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Deja Vu
28 May, 2010  
Sit omnibus lingua Latina

Rewind ... From Justinian’s hard copy archive … Justice Ian Callinan’s problems with his Latin exams … He wasn’t so crash hot at maths or political science either … Special court ruling to allow future High Court judge to become an articled clerk


From Justinian February 1999

imageA fresh, new scandal about Justice Ian Callinan is set to rock the High Court.

Alarming revelations about the Tub’s 1953 school academic shortcomings are now in my hand.

The most worrying detail is that his Honour failed Latin in the Queensland Junior Public Examinations of 1953 – receiving a mark of 42 per cent.

His colleagues on the High Court will be dumbfounded to discover that he did not even sit the Latin exam for the Senior Public Examination in 1955 – the equivalent to the Higher School Certificate.

His failure in Latin required the Tub to litigate in the Queensland Supreme Court in order to win a special exemption from the court’s rules so that he could enter articles of clerkship.

In deciding to publish these distressing details we carefully weighed the damage it would do to the reputation of Australia’s highest court, against the public’s right to know. Needless to say we see our duty to the public and The Tub’s numerous victims … [Get on with it Ed].

And that’s not all. The Tub also failed maths in the final year exams and had to sit a supplementary test in February 1956, He ultimately passed Mathematics 1 and enrolled as an undergraduate in Law.

In his first year at university he got 83 per cent for the Elements of Law, 66 per cent for English and 50 per cent for Political Science.

Early in 1957 he wanted to enter articles with a Brisbane solicitor.

Unfortunately rule 18 of the Supreme Court Rules required that as a precondition to articles it was necessary to pass preliminary examinations in prescribed subjects, which included Latin, or to obtain a certificate from the Admissions Board by way of an exemption from the examinations.

The board granted him a certificate of exemption in all subjects, except Latin. Under the court’s rule 19, the Admissions Board could only exempt applicants from exams where they had already sat papers in the relevant subjects.

I.D.F. Callinan, as we now know, had not sat for the Latin paper at the Senior Public Examination. The board simply had no power, prima facie, to excuse him from that subject.

The Tub then took his first trip to court in 1957, asking Chief Justice Mansfield to allow him to enter articles of clerkship.

And so it was that the Chief Justice gave the Tub his first massive break in the law, something for which we are all grateful. Mansfield said:

“While one may have a strong opinion about the value of Latin as a mental exercise for the student and its worth as a standard of education, the fact remains that in actual practice, knowledge of the ancient tongue is not essential to success or even to efficiency.”