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Jesting Pilate

And Other Papers and Addresses by The Rt Hon Sir Owen Dixon
3rd edition





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AUD $120.00 gst included

Although it is now ninety years since he was first appointed to the High Court and fifty five years since he retired as Chief Justice, Sir Owen Dixon remains the towering figure in Australian jurisprudence. He is widely viewed as our greatest and most influential judge. While Dixon’s judgments continue to be cited by courts and debated by scholars, his extra-judicial writings have been more difficult to obtain and having accordingly received less attention. The publication of this new expanded edition of Jesting Pilate will help redress the balance, bringing as it does less studied aspects of Dixon’s expansive and worldly intellect to the fore again.

In addition to reorganising the original papers, the editors have enlarged the collection significantly by including two previously unpublished addresses by Sir Owen Dixon, as well as two papers by Dixon’s former associate and friend James Merralls AM QC which provide important context about Dixon’s life and work. Additionally insight into Dixon’s legacy is provided by the inclusion of important papers by each of the editors. Finally, the speech delivered by Sir Ninian Stephen on the 100th anniversary of Dixon’s birth is included, as is a new Foreword by the Hon Susan Kiefel, Chief Justice of Australia.

As the editors note in their Introduction:

The materials collected in Jesting Pilate, prepared for disparate occasions, demonstrate aspects of Dixon’s personality which might otherwise remain elusive: the warmth of his friendships, his love of an allusive joke and his perspicacity about world affairs and the personalities shaping them. … It is our hope that this third edition of Jesting Pilate confirms Dixon’s past and continuing contribution to developments in Australian law and reaffirms his stature as a great man.

From the Book Launch Jesting Pilate, address by The Hon Murray Gleeson AC at the Banco Court, Supreme Court of New South Wales, 31 July 2019…

“The Honourable Susan Crennan and the Honourable William Gummow, and The Federation Press, have done an important service to legal history and scholarship by the production of this Third Edition of extra-curial writings and speeches by Sir Owen Dixon, a towering figure of the twentieth century with a reputation of pre-eminence, not only in Australia, but throughout the common law world.
         The Third Edition differs from the earlier editions in two important respects. First, the papers and addresses are re-arranged and helpfully classified in a manner that makes them more accessible. Second, as an introductory section, there are commentaries on Sir Owen Dixon and his work by Sir Ninian Stephen, James Merralls, SEK Hulme and the two Editors themselves. This introductory material is not only valuable in itself, but will also be very useful for modern lawyers who may not be as familiar with Dixon’s place in the legal landscape as people of my generation…” Click here to read the full launch speech

From the Book Launch Jesting Pilate, address by Professor Michael Crommelin AO at the Supreme Court of Victoria Library, 24 July 2019…

“It is a very great honour to be invited to launch this third edition of Jesting Pilate in Melbourne … The third edition is expanded substantially beyond the original collection of 29 of Sir Owen Dixon’s papers and addresses. It includes no fewer than eight additional items, which reveal much more of Sir Owen as a person, a lawyer and a judge, and his enduring contribution to the law…” Click here to read the full launch speech

Foreword by the Hon Susan Kiefel AC, Chief Justice of Australia – click “Foreword” to download this free as a preview 
Introduction – click “Introduction” to download this free as a preview 
Publisher’s Acknowledgments


Address by Sir Ninian Stephen
Sir Owen Dixon: The Communist Party Case, Then and Now
            The Hon Susan Crennan AC 
The Rt Hon Sir Owen Dixon, OM, GCMG, 1886-1972
            James Merralls
Sir Owen Dixon
            SEK Hulme
The Library of Sir Owen Dixon
            James Merralls
Sir Owen Dixon Today
            The Hon William Gummow AC


(A) Dixon in the Wider World

Jesting Pilate
International Relations
Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Roosevelt and Hopkins
The Hon Mr Felix Frankfurter – A Tribute from Australia

(B) Judicial Methods

Concerning Judicial Method
Science and Judicial Proceedings
The Law and the Scientific Expert
The Survival of Causes of Action
The Development of the Law of Homicide
A Legacy of Hadfield, M’Naghten and Maclean

(C) Constitutionalism

The Law and the Constitution
The Statute of Westminster 1931 
The Common Law as an Ultimate Constitutional Foundation
De Facto Officers

(D) Comparative Federalism

Two Constitutions Compared
The Separation of Powers in the Australian Constitution
Government under the American Constitution
Aspects of Australian Federalism
Sources of Legal Authority
Marshall and the Australian Constitution

(E) The Professions

University Education in a Scientific Civilisation
The Teaching of Classics and the Law
Two Portraits
Professional Conduct
The Profession of Accountancy

(F) From the Bench

Note on the last four papers
Address on Taking Office as Chief Justice of the High Court
Address on First Presiding as Chief Justice at Melbourne
Address on First Presiding as Chief Justice at Perth
Address on Retiring from Office of Chief Justice

Table of Cases


Sir Owen’s papers contain his opinions, ideals and perspectiveson a wide range of issues, not just in law. From his passion for the Australian Constitution and the importance of the Constitution of the United States in its development; his noble ideals of the common law; his view of the role of science and medicine; his love of Aristotle and other classic philosophers; to his self-reflection, each of his addresses reveals a brilliant and discerning mind. Add the unique kaleidoscope of sociopolitical tension and turmoil that he lived through, from the great depression and world war, to the advancement of technology, the papers also provide a snapshot of history as experienced by a titan.

David Kim, Law Institute Journal, August 2020

The last year witnessed renewed interest in Sir Owen Dixon, one of Australia’s preeminent jurists, with the publication of an edited volume celebrating Sir Owen Dixon’s Legacy and a new third edition of his own writings, Jesting Pilate. The year 2022 will mark the half century since Dixon’s death in 1972. These two books provide timely encapsulations of his legacy for law students, scholars and practitioners in the common law world and wider political domain.

Andrew Clark, The Modern Law Review, (2020) 00(0) MLR 1–5

An afternoon spent reading these papers would be time well spent for lawyers and non-lawyers.

John Gava, Adelaide Law Review, (2020), 41(2)

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