Supreme Court

The Right Honourable Herbert Vere Evatt, PC, LLD, K St J

11th Chief Justice of New South Wales,
15th February 1960 - 24th October 1962 

Herbert Vere Evatt was born on 30 April 1894 in Maitland. He attended Maitland High School and then he went to Fort Street Boys' High School in 1905.

Winning the Aitken Scholarship to St Andrew's College within the University of Sydney he graduated B.A. with many prizes and first-class honours in English, Mathematics, and Philosophy; M.A. with first-class honours; and LL.B. with first-class honours and the University Medal. In 1915 he won the Beauchamp Prize for an essay "Liberalism in Australia", later published. In 1924 for his thesis "Certain Aspects of the Royal Prerogative" he was awarded the degree of Doctor of Laws with the University Medal.

He was admitted to the Bar on 31 October 1918 after serving for two years as Associate to the Chief Justice, Sir William Cullen. He became a K.C. in 1929. At the age of 36 he was, in 1930, appointed a Justice of the High Court of Australia.

He published a number of books including The King and His Dominion Governors (1936), Injustice Within the Law (1937), Rum Rebellion (1938), and a political study based on a biography of W. A. Holman, Australian Labour Leader (1940). For these works he, in 1944, attained the rare degree of Doctor of Letters from the University of Sydney, and he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Australian Historical Society.

In 1940 he resigned from the High Court to take a seat in the House of Representatives. In the following year he was Attorney-General and Minister for External Affairs in the Curtin Ministry, and from 1946 he was also Deputy Prime Minister in the Chifley Ministry. Towards the close of the second World War his portfolio in External Affairs often took him overseas to lead various missions. As a member of the British War Cabinet he became a Privy Councillor. He was Australia's representative to the United Nations' Organization and in 1948-9, President of the General Assembly.

When, in 1951, J. B. Chifley died while Leader of the Federal Opposition, Evatt took his place. He appeared as counsel before a Royal Commission on Espionage in 1954 claiming a personal interest in the proceedings. After repeated clashes with the Commissioners he was denied further hearing.

On 15 February 1960 he was appointed Chief Justice of New South Wales. During his term he was chairman of the newly constituted Chief Justice's Law Reform Committee.

Seriously ill, he was obliged to take leave of absence in March 1962 and to resign as Chief Justice seven months later. He died on 2 November 1965, survived by his wife Mary Alice (nee Sheffer) whom he had married in 1920, and he was buried in the national capital.

During his unique career, Herbert Vere Evatt made a significant contribution to law, scholarship, international relations and politics in Australia. Dr Evatt was remembered for "delivering great judgments showing the width of learning and profundity of mind....some of the judgments expressed views of the law that were well in advance of his Honour's time". Following his resignation from the High Court in 1940, Evatt pursued a political career in the Curtin and Chifley Governments, culminating in his appointment to the British War Cabinet and to the General Assembly of the United Nations Organisation.