James Spigelman was described as retiring at "the peak of his powers" during his retirement ceremony Tuesday (31 May).
NSW Law Society president Stuart Westgarth and NSW Attorney-General Greg Smith spoke at the Banco Court, Supreme Court of NSW, as around 500 eminent members of the legal profession gathered to farewell Spigelman after 13 years as the chief justice of NSW.
Westgarth said that just as Spigelman remarked that the "court was in good shape" upon his swearing-in in May 1998, the same could be said of the legacy that Spigelman leaves to his predecessor, Tom Bathurst QC.
"The hallmark's of your honour's stewardship are the court's timeliness, efficiency, good management, encouragement of Alternative Dispute Resolution processes and most critically, reasoned judgments of the highest order," he said.
Westgarth also highlighted the reduction of the court backlog during the early years of Spigelman's tenure, mechanisms to resolve cross-border legal issues and Spigelman's successful lobbying efforts to "defend" the profession from regulation by a National Legal Services Board as significant achievements over the course of his chief justice career.
Westgarth paid tribute to Spigelman's long commitment to social justice, and especially praised his actions as a university student in the 1960s in organising the "freedom rides" through rural communities that were aimed to give Aboriginal people greater civil and political rights.
Greg Smith said Spigelman was an "outstanding" chief justice, and noted that the 17th chief justice of NSW, Tom Bathurst QC, would make an "outstanding contribution to the administration of justice in NSW".
Although he is retiring from the bench, Spigelman plans to remain active in the law as an arbitrator