Edward McTiernan

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The Right Honourable
Sir Edward McTiernan
Edward McTiernan 1954.jpg
McTiernan in his chambers, 1954.
Justice of the High Court of Australia
In office
20 December 1930 – 12 September 1976
Nominated by James Scullin
Appointed by John Baird, 1st Viscount Stonehaven
Preceded by Sir Isaac Isaacs
Succeeded by Sir Keith Aickin
Personal details
Born (1892-02-16)16 February 1892
Glen Innes, New South Wales, Australia
Died 9 January 1990(1990-01-09) (aged 97)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Religion Roman Catholicism

Sir Edward Aloysius McTiernan, KBE (16 February 1892 – 9 January 1990), was an Australian jurist, lawyer and politician. He served as an Australian Labor Party member of both the New South Wales Legislative Assembly and federal House of Representatives before being appointed to the High Court of Australia in 1930. He sat on many significant cases on the bench, eventually becoming the longest-serving judge in the court's history, before finally retiring in 1976.

Early years[edit]

McTiernan was born into an Irish Catholic family in the small township of Glen Innes, in the north of New South Wales. Educated in Sydney at Marist Brothers High School Darlinghurst, he studied arts and law at the University of Sydney. He graduated in 1915 and was called to the bar in the following year.

Political career[edit]

McTiernan as a member of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly.

After five years as a barrister, McTiernan was elected to the New South Wales Legislative Assembly in 1920 as the Member for Western Suburbs. McTiernan served in the ministry as Minister for Justice from April to December 1920 and Attorney-General of New South Wales from April 1920 to May 1927,[1] and was heavily involved in Premier Jack Lang's attempt to abolish the New South Wales Legislative Council. He retired from the Assembly in 1927 and took up a position as a law lecturer with his alma mater. Two years later, however, he was elected to federal parliament as the member for Parkes. This was to be short-lived, as in 1930, one year into McTiernan's term, Prime Minister James Scullin controversially nominated him to the High Court of Australia.

High Court[edit]

As a judge of the High Court, McTiernan oversaw several of the most significant cases in Australian legal history, including Bank of New South Wales v Commonwealth, which struck down an attempt to nationalise the banks, Australian Communist Party v The Commonwealth, which struck down an attempt to ban the Communist Party of Australia and R v Kirby; ex parte Boilermakers' Society of Australia, which reinforced the doctrine of the separation of powers. He served under five Chief Justices - Sir Isaac Isaacs, Sir Frank Gavan Duffy, Sir John Latham, Sir Owen Dixon and Sir Garfield Barwick, and was knighted himself in 1951.[2]

McTiernan was one of only eight justices of the High Court to have served in the Parliament of Australia prior to his appointment to the Court; the others were Edmund Barton, Richard O'Connor, Isaac Isaacs, H. B. Higgins, John Latham, Garfield Barwick, and Lionel Murphy. He was also one of six justices to have served in the Parliament of New South Wales, along with Barton, O'Connor, Albert Piddington, Adrian Knox and H. V. Evatt.

In total, McTiernan was a member of the High Court for 46 years, making him the longest-serving judge in its history. This is a record unlikely to be broken, as a constitutional change in 1977, perhaps sparked by McTiernan's extremely long term, introduced compulsory retirement ages for federal judges; a justice of the High Court must now retire at 70.[3] McTiernan had no intention of resigning from the bench even into the 1970s, but, after breaking a hip at the age of 84 in 1976 while chasing a cricket in his hotel with a rolled up newspaper, Chief Justice Barwick's refusal to include a wheelchair ramp in the design of the new High Court building prompted his retirement.[4] He died in 1990, at the age of 97. He was the last surviving MP who served when James Scullin was Prime Minister.


  1. ^ "Sir Edward Aloysius McTiernan (1892 - 1990)". Members of Parliament. Parliament of New South Wales. Archived from the original on 29 September 2007. Retrieved 2007-04-24. 
  2. ^ Sir Edward McTiernan (family history)
  3. ^ Constitution section 71, after Constitution Alteration (Retirement of Judges) 1977
  4. ^ Marr, David (1980). Barwick. Sydney: Allen & Unwin. p. 290. 

External links[edit]

Parliament of New South Wales
New district Member for Western Suburbs
With: Lazzarini, Hoskins, Shillington/Ness, Wilson/Jarvie
District abolished
Political offices
Preceded by
John FitzGerald
Minister for Justice
Succeeded by
William McKell
Preceded by
John Garland
Attorney General of New South Wales
Succeeded by
Thomas Bavin
Preceded by
Thomas Bavin
Attorney General of New South Wales
Preceded by
Thomas Bavin
Attorney General of New South Wales
Succeeded by
Andrew Lysaght
Parliament of Australia
Preceded by
Charles Marr
Member for Parkes
Succeeded by
Charles Marr
Legal offices
Preceded by
Sir Isaac Isaacs
Puisne Justice of the High Court of Australia
Succeeded by
Sir Keith Aickin