Vale – The Honourable Sir Francis Gerard Brennan AC, KBE


The Bar has been notified that the Honourable Sir Francis Gerard Brennan AC, KBE, the former Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia, died peacefully on 1 June 2022.

Sir Gerard was born in Rockhampton on 22 May 1928, the son of Mr Justice Frank Tenison Brennan, a judge of the Supreme Court of Queensland and Gertrude Mary Brennan. His secondary education took place at Downlands Marist College in Toowoomba.  He studied law at the University of Queensland and, in 1949, was President of the National Union of Australian University Students.  He was admitted to the Bar in 1951 and took silk in 1964. From 1975 to 1976, he was the President of the Australian Bar Association. 

In 1976, Sir Gerard was appointed as the first President of the Commonwealth Administrative Appeals Tribunal.  At the same time, he was appointed a Justice of the Australian Industrial Court.  From 1977 to 1981, he was a Justice of the Federal Court of Australia. In 1981, he was appointed a Justice of the High Court of Australia.

On 21 April 1995, Sir Gerard was sworn in as Chief Justice of the High Court upon the retirement of Sir Anthony Mason. On that occasion, he reflected upon the significance of the Oath of Allegiance and Office that he had just taken; see (1995) 183 CLR x-xi. He remained as Chief Justice until his retirement on 21 May 1998.  After his retirement, he became the Chancellor of the University of Technology Sydney.

Sir Gerard wrote or was a party to many famous judgments in his time on the Court. Particularly notable are his judgments in Mabo v Queensland (No 2) (1988) 166 CLR 186 (the ‘Native Title’ case), Secretary, Department of Health and Community Services v JWB [Marion’s Case] 1992 175 CLR 218 (a case concerning the sterilisation of an intellectually disabled minor, in which he dissented) and (when he was Chief Justice) Lange v Australian Broadcasting Corporation (1997) 189 CLR 520) (the ‘implied freedom of political communication’ case).

In May 1953, he married Patricia O’Hara. They had seven children including Professor Father Frank Brennan, SJ, formerly a member of the Victorian Bar (Bar roll no. 1418). Lady Brennan died in September 2019. Kateena O’Gorman (Bar roll no. 4600) is Sir Gerard’s granddaughter.

Sir Gerard’s requiem Mass is to take place at St Mary’s Church, Miller Street North Sydney at 10am on Friday 17 June 2022.

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