Heritage and History
The TC Beirne School of Law began teaching in 1936, but a Faculty of Law was established with the foundation of the University of Queensland in 1910. This was apparently a ‘shadow faculty' that enabled the University to confer honorary degrees on locally notable graduates of other universities. These included Sir Samuel Griffith, former Premier and Chief Justice of Queensland and, at that time, Chief Justice of Australia, who was awarded an honorary Doctorate in Laws in August 1912.
In 1920, a committee on University reorganisation recommended postponing the establishment of an active Law Faculty and that, instead, some general or introductory courses in law be included in the Arts curriculum for students intending to practise at the bar. Although applicants for admission to practise law in Queensland could qualify on the basis of law degrees awarded by other universities, most in the State studied for admission through courses examined by the Barristers' Board and the Solicitors' Board - the Supreme Court's admitting authorities.
In 1923, the University received a bequest of £550 per annum in memory of Sir James Garrick KC, a local barrister and politician. In 1926, FWS Cumbrae-Stewart, an English barrister and former Registrar of the University, received the first appointment to the Garrick Chair of Law. Professor Cumbrae-Stewart held this chair until classes commenced in the School in 1936.
In April 1935, Thomas Charles Beirne, the proprietor of a large Brisbane department store and Warden of the Council of the University, pledged £20,000 (the equivalent to about $3 million in today's money) to establish a functioning law school. The Senate named the school after Mr Beirne, although the name ‘TC Beirne School of Law' was not commonly used until the name was promoted by Professor Geoffrey de Q Walker, Dean of Law in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In 1936, when classes commenced, Professor Yorke Hedges was appointed to the Garrick Chair of Law.
The School was the only school and department within the Faculty of Law. That remained the position until 1996, when the School became administratively part of the Faculty of Business, Economics and Law. In 1999, Professor Tony Tarr received the first appointment to the newly-established Sir Gerard Brennan Chair in Law and Professor Charles Rickett became the second holder of the Chair in 2003.
The School's first graduate was Mrs Una Prentice (née Bick), who graduated in 1938 and was the first woman to be admitted to the Queensland Bar. In 1939, there were thirty students enrolled and five LLBs were awarded, one of them to Sir Harry Gibbs, later Chief Justice of Australia (1981-1987).
The third Garrick Professor of Law was Walter Harrison, appointed in 1948, after Professor Yorke Hedges assumed judicial office in Africa. In the same year, the School began publication of the University of Queensland Law Journal, the first university law journal to be published in Australia. At that time also, the School was relocated from the old university premises at Gardens Point to St Lucia, a move that had been delayed by military use of the new university buildings during and after the Pacific War. General Sir Thomas Blamey, Commander-in-Chief of Allied Land Forces in the Southwest Pacific, used the Forgan Smith Building as his headquarters between 1942 and 1944. The staff of the School have been housed in the Forgan Smith Building since then.
The School has succeeded in placing itself in a central position in educating the legal and political leadership of the State of Queensland and, though naturally to a lesser extent, the nation of Australia. Academic leadership was developed from the late 1940s by Professor Walter Harrison, Professor Edward Sykes (subsequently Professor of Public Law at the University of Melbourne), and Professor Kevin Ryan (subsequently a Judge of the Supreme Court of Queensland, 1984-1994). Later members of staff who have obtained distinction in other fields include:
- Professor Robin O'Regan QC: Chairman, Queensland Criminal Justice Commission.
- Professor Kenneth Sutton: first Dean of Law, James Cook University of North Queensland.
- Dr Bruce McPherson: Judge of the Supreme Court of Queensland, 1982-90; Court of Appeal.
- Dr Paul Finn: Professor of Law, Research School of Social Sciences, Australian National University; Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences; Judge of the Federal Court of Australia.
- Ms Quentin Bryce: first woman appointed to the School's academic staff, 1968; federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner; Governor of Queensland; Governor General of Australia.
- Mrs Margaret White: first woman appointed as a Judge of the Supreme Court of Queensland.
- Professor James O'Donovan: Dean of Law, University of Western Australia.
- Professor Michael Noone: Dean of Law, Macquarie University, Sydney (1995 -1999); judicial officer appointment in NSW.