The Honourable Anthony Frederick (Tony) Garling (1941-2021)

Solicitor and Judge of the District Court of New South Wales

For over 26 years, the Honourable Tony Garling sat on the District Court of New South Wales in both in civil and criminal jurisdictions. He was a vital element in that vast jurisdiction and had a profound effect on its operations.

Anthony Frederick Garling (Tony) was born in 1941 and this would have been his 80th year. He was born to Patricia and Max Garling. He was a true war-time baby and was then for some years raised by his grandmother in Sydney after his mother and father moved to Malaya in 1947 where they lived there for some years. As a boy, Tony only saw his parents at most once a year, together with his younger brother Max before the family grew. From an early time, he was first in the care of the Dominican nuns at Bathurst and then boarded at Saint Ignatius College Riverview between 1954 and 1958. Garling was acutely aware of his elder son status in the family. Garling kept that parental mantle throughout his life and performed it lovingly.

Whilst at Riverview he was an enthusiastic and capable sportsman who played rugby, cricket and participated in all aspects of school life. There he made great friends who remained close to him throughout his life. The Jesuit brothers left a very deep mark upon Garling such that he carried their teachings and faith with him, quietly, throughout life in pursuit of excellence. At the University of Sydney, Garling studied economics and Law. It was the early 1960s, and as a young man he found Sydney a melting pot of social interaction which he enthusitically embraced, allowing academic rigour to take second place. It was the best of times.

The older Garlings had returned from Malaya at the end of the 1950s and built a wonderful home at Castlecrag which was so remote from neighbours that parties could be held undisturbed. Garling married his wife Jane on 23 July 1964 at St Mary Magdalene at Rose Bay, following in the tradition of his parents who had wed there in the 1940s.

Thereafter Garling moved to the North Shore and there he and Jane would remain. Garling played cricket for the Roseville Cricket Club, the Vagabonds and refereed rugby in winter. The whole family – Emily, Sarah, Emma and Matt did well at school and were encouraged to be well-rounded individuals. Social and sporting interests were always much prized over drier academic matters.

Garling took articles of clerkship in 1962 at Abram Landa & Co. He became a partner in another iteration of that firm, David Landa Stuart & Co. After more than twenty years at that firm he struck out on his own, with Tony Garling & Co, in 1981. His brother Kim who had been a past President of the New South Wales Law Society, joined him at the firm. Tony had become well known amongst solicitors. His practice mainly featured common law, personal injury, motor vehicle accidents and occasionally some crime. First and foremost, Garling’s preoccupation was to resolve any case for a proper sum of money in the shortest time possible. In a way, it was a forerunner of the ‘just, quick and cheap’ incantation that the courts now apply. He was a true servant to his clients’ interests. Indeed, Garling was never much interested in reported cases and as for any appellate court he tended to keep well away if he could.

At least two of his cases ended up in the High Court. The first in 1976 was for schoolboy Peter Maloney who had been gravely injured when flung out a train on his way to school. The High Court found it was negligent of the New South Wales Government to operate trains with doors which would remain open whilst travelling at high speed. The second case was a criminal case about the obligations of a trial judge when the Crown had finished presenting its case to the Jury. That case was Doney v the Queen and is regularly citied to this day.

For Garling, these cases were remarkable not because of their result but because he believed that the ordinary people involved had been treated unfairly by the courts and, as a practitioner, he sought justice on their behalf.

After wonderful years in practice, in 1991 Garling was sworn in as a Judge of the District Court directly from the ranks of solicitors. This occasion was of some moment. It had only happened four times previously. When Garling first sat on the Court, delay in hearing civil claims was over five years between commencement and finalisation. In 2002, having been the Civil Claims List Judge for some time, his efforts resulted in the median delay period being reduced to 11.3 months between commencement and final hearing.

Whilst he was on the Court, he took active interest in the many committees of the Court. In 2003, he was the Deputy Chairman of the Attorney-General’s Working Party whose task it was to regularise and to simplify the uniform rules by which all courts in New South Wales would operate. With him on that committee was Michael McHugh SC, now the President of the New South Wales Bar Association. The outcome became known as the NSW Uniform Civil Procedure.

The Hon. Virginia Bell, formerly of the High Court, recalls appearing before Garling in the District Court and later, when a judge of the High Court, restoring one of his judgements wrongly overturned by the Court of Appeal. Her Honour expressed her profound sadness and condolences upon learning of Garling’s death.

Tony Garling worked hard for the District Court of New South Wales, often hearing complex and long cases. He was much admired. He worked hard for the people of New South Wales and remained true to his Judicial Oath. He was possessed of a calm, intelligent and kindly manner and a number of his colleagues and friends remember him for those qualities particularly. Garling was never a pretentious or overbearing advocate and was a fair, compassionate but robust judge. To his closest family, the words of W.H. Auden should be recalled:

‘He was their North, their South, their East, and West,

Their working week and their Sunday rest,

Their noon, their midnight, their talk and their song…’

‘Funeral Blues’, W.H. Auden, 1938

Garling is survived by his wife, Jane Sarah, Emma, Matt and Jane and their children.

Kevin Tang
8 Wentworth Chambers

Before Garling / After Garling

Those reflecting on the life of Tony Garling should know more about the dynamic effect he had on the District Court – positive effects, still being felt today. In a sense, the change was so dramatic that the work of the District Court could be viewed in two periods – before Tony Garling and after Tony Garling.

By the 1980s the District Court had become a miserable place. There was an awful backlog of cases. A litigant starting a case in the District Court could expect to wait six or more years for a hearing – and that is even if the case had been prepared with maximum efficiency. It was notorious that when chasing debts, creditors would do anything they could to keep the case out of the dark abyss of the District Court.

One of the key problems was the colossal number of small motor car claims – tiny claims which had been defended with ruthless inefficiency by the monopoly insurer, the GIO.

There seemed no way out of the mess.

Then, in about 1990, someone proposed a special project be undertaken designed to flush out old cases and to force them on for hearing. Several acting judges were appointed to assist in the task.

That project really got going under Tony Garling following his appointment in 1991. Many cases were listed for hearing each day. All were called-over before Judge Garling at 9.30am. Judges were allocated on the spot. Suddenly, cases which had lain dormant for years settled. The project was a huge success.

But Tony’s impact on the Court did not end with the GIO project. These were the days of the explosion of claims from the 'public liability crisis'. Crisis or not, there were a lot of cases and the backlog began rebuilding.

Tony Garling to the rescue. Once the Court moved to the John Maddison Tower in 1993 it gave him better control over the allocation of cases. He became the dominating spirit of the civil jurisdiction of the District Court. In fact, in the jargon of the time, if a young barrister was asked about his or her work that day they might simply reply 'Garling' or '15B'.

Court 15B – the mere mention triggers a flood of emotions. Throughout his long tenure as a judge Tony Garling always sat in Court 15B. It was quite a sight, sometimes more resembling a noisy middle eastern bazaar than a court room. Haggling, arguing, schmoozing – and standing room only.

Court 15B opened for business at 9.30am. About ten judges would be sitting in the civil jurisdiction, each already with a case. Tony Garling would then manage about 20 or so other 'reserve' cases which would be allocated immediately a judge became free. Counsel were required to attend that call-over, silks included. Each had to give a quick account of the case – issues; length; prospects of settlement. Then they were required to wait within earshot of Court 15B so that if a judge became free they could be sent immediately to start their case. And counsel were not released from 15B until about 3.00pm – the threat of which had a marvellous effect of focussing the mind upon settlement.

That was only the start of Tony Garling’s day. After the call-over he would often deliver a reserved judgment (he would only reserve for a week at most), then give directions in ten or so cases, then hear two or three applications to approve infants’ settlements. He would also entertain one or two adjournment applications – which he invariably refused.

After that Tony would get back to his own hearing which he would run through till 4.00pm – or later if there was a prospect that he could complete the matter. Mind you, that hearing would be interrupted whenever Tony got information that another judge had become free. Even that was dramatic. Tony sat on the Bench with a mobile phone (high-tech for those days). All of a sudden the phone would ring. Waiting counsel would either look up hopefully, or avert their eyes. Mumble, mumble then – 'Matter No 12, Judge So and So, you’re on in 15 minutes'.

Every day was a very busy day, and Tony did this every day. His energy and stamina were amazing.

What was he like as a judge? Well, loud and direct – no barrister ever had any doubt as to what was on Tony’s mind. Generally speaking, good humoured. Sure, occasionally he could get a little cranky – but he was never personal and never cruel. He possessed loads of common sense and was instinctively fair. He was a good judge.

Today a civil case will be wrapped up within 12 months of it being filed in the District Court. Tony Garling changed the District Court for the better, introducing efficiencies which were way ahead of their time.

Geoffrey Watson SC