The Honourable Justice Michelle Gordon AC paid tribute to the distinguished federal court judge known for her lasting impact on the legal field.

The inaugural event at the Supreme Court of NSW’s Banco Court paid tribute to the indelible contributions of the Honourable Margaret Stone AO FAAL, a distinguished federal court judge and much-loved teacher at UNSW Sydney.

The speakers provided all attending with insight into Margaret's sharp wit, warm generosity, competitive nature, and formidable intellect. Dean of UNSW Law & Justice, Andrew Lynch, the Honourable Justice Michelle Gordon and Associate Professor Scott Donald reflected on Margaret’s profound influence on themselves and the Australian legal landscape.

Justice Gordon’s lecture was a poignant reflection on Margaret’s remarkable legacy that delved into her fascination with property law - for its historical significance, intellectual challenges, and the fundamental questions it raised about the nature of law itself. Justice Gordon said Margaret had described property law as “beautiful,” and it was a description that had caused her to smile.

“It was such a Margaret response, intellectual and visceral,” Justice Gordon said.

"She described it as beautiful. That description caused me to smile on one hand because it was such a Margaret response, intellectual and visceral. And on the other hand, because I just read another legal scholar, observe that in the life of law, there's never been a settled understanding of the nature of property law that has commanded widespread support over the long term. And perhaps there never will be."

For Margaret, property law was not a collection of labels or boxes but a complex tapestry of principles and values that evolved over centuries and across different societies. She believed that understanding the law required delving into its historical underpinnings and identifying the enduring principles that guided its development.

Justice Gordon illustrated the complex tapestry by addressing histories that underpin contemporary Australian property law. She spoke about histories ranging from the feudal system, established in England by William the Conqueror in 1066, to the native title doctrine established by Mabo v Queensland (2) in 1993.

“What immediately becomes self-evident is not only the evolving nature of property law, but how and why the law developed as it did,” Justice Gordon said. She reminded the audience of Margaret’s credence that legal concepts are tools that ought to work for us and develop in accord with our values. Justice Gordon then examined the principles and values of legal concepts to demonstrate the intellectual rigour that Margaret espoused.

The full lecture is available to view below.

Ken Leanfore

Prominent legal professionals, academics and family members paid tribute to the late Hon. Margaret Stone. 

The Margaret Stone Lecture series

The Margaret Stone Lecture, jointly hosted by the Faculty of Law & Justice at UNSW Sydney and Herbert Smith Freehills, stands as a testament to the life and contributions of the late Hon. Margaret Stone AO FAAL.

Margaret Stone's remarkable journey included being a revered teacher at UNSW Sydney, a partner at Freehill, Hollingdale and Page, and a distinguished Federal Court of Australia judge. Her later career saw her in vital public service roles, including the crucial position of Australia’s Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security.

The establishment of this lecture series is a heartfelt endeavour supported and encouraged by Margaret Stone's family. Gratitude is extended to Chief Justice Andrew Bell for the use of his court on this occasion.

View the entire lecture below. 

The Honourable Justice Michelle Gordon AC

Justice Michelle Gordon was appointed to the High Court of Australia in 2015. Her journey through the legal profession began with a law degree from the University of Western Australia, followed by admission to practice in Western Australia in 1987. In 1992, she joined the Victorian Bar and became Senior Counsel in 2003. Her practice spanned state and federal courts, primarily focusing on commercial, equity, taxation, and general civil matters.

UNSW Law & Justice is where academics, legal professionals and students in law and criminology come together to study, research and debate the ideas and laws that sustain a democratic and just society. Join the conversation at future UNSW Law & Justice events

Kate Newton