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Retiring Justice Anthony Besanko farewelled by profession

Justice Anthony Besanko has been farewelled by members of the legal profession and praised for his “wisdom and dedication”, including for his work in the Ben Roberts-Smith defamation matter.

user iconNaomi Neilson 06 May 2024 Big Law
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In the official ceremony to bid Justice Besanko goodbye, attended by colleagues, friends and family, the pre-eminent judge said he was grateful for those he met and worked with in the almost two decades since he joined the Federal Court of Australia.

This included the five chief justices he worked with during his tenure, his other colleagues at the bench, his two executive assistants, and the many associates who worked with him.

“I also express my gratitude to the barristers who have appeared before me and who have, by and large, emphasised the strong points, gone softly on the doubtful points, and abandoned the hopeless points,” Justice Besanko said to laughs.


Justice Besanko said he had spent the past month reflecting on the reasons he became a judge, including having the opportunity to write, having more control over time spent working, and leaving behind the pressures and burden of working as a barrister.

“The opportunity to write has been the best part of the job to me; it is a great privilege to be able to do so,” Justice Besanko said.

“At the same time, it is relentless and, like a busy railway station, one train moves off and it is immediately replaced by another.”

Justice Besanko said control over his time was a “complete myth”.

“As to the pressures of being a barrister, the pressures of being a judge [are] quite different,” Justice Besanko added.

“It is impossible to compare the pressures on a barrister and those on a judge, but I would say that I found the task of advising the client who was about to spend a lot of money particularly difficult.”

Chief Justice Debra Mortimer said the court has been fortunate to have “a person of your intellectual capacity, wisdom and dedication”.

In addition to having a hand in some major decisions, including having juries in defamation matters and an important appeal on Fair Work legislation, Chief Justice Mortimer said Justice Besanko was instrumental in a number of high-profile matters.

This included the judicial review application on tennis player Novak Djokovic’s visa application at the height of COVID-19, which had been viewed by more than 1.6 million people.

There was also the defamation proceedings brought by Ben Roberts-Smith, which “occupied much of your judicial time”.

While an appeal is on foot, Justice Mortimer said this did not preclude her from making the observation that Justice Besanko’s work in the matter was “both to be admired and aspired to”.

“You will be missed, both in your judicial capacity and as a colleague.

“I wish you all the very best in your retirement, and thank you sincerely for your service to the Australian community,” Chief Justice Mortimer said.