The Hon. Trevor Rees Morling QC

The Hon. Trevor Rees Morling QC

(1927 – 2020)

Barrister, Queen’s Counsel and
Judge of the Federal Court of Australia

The Honourable Trevor Morling QC, the notable mediator and distinguished judge of the Federal Court of Australia and one-time President of the NSW Bar, died on 2 August 2020, aged 92 years. He was at the forefront of the law in this state for more than 60 years.

Morling QC was born on October 12, 1927. He came from modest circumstances and parents who lived through the Great Depression. His early years in Ashfield were family-oriented and thrifty. His father, the Reverend George Morling, was a prominent figure in the Baptist movement in Australia, and was one of the youngest and longest-standing principals of the NSW Baptist College. Morling QC maintained a lifetime of devotion.

Morling QC attended Fort Street High School and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Laws from the University of Sydney. Morling QC spent a year as associate to Mr Justice Sugerman of the NSW Supreme Court, taking over the role from his lifelong friend The Hon Bob Ellicott QC. Mr Justice Sugerman sat on the Land and Valuation Court in addition to the NSW Supreme Court (tumultuous years), and this proved to be a valuable experience as Morling QC became familiar with the procedures and practitioners of that Court. He would rise over time to be a leader of the Bar.

Morling QC commenced practice at the Bar in 1951, and built up a strong general commercial practice with a focus on land and valuation work. He practiced from the Tenth Floor. Shortly after, he married his wife, Ruth Mildred, in 1955. By 1968, he was in Silk, through which he would earn his pre-eminent reputation. He was the most sought-after QC in land and valuation matters in NSW, and appeared interstate in the High Court of Australia and had a vast and coveted practice in the Privy Council. During the time that Morling QC was in practice, he had an uncanny way of doing a short mention in Sydney’s Queen’s Square in the morning, and then deftly appearing in Melbourne that afternoon, closing a case before the Victorian Supreme Court. The miles he travelled were only topped by the sheer number of cases he appeared in during any week. Morling QC single-handedly developed the law in land and valuation throughout the 1970s and 1980s, such that the reports are replete with his name as leading counsel. He was most certainly a high-flyer, and remembered fondly by fellow counsel of that generation. He was always affably reserved.

Morling QC was Chairman of Counsel’s Chambers Limited (CCL) from 1974 to 1978 and served as the President of the NSW Bar Association from November 1977 to December 1979, following immediately after Doug McGregor QC. He was a robust President of the NSW Bar, at a time when the giants of the Bar, Sir Maurice Byers QC, The Honourable Gordon Samuels AC QC, and The Honourable GD Needham QC, still circulated the halls. He was followed in that role by none other than The Honourable RP Meagher QC. He was also President of the Australian Bar Association in 1978.

In 1981, Morling QC was Deputy President of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, and was given judicial appointment to the Federal Court of Australia by Sir Nigel Bowen in that same year. Morling QC sat on the Federal Court for a dozen years also sitting as an additional Justice of the Supreme Court of the Australian Capital Territory and, from 1991, as an additional Justice of the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory. In his judgment in Australian Federation of Consumer Organisations Inc v Tobacco Institute of Australia Ltd, he presciently observed the harmful consequences of passive smoking, long before British American Tobacco cases and the like endorsed a culture of awareness and deterrence.

In 1986-1987, with Sir Nigel Bowen, the Chief Justice’s permission, Morling QC took on the role of Royal Commissioner of the Inquiry of the Convictions against Lindy and Michael Chamberlain, in a highly controversial case which entered the realm of legend in Australian popular culture. He was a witness of our times. Nevertheless, despite these circumstances, he conducted the Commission with aplomb. Post-judicial life beckoned and Morling QC was busier than ever.

Morling QC is remembered for not only being a highly competent and sought-after barrister and judge, but he was, before his time, mobile and highly well-travelled, having served across the Pacific. He was appointed a Justice of the Supreme Court of Norfolk Island in 1984, the Chief Justice of that Court in 1990, Justice of the Court of Appeal of Tonga in 1990, Justice of the Court of Appeal of Western Samoa in 1991, and Judge of the Court of Appeal of Vanuatu in 1991. He had a great affinity with the balmy climate of the South Pacific.

In 1993, he retired from the Federal Court to act as an arbitrator in a large and intriguing dispute between Britain and Iran over an arms contract with the deposed Shah Mohammad Pahlavi. This marked a significant shift in his professional life, where he began a stellar career as an arbitrator and a mediator. It is no exaggeration to say that he was the mediator of choice in Sydney for more than a decade, with an interstate and international reputation. He was often seen in the big end of town rushing between mediations in his post-judicial career, often from one boardroom to another, in the company of captains of industry. It was at his insistence that the Australian Commercial Disputes Centre and the Australian International Disputes Centre were established.

Morling QC had a strong commitment to public service. It was his professional forte. He was a member of the Takeovers Panel from 1994 to 1996, and the Chair of the Australian Electoral Commission from 1998 to 2003.

Even in his latter years Morling QC was a hard worker, interested in the fairness and justice of a case. Morling QC was never an overbearing, pretentious or a tempestuous practitioner. He was cool and generally reserved with the odd chuckle when appropriate. His demeanour was more judicial than not. He had an unmistakeable warmth of personality and was prone to understatement. Morling QC observed in others a quiet sobriety which aligned with his own demeanour and character. He loved the company of young solicitors and barristers, especially in his years as a mediator when he met many. He was often seen waving and fraternising with lawyers two or more generations after his. He was a friend of the Honourable Brian Tamberlin QC, the Honourable Noel Hemmings QC and the late the Honourable Bryan Beaumont QC, not to mention the Honourable Murray Tobias QC and the Honourable Roger Gyles QC (once his reader and floor colleague). They all had a great respect and reverence for Morling QC, and to a great extent admired Morling QC’s humble and quiet nature. Former President of the Bar, John Coombs QC went so far as to observe of Morling QC that he possessed a "[…] reliable, sometimes wicked, sense of humour". He could be quick with a joke and never forgot the human interest of the Bar and its work. Above all, Morling QC will be remembered as a skilled, learned and kindly man.

Morling QC is survived by David and Christine, Robert and Elizabeth. He was the much-loved sibling of Dorothy, Elaine, Gordon and William, who all pre-deceased him. He was the grandfather of Martin, George, Edward, Annabelle, Henry, William, Peter and Alice, and the brother-in-law of Roslyn and Roger. Latterly, his wife of 65 years, Ruth, a most elegant and loving companion, died in May of this year.

Kevin Tang
8 Wentworth Chambers