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‘A counsel of extraordinary tenacity’: Justice Brereton farewelled before commencing new position

The new inaugural commissioner of the new NACC has been farewelled in a ceremonial court sitting by Chief Justice Andrew Bell.

user iconLauren Croft 05 June 2023 The Bar
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The Honourable Justice Paul Brereton is about to take up his new role as head of the National Anti-Corruption Commission, an appointment that will run for five years.

His Honour is a judge of the NSW Court of Appeal, Assistant Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force, and holds a commission as a Major General in the Australian Defence Force Reserves — and was appointed as the inaugural commissioner of the new National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) in March this year by Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus.

Chief Justice Andrew Bell farewelled His Honour at a ceremonial sitting in the Banco Court last week.


“This morning, we sit ceremonially to mark the end of almost 18 years of distinguished service on this court by the Honourable Justice Paul Brereton AM RFD and to wish His Honour well as he assumes leadership of the National Anti-Corruption Commission, a most significant responsibility for which he is exceptionally well-equipped,” Bell J said.

Brereton J has served on the Supreme Court since August 2005, with a reputation for being “one of the most versatile and able barristers of his generation, a counsel of extraordinary tenacity, indefatigable, with vast reserves of energy and of the utmost integrity”, according to Justice Bell.

“The extraordinary versatility which pervaded His Honour’s career at the Bar continued during his judicial career and, although appointed to the equity division, in his early years he regularly sat for a month or two each year in the common law division. That versatility, and the breadth of his experience and expertise, has also been hugely beneficial during his time on the Court of Appeal, to which he was appointed in 2018,” he said in his speech.

“Of course, the versatility of which I have spoken has been underpinned by a deep legal knowledge, great technical ability, and, I should add, a never to be underestimated mastery of practice and procedure. This was especially in evidence during His Honour’s service as corporations list judge as well as in duty lists. “

The new NACC commissioner delivered a number of key judgments and decisions, including those concerning the effects of adoption and adoptive parents, the first judgment concerning the application of the Aboriginal Child Placement Principles and a number of notable corporations law decisions.

In his 13 years as a divisional judge prior to his elevation to the Court of Appeal in 2018, Justice Brereton delivered over 1,500 decisions, averaging approximately 120 decisions a year.

“That is a phenomenal output, but sheer numbers, however impressive, do not and cannot do justice to the invariable quality of those judgments, many of which related to hearings over multiple days or weeks,” Bell J continued.

“As every judge and practitioner in this courtroom knows, those judgments are full of learning and clear distillation of principle. His Honour’s decisions are regularly cited not only at first instance but in appellate courts throughout the country.”

“Justice Brereton’s prodigious output as a judge of this court over so many years has been matched by few, if any, and this record of achievement is all the more remarkable when one overlays it with his multiple extracurricular activities.”

Justice Brereton also served on a number of Supreme Court committees, including as a member of the building committee from his appointment in 2005, as a member of the heritage committee from 2007 to 2009, and as a “very dedicated” chair of the costs assessment rules committee from 2016 to present.

Bell J also made note of His Honour’s “deep and distinguished” contribution to the Australian Army.

“That particular line of duty began in the Army Reserve in the Sydney University Regiment in 1975, and since then, His Honour has held a succession of ever more senior posts, including most recently as Assistant Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force, and prior to that as head, cadet reserve and employer support division.

“These positions culminated in the award, in 2010, of membership of the Order of Australia (AM) in the military division and an appointment as Major General,” Bell J said.

“The work undertaken by Justice Brereton between 2016 and 2020, reflected in his eponymous report into alleged war crimes committed by Australian soldiers in Afghanistan between 2005 and 2016, is a testament to His Honour’s characteristic thoroughness and meticulous attention to detail, and speaks to His Honour’s willingness to do difficult — in some quarters, deeply unpopular — work without fear or favour, and with great courage and perseverance.”

Lastly, Bell J thanked His Honour for his service on the court and wished him well moving forward.

“The state of New South Wales has been immensely fortunate to have had a judge of Justice Brereton’s calibre, unstinting dedication and remarkable energy to have served it for so long in such a distinguished manner,” he said.

“The nation is equally fortunate that, apart from his almost 50 years of service to the armed forces, His Honour will be the first occupant of a most important public office as the inaugural National Anti-Corruption commissioner. Justice Brereton will bring to that office all of the qualities of which I have spoken together with his fierce independence, courage and conviction.”