The Honourable William (Henric) Nicholas QC (1942-2021)

Barrister, Queen’s Counsel, Judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales

The Honourable Henric Nicholas QC (Nicholas QC) was born in Orange in New South Wales to a family on the land. He was educated at The King’s School, Parramatta and then read law at the University of Sydney, graduating in 1964. During his years at university, he resided at St Paul’s College and indeed throughout his life he maintained a strong connection with that institution. In the year 2000, he became Chairman of the College Council immediately following the death of Justice John Lehane.

After university, Nicholas QC took articles of clerkship at Stephens Jaques & Stephen under the esteemed master solicitor, Major General John Broadbent, some time President of the Law Society of New South Wales.

Nicholas QC was admitted firstly as a solicitor of the New South Wales Supreme Court on 6 March 1964. One R.P. Meagher of counsel, who himself became a Judge of Appeal in the New South Wales Court of Appeal, moved his admission as a legal practitioner, Nicholas QC travelled to Europe and Great Britain for twelve months as was the practice at the time – a rite of passage. He worked as a researcher in the International Commission of Jurists in Geneva and that work resurfaced later in life when he took an interest in the International Court of Justice and the Council of Civil Liberties.

Upon his return to Sydney, he reverted to Stephens Jaques & Stephen however was admitted as a barrister on 21 October 1966. Nicholas QC’s pupil master from that time was the late Hon. B.S.J. O’Keefe, later a Judge of the Supreme Court. In 1969, shortly after he came to the Bar, he married the journalist Marion MacDonald. He started at Forbes Chambers and after some years became a member of the Sixth Floor of Selborne Chambers in February 1971.

As fate would have it Nicholas QC’s first room upon joining the Sixth Floor was that of the retiring W.A. South who had once been an associate to his paternal grandfather, the Hon. Harold Sprent Nicholas – the Chief Judge in Equity between 1939 and 1946. It was an auspicious sign.

Nicholas QC remained in those chambers until his appointment to the Equity Division of the New South Wales Supreme Court on 5 February 2003. His major areas of practice evolved over time. He started with common law, general equity and commercial cases but in later years his focus at the Bar was mainly defamation and media law trials, developing the law over some twenty-five years in that sphere. By 1981 he was in silk. He appeared in the longest-running defamation trial, concerning John Marsden, and held general retainers from both News Limited and John Fairfax & Sons Ltd, tabloid newspaper publishers of the day.

Nicholas QC led a fashionable and varied life, having acted for Gianni Versace and with the ties to prove it. He was a member of the Bar Council on several occasions, Director of Counsel’s Chambers Ltd and was a member of various legal disciplinary tribunals and the Legal Services Division of the then Administrative Decisions Tribunal. He was also Chairman of the New South Wales Publications Classifications Board and a Trustee of the Centennial Park Trust. He was also an Assistant Commissioner of the ICAC on at least two occasions.

Nicholas QC had an abiding interest in the arts. He was a Director of the Sydney Theatre Company, Chairman of the Eleanor Dark Foundation and of the Varuna Writer’s Centre at Katoomba. He was a Director of the Blake Society for Religious Art and sponsored the prestigious Blake Prize in this discipline. While a sitting judge, his chambers in Queen’s Square on the 7th Floor spilled over with the best examples of Aboriginal Art (once a computer was thought to have been placed in that room somewhere). Indeed for some time, he was Chairman of the Kimberley Foundation of Australia, promoting research and preservation of Aboriginal rock paintings in the Kimberley. Life was made beautiful – one painting at a time.

Nicholas QC maintained a traditional town and country life. Having come from a grazier family near Tumut he owned a property at Mount Irvine (adjoining that of the Hon. Ken Carruthers). It was a bucolic life where he cultivated gardens and bred Aberdeen Angus cattle with his floor colleague J. Sackar QC (now the Hon. Justice Sackar). For many years, he was a councillor of the Royal Agricultural Society of New South Wales.

Nicholas QC’s personal endeavours and social conscience went much beyond that of the law. Art ranked highly, as did charitable causes. In the law, he had been a great jury and appellate advocate and with his wisdom, energy and dutiful work ethic he made life in the world a better place for those around him. For those that knew Henric Nicholas QC, he was a kind, humorous and unassuming individual who never affected any pomposity. Mostly to others, he was a quiet and joyful person, prone to understatement.

In recent years, he accepted the challenges of life with equanimity. In Nicholas QC, the Bar has lost a quiet and humble servant who practised to the measure of excellence.

His wife Marion (Minny) survives him, together with their three children Grace, Edward and Hugh.

Kevin Tang
8 Wentworth Chambers