Profile of Justice O'Connor

Updated time

Last updated

21 March 2017

The Honourable Justice Richard Edward O'Connor QC (1851 1912)

The Honorable Justice Richard Edward O'Connor

  • Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration 1905–1956
  • Appointed President 10 February 1905
  • Resigned 13 September 1907

Richard Edward O'Connor was born on 4 August 1851 in the Sydney suburb of Glebe. He attended St Mary's College, then Sydney Grammar School and the University of Sydney, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in 1871 and a Master of Arts in 1873. He was employed as a copying clerk from 1871 to 1874 before studying law, supplementing his income by contributing articles to various newspapers. He was admitted to the New South Wales Bar in June 1876.

O'Connor was Crown Prosecutor for the New South Wales Northern District from 1878 to 1883 and in December 1887 was nominated to the New South Wales Legislative Council. From October 1891 he served as Minister for Justice and also as New South Wales Solicitor-General from July to September 1893. He was made a Queen's Counsel in 1896 and from November 1898 to March 1899 he was an acting Supreme Court judge.

In 1896 O'Connor was a member of the people's federal convention held at Bathurst and was a New South Wales delegate to the Australasian Federal Convention of 1897 to 1898. After serving on the Convention's constitutional committee he served with Sir Edmund Barton and Sir John Downer on the drafting committee which prepared the Federation Bill. The bill, with some amendments, eventually became the Federal Constitution.

In 1898 O'Connor resigned from the New South Wales Legislative Council to unsuccessfully contest the Legislative Assembly seat of Young. In 1901 he entered federal politics when he was elected to the Senate and became Vice-President of the Executive Council in the first Commonwealth Ministry, a position that carried with it the leadership of the Government in the Senate.

His last major task before resigning from both his portfolio and from the Senate on 27 September 1903 was the carriage of the Judiciary Act 1903 which established the High Court of Australia. On 5 October 1903 he was appointed as one of the first three Justices of the High Court, along with Sir Edmund Barton and Sir Samuel Griffith.

In February 1905 O'Connor reluctantly accepted the additional position of first President of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration. In February 1907 he issued a decision under the Excise Tariff Act 1906 which granted an exemption from payment of excise duties on agricultural machinery, manufactured by D Sim & Sons of Morpeth, being satisfied that the wages paid in their factory were fair and reasonable. This was one of nine cases he decided under the Excise Tariff Act. The 1907 Harvester Case [2 CAR 1] was also decided under this Act.

O'Connor resigned from his position in the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration in September 1907 due to the heavy workload of the High Court.

Richard Edward O'Connor died at St Vincent's Hospital, Sydney on 18 November 1912. He was survived by his wife, four sons and two daughters.