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Tuesday, 15 June 2021
Page: 79


Mr BUTLER (HindmarshDeputy Manager of Opposition Business) (19:48): A little over a fortnight ago, Australia lost our greatest ever international lawyer, James Crawford AC. James was arguably one of the world's most influential international legal scholars, advocates and jurists, and we lost him far too young.

After graduating in law from Adelaide, James completed a doctorate at Oxford in international law, under the supervision of the great Ian Brownlie. His doctorate on the creation of states was not just jurisprudentially groundbreaking; it was also apparently so incredibly long as to lead to the adoption of word limits for doctoral theses for the first time in the University of Oxford's 900-year history.

James rose quickly in academic ranks at the universities of Adelaide and then Sydney. Though focused on international law, he applied his talents much more broadly. His seminal work on Australian courts of law was still required reading when I studied, and his work for the Law Reform Commission in the 1980s on Aboriginal customary law remains the commission's most cited work ever—a remarkably progressive study penned in the legal era of terra nullius.

In 1992 James was called back to the UK, this time to Cambridge university. In the same year, he was elected to the UN International Law Commission, where he completed two profoundly important tasks. He played a central role in the establishment of the International Criminal Court at The Hague and he completed a mammoth job that had been stuck in the UN's too-hard basket since 1949—delivering articles on the responsibility of states for internationally wrongful acts. The Guardian newspaper wrote recently that these articles and James Crawford's commentary are among the most significant texts in modern international law, cited daily by courts, tribunals, practitioners and scholars.

James was also an immensely influential advocate, appearing in some of the most important cases litigated before the International Court of Justice—often on behalf of much less powerful members of the global community, including many of the small island states in our own region. Obviously he also represented his own country, Australia—most notably in the whaling case against Japan, with my colleague the now shadow Attorney-General, and the East Timor case against Portugal. In addition to having one of the best brains on international law, James also brought a characteristic Australian sense of irreverence. For example, he notoriously declared the independence of South Australia before the ICJ—alas, simply to make a legal point!

As Australia's only ever permanent judge of the ICJ, Crawford built even further on an already extraordinary career, serving five years on the bench right up until his death. James will be remembered as much for his warm personality as for his extraordinary intellect and work ethic. He mentored countless young international lawyers, including my brother Rowan Nicholson. Rowan told me that everyone leaned forward when James stood up to speak in court.

James was utterly reliable. Rowan and James were due to fly from the UK to the Netherlands for a hearing at the ICJ the next day, but the airline refused him boarding because of a minor irregularity. Well, he went straight out to hire a car, loaded it up with classical music and spent the next seven hours driving there by himself. Nothing was going to stop James from appearing in court that morning. To Rowan and to so many others, he repeatedly demonstrated a sense of his moral duty as someone who worked at the top of his field. He took pride in representing smaller countries without huge legal teams and resources, especially when they were the underdogs. And having James on your side was better than having a whole law firm. He was unflagging. He would fly to Latin America for a day, fly back and pop into the office, and then email you at four o'clock the next morning from a hotel in Central Europe.

Australia and the world have lost a truly great global citizen. James Crawford leaves behind an enormous body of work that has made the world a better, safer and fairer place. He leaves behind a legion of younger lawyers and officials who were mentored and inspired by him. Most importantly, he leaves behind a large family who loved him and will miss him terribly. Vale, James Crawford.