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Presentation of a Portrait of Sir Bernard Sugarman to the Supreme Court of NSW


Date: 24 July 1995
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Presentation of a Portrait of Sir Bernard Sugerman

On 24 July 1995, in the President's Court of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, a portrait of Sir Bernard Sugerman was presented to the Court by members of the Sugerman family.

Present at the ceremony were Judges of the Supreme Court, the sons, grandchildren and friends of the family of Sir Bernard Sugerman, who was the second President of the Court of Appeal (1970-1972).

As a young barrister, Bernard Sugerman was chosen to be the first Editor of the Australian Law Journal. He edited the Journal from its establishment in 1927 until his first judicial appointment in 1946 He set out to create in the ALJ, a Journal somewhere between the learned reviews and the practical magazines of the English legal profession. The endurance, renewal and national place of the ALJ is one of his most permanent monuments.

The present editor of the ALJ (Mr Justice Peter Young) was also present at the ceremony, as were representatives of the Bar, the Court Registry and the fourth President of the New South Wales Court of Appeal (the Hon Athol Moffitt QC).

Justice Michael Kirby, the current President of the Court of Appeal, accepted the portrait with an outline of Sir Bernard Sugerman's career. He noted that he had been born in Kogarah, Sydney in 1904. He went to Kogarah public school and eventually to Sydney Boys; High School and the University of Sydney. At the Law School he graduated in 1925 with First Class Honours and the University Medal, amongst many prizes. From the following year he became the lecturer in property law, a position he combined with his practice at the Bar, editing the ALJ and the Australian Digest when it was founded in 1934.

In 1928 he married Sara Rosenblum, herself a university graduate, whose family include several members of the legal profession who were present at the ceremony.

Mr Justice Sugerman's first judicial appointment came in 1946 when he was appointed to the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration. In 1947 he transferred to the Supreme Court of New South Wales. For many years he presided in the Land and Valuation Court in succession to Mr Justice Roper. Upon his appointment as President of the Court of Appeal in 1970 he was knighted. He retired in 1972. He died in 1976 after a long illness.

His eldest son, Dr David Sugerman, emphasised his father's complete dedication to the law and the vivid memories he had from his youth of his father, working upon judgments in his study. His son Mr Alan Sugerman recalled that Sir Bernard's mother had come to Australia from Russia, being one of the direct beneficiaries of the Tzar Alexander's order freeing the serfs. She died when Bernard was two years of age. His father, a craftsman glazier, had been heavily engaged in creating stained glass windows for many Christian churches in Sydney and surrounding districts. Bernard Sugerman was largely brought up by grandparents. He loved the law. But he was also fond of bushwalking and found ample time for his children. Mr Sugerman pointed out that the work of the artist, Joseph Wolensky was now much sought after. He had been one of the objectors to the award of the Archibald Prize to William Dobell for his controversial portrait of Joshua Smith.

The presentation ceremony was concluded with some remarks by the Hon Athol Moffitt. He was the only Judge present who had actually sat with Sir Bernard, having been appointed to the Supreme Court in 1962 and to the Court of Appeal in 1970. Mr Justice Moffitt was elevated to President in 1974 following the appointment of Sir Kenneth Jacobs to the High Court. He recounted one notable occasion when Sir Bernard failed adequately to extinguish the pipe, which was never far from him during pre-hearing consultations. In the midst of the appeal hearing, Sir Bernard, normally a paragon of self-control and composure was seen to leap hurriedly from his chair as court officials extinguished the enveloping fire behind him.

In a tribute to Sir Bernard Sugerman by a successor as Editor of the Australian Law Journal (Sir Nigel Bowen) it was said that: "he was rarely in error" and that he was "one of the greatest of Australian judges". He was described a "Cardozo-type of judge, inclined to be self-effacing, and yet nonetheless bearing the mark of a great lawyer in all he did or wrote while on the Bench".1

As an example of Sugerman's whimsical humour, Justice Kirby cited the first item in Current Topics in the ALJ in May 1927.2 It concerned "a situation which would have delighted the heart of Gilbert". It involved a liquidator of a company left in a legal quandry after he had written to inform himself that he had resigned the office of liquidator but the letter had failed to reach its destination. The gentle humour and wise kindliness of Sir Bernard Sugerman, second President of the New South Wales Court of Appeal, finds a permanent place in the President's Court. "His spirit is always with us, in the law books and in his portrait", Justice Kirby said.

1. (1976) 50 ALJ 613.

2. (1927) 1 ALJ 2.



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