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"Our Chief Justice" dies at 75

"Our Chief Justice" dies at 75

The legal profession is mourning the loss of John Harber Phillips, who died on August 7 at the age of 75.Phillips, AC, QC, was the tenth Chief Justice of Victoria, and was the state's most…

The legal profession is mourning the loss of John Harber Phillips, who died on August 7 at the age of 75.

Phillips, AC, QC, was the tenth Chief Justice of Victoria, and was the state's most senior judge for 12 years.

Described as "Our Chief Justice" by LIV President Bill O'Shea in recognition of his high standing in the Victorian community, his tenure saw significant expansion and re-organisation of the state's courts.

Significant reforms under his stewardship included the creation of the Court of Appeal, the appointment of the first women Judges, and the introduction of computer technology into the courtroom.

Phillips signed the Bar Roll on 24 February 1959, and is perhaps best known beyond the legal profession for his earlier career as a defence barrister in many of Australia's biggest criminal cases, including the trial of Lindy Chamberlain.

He was appointed Victoria's first Director of Public Prosecutions in 1983, a Supreme Court judge the following year and in 1990 became chairman of the National Crime Authority.

By members of the profession, he was noted for his accessibility, modesty, warmth and compassion. He had a passion for music and literature, and wrote several plays and novels.

At his retirement dinner in 2003, Phillips gave the audience a glimpse into his colourful life in the law, retelling the story of his one and only meeting with Judge Falcone who devoted his career to bringing to justice the Italian Mafia.

Falcone's last words to Chief Justice Philips were, in Italian, "A fine tomorrow, my brother." Nine months later, Judge Falcone and his magistrate wife were murdered in Sicily by a bomb blast.

"Those two people, that man, that woman, that judge and that magistrate, they are my judicial heroes. Not Lord Denning, not Sir Owen Dixon, but those two," Phillips told the 250 assembled members of the legal profession.

LIV CEO Mike Brett Young said that even after his retirement, Phillips continued to make an important contribution to the profession.

"As Chief Justice of the Supreme Court he brought a new direction to the Court. He was very interested in demystifying the court process, particularly for the public," Young said.

"Even after retirement he continued that work in promoting access to, and understanding of, the law through various activities, some of which included running court tours during Law Week."

The funeral will be held on Friday August 14 at 11am at St Patrick's Cathedral.

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"Our Chief Justice" dies at 75
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