Great Australian Dissents Workshop

Faculty of Law, UNSW
Gilbert + Tobin Centre of Public Law
Tue, 2015-06-09 - Wed, 2015-06-10

The goal of this event was to debate and celebrate notable dissenting opinions produced by the judges of Australian courts. In doing so, it aimed to move beyond the powerful mythology of a ‘Great Dissenter’ (a label that has been applied to figures as diverse as Sir Owen Dixon, Lionel Murphy, Michael Kirby and Dyson Heydon) and instead to identify and analyse the ‘great’ dissenting opinions in Australian law. Necessarily, that involved reflection on what it is that makes a dissent ‘great’ and the criteria which participants used to justify their selection of an opinion for inclusion in the pantheon. A number of factors were raised in this regard, sometimes in isolation but often in combination. They included the rhetorical and logical force of the dissent as a piece of legal reasoning; its subsequent judicial or legislative adoption; the lyricism or emotive power of the opinion; and the general importance of the issue at stake.


In all, sixteen dissents were nominated and vigorously debated at the workshop by participants, who were drawn from academia and the bar. The dissents were revealed in live time to followers of the Centre’s Twitter account – through which we also invited nominations for others that people regarded as ‘great’ (some fascinating alternatives were thrown up!). The first dissent discussed at the workshop celebrates its 100 year anniversary this year – Justice Barton’s opinion in the Wheat Case of 1915. The final entrant in the list was Justice Heydon’s 2013 dissent in Monis v Commonwealth. In between was a great variety of opinions – with as many authored by the High Court’s intellectual leaders as by its mavericks. The papers are now being readied for an edited volume to be published by Cambridge University Press next year.

The workshop was organised by Professor Andrew Lynch, Co-Director of the Centre’s Judiciary Project and was made possible with support from the Faculty of Law’s Research Workshop funding scheme.

A copy of the program can be found here.

The edited collection resulting from the workshop, Great Australian Dissents edited by Andrew Lynch, was published by Cambridge University Press in September 2016.