Thomas McCawley, Queensland's fifth Chief Justice. Photo: John Oxley Library
A bust up over the influence of the executive arm of government, a judge with links to a political party, a fracas in the legal fraternity… it’s all just a case of history repeating.
The controversy surrounding the appointment of Tim Carmody as Queensland’s 18th Chief Justice has shone a light on a similarly turbulent time in state politics more than 90 years ago.
Thomas McCrawley was Queensland’s fifth Chief Justice, who came under fire for his inexperience in practice at the Bar and links to the Australian Labor Party.
The timing of his appointment was curiously convenient.
On March 23, 1922, Queensland’s Upper House ceased to exist.
On March 30, a proclamation under the Judges Retirement Act of 1921 removed Chief Justice Sir Pope Cooper from the bench, alongside two other Supreme Court judges, Patrick Real and Charles Chubb (all were well over 70 years old).
On March 31, Chief Justice Cooper resigned, and on April 1 40-year-old McCawley was appointed, becoming the youngest Chief Justice in Queensland’s history.
Rumours flew that the Retirement Act had been passed purely to secure Judge McCawley’s appointment and that Labor was shoring up allies in the judiciary in case it was booted out of office.
Associate Professor from the UQ School of Law Anthony Cassimatis said it prompted strong opposition in the legal fraternity, still smarting from Judge McCawley’s appointment to the Supreme Court in 1917 aged just 35.
“When the Labor government in the 1920s abolished the upper house, the very next thing it did was move against the judiciary - it forced half the judges to resign,” he said.
“Essentially it was removing the other obstacle to the power of the executive in the 1920s.
“That’s why Queensland of all places, ensuring that the executive branch does not have undue influence over the judiciary is so important, because there are no other checks.”
Judge McCawley may have had enemies, but he was no doubt a dedicated worker.
On April 16, 1925, he suffered a fatal heart attack at the Roma Street train station, while en route to circuit court sittings in Ipswich. He was just 43.