parliament – the Australian Courts Act.


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.