Citations and Speeches


171st Congregation (2005)

Sir Anthony Frank MASON
CBE, KBC, AC, Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws

The Public Orator, Dr Elaine Yee-lin Ho, wrote and delivered the following citation:

A native of Sydney, Australia, Anthony Frank Mason received his undergraduate education at the University of Sydney where he graduated with first-class honours in both law and arts in 1949. Admitted to the New South Wales Bar in 1951, Anthony Mason also lectured at Sydney University for a number of years but he did not become a professor: the furniture he was destined for was not a chair, but the bench. In 1964, he was appointed Queen's Counsel, and in the same year became Solicitor-General of the Commonwealth. He has served on the High Court of Australia for twenty three years, with the last 8 years from 1987 to 1995 serving as Chief Justice. Knighted in 1972, Sir Anthony is regarded as one of Australia's greatest judges, and one of the best-known and most distinguished jurists in the common law world.

In his early years, Anthony Mason's approach to judicial decision making was more technical and legalistic. Over the years, and especially as Chief Justice, his approach has changed in that he increasingly acknowledges that law must be placed in social contexts. In explaining this change in 1994, he said, 'I have been a judge for 25 years. It would be strange indeed, if all my views remained static over that period of time. If they did, I would regard that as a worthy subject of criticism.' But beneath this change, one principle has held true for Sir Anthony: that the protection of individual rights is better left in the hands of judges than it is in the hands of politicians.

Anthony Mason was also a reforming Chief Justice; during his tenure, significant procedural changes to the Australian Court's operations were implemented: these include the abandonment of wigs and the adoption of a less formal robe; an increase in the use of written submissions; and the introduction of time limits for special leave arguments. He spoke in public quite often about the role of judges and about some of the controversial decisions of the Court, taking the view that if the Court was to be properly understood by the public, it was necessary for judges to play a role in cultivating public awareness. Retiring as Chief Justice in 1995, Sir Anthony is fondly remembered by his Australian colleagues for his commanding intellect and wit, and also by lawyers who had appeared before him for his 'ability to convey by facial expression the fact that the shelf-life of an argument had expired.' Junior practitioners who had done their work, however, had nothing to fear from him for he was always encouraging to them. Like the eighteenth century novelist Henry Fielding, who was himself a judge, Sir Anthony's wit is tempered by generosity and put to the service of justice.

Since July 1, 1997, Sir Anthony has been one of the first non-permanent judges of the Court of Final Appeal in Hong Kong, and has written many important judgments in various areas of Hong Kong law. The development of the Court of Final Appeal and the jurisprudence in the new constitutional order in the first six years of the Hong Kong SAR owes a great deal to his dedicated contribution. Of particular significance is the fact that Sir Anthony has sat in most of the constitutional cases involving the Basic Law and has written important and indeed historic judgments that contribute to the realization of the challenging principle of 'one country, two systems'.

In his involvement with academia, Anthony Mason has been Chancellor of the University of New South Wales, a National Fellow at Australian National University's School of Social Sciences, Chairman of the Advisory Board of the National Institute of Law, Ethics and Public Affairs at Griffith University. His reputation in legal education is international; he has lectured in universities in Canada, was Arthur Goodhart Professor in Legal Science at Cambridge University in 1996-7, and author of an extraordinary number of extra-judicial articles and papers.

A keen supporter of legal education in Hong Kong, Sir Anthony delivered the Peter Allan Memorial Lecture 1998 at the Faculty of Law in this university. He has since returned many times for seminars and lectures where he continued to share his expertise and insights with both staff and students. He has also lectured on a number of occasions to members of the legal profession in Hong Kong. Sir Anthony has brought to Hong Kong and its legal education his rich international experience which is invaluable particularly at a time when our Law Faculty is fashioning itself to become a world class law school in Asia.

Sir Anthony Mason holds a number of honorary degrees from universities in Australia and from Oxford University. Mr Pro-Chancellor, this university is honoured that he has agreed to accept our award, and it is my privilege and pleasure to present Anthony Frank Mason for the award of the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.