Vale – The Hon Leonard Sergiusz Ostrowski QC


Len, nicknamed the ‘Count’ because of his aristocratic bearing, enduring courtesy and enviable command of every situation, died on 30 May 2021 at the age of 85.  He was born in Wolomin, near Warsaw, in 1935.  His father was, as he described him, from the Polish landed gentry with estates near Minsk, in Byelorussia, so his nickname was not altogether undeserved.  The story of his life in Russian, and later German, occupied Poland before and during the second World War, his flight with his elder sister and brother-in-law to Switzerland and then, as a 15 year old ‘displaced person’, to Australia in 1950 was told by him for the first time at his farewell as a Judge of the County Court of Victoria on 6 September 2007.  This story of his early life is incredible and inspiring.  Please read it here.  If you do not shed a tear you are heartless.

He came to Australia with nothing.  He spoke barely a word of English.  He attended St Augustine’s Christian Brothers College, Yarraville for two years.  Brother ES Crowle, who taught Len at CBC Yarraville, encouraged him to matriculate.  When Brother Crowle become principal of St Joseph’s CBC North Melbourne, Len followed him for the matriculation year, where, remarkably, he topped his class in English.   

He studied law at the University of Melbourne whilst articled to Mr Tom Butler of Heffey & Butler, where he met his wife to be Maureen Lynch, who was a legal secretary.  After his admission he became an associate of that firm in 1959 and then moved to Rylah & Rylah where he was a partner from 1962 to 1966.

Len signed the Roll of Counsel of the Victorian Bar on 13 April 1967 and read with Richard (Dick) G De B Griffith, later QC and Justice Griffith of the Supreme Court, a quintessential equity lawyer of the day and the author of the first edition of Griffith’s Probate Law and Practice in Victoria.  Len had two readers: Barbara Hocking (mother of Jenny Hocking) and me. 

He was, as I knew him, the king of the Testators Family Maintenance (or now Family Provision) jurisdiction, then wholly conducted in the Supreme Court.  His opinions and pleadings were a model of brevity, lucidity and learning.  I still retain some.  They were typed by his wife Maureen, as was all his paper work.  He was a consummate advocate.  His practice was, however, much broader than the TFM jurisdiction, equity and commercial matters.  He appeared, for example, for Marilyn Warren, later Justice and Chief Justice Warren, in a seminal matter before the Full Court of the Supreme Court (Re Warren [1976] VR 406) and in the first reported case in Victoria on liability for margin calls on futures contracts (Option Investments (Aust) Pty Ltd v Martin [1981] VR 138).  Before concentrating his practice in the equity jurisdiction, he practiced extensively in the ‘running down’ (personal injuries) jurisdiction, particularly on several country circuits.  He relished fighting for the little person against the big and powerful, and winning.

He took silk in 1981 shortly after I finished reading with him.  Whilst at the Bar he was an editor of Vickery’s Motor and Traffic Law, a member of Amnesty International and Legal Advisor to the Senate Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances, an Honorary Irishman and a member of the Celtic Club. 

Len practiced as Junior and Senior Counsel for 17 years.  He was appointed to the County Court in 1983 and served with great distinction for 24 years, retiring on his 72nd birthday.  He sat in every jurisdiction, but the civil jurisdiction was his home.  He made an outstanding contribution to the work of the County Court and the administration of justice in Victoria.

At his welcome to the County Court in 1983, there was comment on his ability in the English language, given that when he arrived at the age of 15 he spoke almost none. His observations in this regard bear repeating:

“Still on the basis of amusement and antecedents, you have made some remarks about my ability to learn English.  Well, of course there were some difficulties in that respect.  I mean, one of the parts of the culture shock which I experienced when I arrived here was the difficulty in finding out what actually was the language that was being spoken in this country.  On the ship we were assured that we were coming to an English-speaking country.  Within months of arriving here, I took my first school-holiday job, building roads for the Werribee Shire.  To this day I don’t quite know why we were building those roads, because it was only the tiger snakes that seemed to use them up on the stony western plains west of Melbourne.  But it became perfectly obvious to me very, very quickly that the official language was Italian.  Unless that language was used nobody did any work and nobody knew what to do.

It wasn’t all that long afterwards, of course, that I became articled to Messrs Heffey and Butler, and I moved into an office in Lonsdale Street and the error, under which I was then labouring, was corrected and I found that the official language of this Country wasn’t Italian at all but, of course, it was Greek.”

Len’s life partner was Maureen Louise Lynch, daughter of Dorothy and Reginald Lynch and sister of Sir Phillip Lynch (dec).  They had 6 children, Lauren, Paul, Camille, Damian, Maree and Luke and 12 grandchildren.  Maureen died just about a week before Len.  May they rest together in peace.

There will be a funeral service for Len and Maureen Webcast by Tobin Brothers on Friday 17 August 2021 at 10:30am.

The Honourable Associate Justice Mark Derham

June 2021


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