Born in Sosnowiec, Poland, on 1 January 1946. His family settled in Australia in 1949. He attended Sydney Boys' High School and the University of Sydney, receiving the University Medal in law.
Politically active he became senior adviser and principal private secretary to Gough Whitlam, the Prime Minister of Australia 1972-75, then Secretary for the Department of Media 1975-1976. He was called to the Bar in 1976 and was a member of the Australian Law Reform Commission 1976-1979. He married Alice Kalmar on 18 December 1979. The couple have three children.
He took silk in 1986, maintaining his interest in the arts with several honorary posts including Chairman of the Australian Film Finance Corporation Board 1990-1992, Deputy Chairman of the Art Gallery of New South Wales 1983-1988 and President of the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences 1995-1998.
Appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of NSW on 19 May, 1998. At his Swearing-In Ceremony, The Honourable James Spigelman noted that:
'We are the inheritors of an 800 year old tradition which represents one of the most extraordinary constructs. The common law and the adversary system — a manifestation of the power of Socratic dialogue — is one of the greatest mechanisms for the identification of truth and the maintenance of social stability that has ever been devised ... The judgments of this Court are part of a broader public discourse, by which our society and polity affirms its core values, applies them and adapts them to changing circumstances.'