BENCH FAREWELL CEREMONY 16 August 2019

On his retirement as a respected Judge of the Land and Environment Court, His Honour Justice Terrence Sheahan AO leaves a lasting legacy in both the judicial system and in the field of ADR. Including establishing the Australian Commercial Disputes Centre (now ‘ADC’) in 1986 as Attorney General of NSW, Justice Sheahan has played a pivotal role in introducing and advocating for non-adversarial, alternative dispute resolution (‘ADR’) processes within Australia’s legal system.

On 16th of August 2019, the Land and Environment Court and NSW legal community thanked His Honour for his judicial services at the LEC in a jam packed Bench Farewell Ceremony. The Ceremony opened with Ms G Bashir SC, speaking on behalf of the New South Wales Bar Association. She recalled His Honour’s qualities, contributions and his fundamental role in reforming the administration of justice and dispute resolution processes both in and out of court.

‘Your Honour’s records of achievement are so extensive that all I can attempt to do this morning is give an abridged version of some highlights of your Honour’s career… With respect to the services of the law it has been said that your Honour pioneered alternative dispute resolution in Australia. Your Honour has said it was the rules, practices and procedures of the Land and Environment Court which had inspired and informed much of what your Honour put in place..’

Ms Bashir SC provided further examples of Justice Sheahan’s innovative contributions and methods of reform across the justice system, particularly at the Workers Compensation Commission where he implemented a blended conciliation arbitration approach that was engaged by professional dispute resolvers. Ms Bashir noted His Honour’s description of the WCC approach as: ‘being focused on the end from the very beginning with parties having to file all evidence at the outset of proceedings before conference, a model now so familiar in the justice system.’

His Honour’s achievements as Attorney General were also innumerable, including the part he played in establishing the New South Wales Judicial Commission. Ms Bashir noted, ‘Today the Judicial Commission of this state is an entrenched and valuable part of the legal and judicial landscape due to a combination of its complaints function ensuring judicial accountability with schemes for the continuing education of judicial officers…  It is a model which is envied by practitioners in other jurisdictions.’

His Honour took a further step for the administration of justice in his establishment of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, a politically independent office by the DPP Act of 1985. In this regard, His Honour was adamant that the criminal law would be administered by an impartial office, free from political interference and oversight.

On a personal note, Ms Bashir SC concluded:

‘Your Honour’s own abilities to successfully implement major reforms is a testament to your skills as a formidable debater, to your razor-sharp mind and immense capacity for hard work. As for the qualities other admire in your Honour the listing includes but is not limited to a fantastic personality, an irreverent sense of humour, unlimited generosity and unmistakable genuineness.’

Ms E Espinosa, President of the Law Society of New South Wales highlighted His Honour’s service as a solicitor, Member of Parliament, Minister of various portfolios and Judicial Officer. Ms Espinosa emphasised His Honour’s work in civil litigation where he:

‘…encountered the burgeoning world of building arbitration which triggered a life-long interest in, [and pioneer ship of] alternative dispute resolution or as mediators have noticed your Honour calls it “appropriate dispute resolution”’.

Ms Espinosa congratulated his Honour on his ability to effectively translate his experience as a Minister in various portfolios in the NSW Government, including; Housing, Transport, Finance, Cooperative Societies, Energy and Planning and Environment, and as Attorney General.

‘As we have heard one of your many achievements during this time was the establishment of the Australian Commercial Dispute Centre and you achieved this in partnership with the Chief Justice for the New South Wales Supreme Court, Sir Laurence Street.’

Ms F Rourke, President of Environment and Planning Law Association (NSW) spoke to His Honour’s appointment to the Land and Environment Court and as President of the New South Wales Workers Compensation Commission. Ms Rourke recalled that His Honour had delivered over 500 decisions in the LEC, highlighting his immense contributions to the administration of Justice and evolution of case law in this area.

Ms Rourke quoted President of Harvard University, Mr Derek Bok:

 ‘Over the next generation I predict that society’s greatest opportunities will lie in tapping human inclinations towards collaboration and compromise rather than stirring our proclivities for competition and rivalry.  If lawyers are not leaders in marshalling cooperation and designing mechanisms which allow it to flourish they will not be at the centre of the most creative social experiments of our time.’

These words, articulating the connection between being at the centre of progress and working collaboratively and innovatively, find expression in His Honour’s judicial career.  ADC echoes the words of thanks expressed at His Honour’s Bench Farewell for his prominent and innovative leadership in the administration of justice, and advancement of appropriate dispute resolution processes.