Conferral of the degree Doctor of Laws honoris causa on Thomas Hughes

Document Type

Media Release

Publication Date

Winter 24-7-2012

Publisher Name

The University of Notre Dame Australia

Publication Place



The University of Notre Dame Australia was thrilled to bestow upon the renowned Australian barrister and former politician, the Honorable Thomas Eyre Forrest Hughes AO QC, its highest recognition: the degree of Doctor of Laws honoris causa. Following the conferral, Mr Hughes delivered the Michael O'Dea Oration, a lecture established to recognize those who hold the highest ethical and professional values in the practise of the law.

Thomas Hughes graduated from the University of Sydney with a degree in law. He served in the Royal Australian Air Force during World War II, and was awarded the French Légion d'Honneur in 2005 for his courage piloting fighter planes in the Invasion of Normandy. Following his war service, Thomas Hughes returned to Australia and was called to the New South Wales Bar in February 1949. He established a reputation as a legendary figure in Australian politics, serving as a Liberal member of the Australian House of Representatives between 1963 and 1972 and as the Attorney-General of Australia between 1969 and 1971. After retiring from federal parliament in 1972, Thomas Hughes returned to the Bar, where he remains engaged in practice. Throughout his career, he has held numerous other positions, including being a member of the Council of the Australian National University and the principal member of the NSW Thoroughbred Racing Board Appeal Panel. For his services to Australian society as a parliamentarian and barrister, Thomas Hughes has been awarded numerous honours. They include being made an Officer of the Order of Australia in 1988 and being a recipient of the Centenary Medal in 2003.

Following a mass celebrated by Bishop Julian Porteous at St Benedict's Chruch, Mr. Hughes' honorary doctorate was conferred upon him by Terence Tobin, Chancellor of Notre Dame Australia, before an audience of Mr Hughes' family, friends and colleagues, including members of the Bar Association, judges from the Local, District and Supreme Courts, members of Parliament and friends of The University of Notre Dame Australia.

"We are here to recognise Tom Hughes' contribution to the law and to the profession of advocacy," Mr Tobin said.

"Many of us here have had the experience of appearing as junior counsel or as opponents to Tom Hughes over these many decades. Appearing with Tom Hughes filled us with sheer excitement and a tinge of dread; the thunderclap of the first questions in the opening of cross examination, the eloquence of a closing address to a jury or a closing submission to a judge. All of those were, and are, the mark of great advocacy, and they are exemplified in Tom Hughes."

"Tom Hughes has been the greatest advocate of his era and his qualities of restraint in the pursuit of victory and his faithfulness to the ethics of the profession distil what we admire most about him, even more than his genius as a trial lawyer," Mr Tobin said.

Mr Hughes said he was moved by the conferral of the honorary doctorate upon him and grateful that many of his friends and colleagues had gathered at Notre Dame for the ceremony.

"I am very conscious of the honour that has been given to me by this University, the honour of delivering the Michael O'Dea oration. The O'Dea tradition in the law is a very fine one, and I am conscious of the fact that Michael O'Dea has done so much good for this University," Mr Hughes said.

"I recognize with grateful thanks the great honour that I scarce deserve, which this ceremony has conferred upon me. It's my hope that the debt that I have incurred from the conferment of this honour I will be able to repay in a tangible way by participating in Notre Dame's activities on the subject that has been the fascination and main concentration of my life professionally."

Mr Hughes delivered his oration on the topic of advocacy, providing advice to young people embarking on a career at the bar or who are in active practise.

"What are the qualities that are so important for an advocate at the bar to possess? I don't claim that I possess them in any full measure, but they seem to include these: integrity, courage, and competence. I would also add resilience and the ability to react to fast-moving situations in litigation," Mr Hughes said.

"One great need for the advocate is objectivity; one must not get too embroiled in the sentimental tension that the client has, one must be objective – that is part of being competent. Tact in advocates is a primary quality to be cherished and pursued. Courtesy is vital to the efficient practice of advocacy, courtesy for the judge and courtesy for one's opponents.

"A primary duty of the advocate is complete candor and complete honesty; if you have a problem in an argument, it's better in general to bring it to the fore, rather than hide it below the surface. It's much better to face a problem in advance or perhaps in an understated way to enlist the judge to deal with it."

For further information please contact: Communications Officer, Elizabeth Fenech

The University of Notre Dame Australia, Sydney Campus

T: 02 8204 4407

E: elizabeth.fenech@nd.edu.au

W: www.nd.edu.au/