David Bennett
Friday, September 9, 2011
Justinian in David Bennett QC, On the Couch

David Bennett AC QC has been an adornment to the law since he was born three days before Christmas in 1941 ... He's on Justinian's couch with some instructions about how judges should conduct themselves, a warning about misuse of the subjunctive and information about the contents of his refrigerator 

David Bennett: "on the other hand"David Bennett has had a glittering career in the law - president of bars NSW and Australian, Commonwealth solicitor general, president of the Association of Lawyer Arbitrators and Mediators and prez of the Medico-Legal Society of NSW, among all sorts of other accomplishments. 

He's had a stupendous High Court practice and there's even a Facebook page that captures the essence of his submissions and ripostes, see D.M.J. Bennett QC Appreciation Society.  

It's little surprise that David Bennett has been garlanded with awards and honours. 

He came to us from England when he was 10 years old. His father, Louis Bennett, was a provost major on Monty's personal staff, in charge of the escort that took the German high command to Nuremburg for trial. He later went on to become a well-known Sydney solicitor. 

He imbued in young David some sophisticated tastes ... from Hendricks gin ... to fine music, such as Gee Officer Krupke

In recent times Bennett has taken on heaps of pro-bono and legal aid work. 

He appeared for Amirah Droudis, one of the Moslems charged with sending offensive letters to the families of deceased Australian soldiers, arguing a constitutional challenge to the Posts and Telegraphs Act

Unsuccessfully he appeared in the High Court for the human headline, Derryn Hinch - seeking to overturn his conviction for naming sex offenders. 

Currently he's acting for the Amoonguna people in their challenge to the NT local government legislation. 

You'll be warmed and uplifted as you discover more about D.M.J Bennett. 

Describe yourself in three words.  

A hedonist, a moral relativist, a cryptic crossword devotee and a person who cannot obey instructions to confine his answers to questions.

What are you currently reading?

"Dismissal", by Nicholas Hasluck. 

What's your favourite film?  

Dr Strangelove. 

Who has been the most influential person in your life? 

My late father, Louis Bennett and my wife, Annabelle Bennett.

What is your favourite piece of music?  

  • Oh Susannah. 
  • You are my Sunshine. 
  • Jubilation T Cornpone (from the musical "Li'l Abner"). 
  • Gee, Officer Krupke (from the musical "West Side Story"). 
  • What is in your refrigerator? 

    Hendricks Gin (in the freezer), martini glasses (in the freezer) and olives.

    What is your favourite website?  

  • Austlii (for work). 
  • Justinian (for play).
  •  What is your most recognised talent? 

    My ability to simplify (and unfortunately sometimes to over-simplify) complex concepts.

    What words or phrases do you overuse? 

    "Universe of discourse" and "On the other hand."

    What is your greatest weakness? 

  • I am a hopeless administrator and I get into a mess in court trying to keep documents organised.
  • I am a pedant who looks down on people who did not study grammar at school and therefore split infinitives (e.g. "to boldly go"), misuse the subjunctive (e.g. "if it was the case"), omit the word "that" (e.g. "He resigned because of allegations he took bribes") or do not know the difference between "alternate" and "alternative" (e.g. "alternate dispute resolution" or believing these alternatives to be alternates).
  • What career would you have liked to pursue if you hadn't become a barrister? 


    Of all the cases in which you have appeared which one makes you proudest? 

    Am I allowed three? If so, in this order: 

  • Church of the New Faith v Commissioner of Payroll Tax (Victoria) ("The Scientology case") (1983) 154 CLR 120 
  • Street v Queensland Bar Association (1989) 168 CLR 461  
  • NSW & ors v The Commonwealth ("The Workchoices case") (2006) 229 CLR 1.
  • Do you have any advice for judges?  

  • In argument, interrupt counsel to ask his or her opponent to answer the point just made, then return to the first barrister to answer the answer and keep going indefinitely on each point until they are at issue.
  • Bring back wigs. I hate having to brush my hair before court. 
  • What are you working on at the moment? 

    P,GA v DPP, in the High Court, in which my client is charged with raping his wife in 1963 (28 years before the High Court decision changing the common law in this area). 

    If you were a foodstuff, what would you be? 

    A truffle (and not the chocolate variety) or perhaps a tablespoonful of Beluga caviar.

    What human qualities do you most distrust? 

    Political extremism. Certainty about the correctness of one's views. Chauvinism (in the general sense in which it was used before the women's movement appropriated the word).

    What would you change about Australia? 

    Make it less politically correct. Bring back grammar at schools. Reduce government regulation and taxation. 

    Who or what do you consider overrated? 

  • Sport.
  • Exercise.
  • Celebrity culture. 
  • What would your epitaph say? 

    "I told you that I was sick."

    What comes into your mind when you shut your eyes and think of the word "law"? 

    The most exciting and fulfilling career ever invented. 

    Article originally appeared on Justinian: Australian legal magazine. News on lawyers and the law (http://justinian.com.au/).
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