Lecture six—Supreme Court Fire of 1968

Selden Society 2016 Lecture Series

Lecture six—Legal History of QueenslandSupreme Court Fire of 1968 will be presented by The Hon Richard Chesterman AO RDF QC on 24 November 2016.

In the early hours of 1 September 1968, as the building’s caretaker was doing his rounds, an unemployed alcoholic named David Brooks, slipped through the doors of Queensland’s historic law courts, designed by colonial architect F D G Stanley in the 1870s. Resentful of the police and the justice system for his habitual arrests, Brooks made his way to the judges’ chambers, drove a knife into an associate’s desk and scribbled the note ‘judge not lest you be judged, sinner.’ He then set the building alight.

By the time the fire was brought under control, much of the building was in ruins. The Supreme Court Library’s books were seriously damaged by fire, smoke and water—as were the portraits hanging in the Judges’ Hall. The arsonist was apprehended within three days of the fire, and convicted within three months of the crime.

However, the building’s fate took longer to resolve. It was not until 1978 that F D G Stanley’s gracious law courts were finally demolished to make way for their modern, but relatively short-lived, successor.

About the Speaker

The Hon Richard Chesterman AO RFD QC was a final year law student and associate to Justice Wanstall (later Chief Justice) when news of the fire broke and brings his personal reminiscences to this lecture.

The Hon Richard Chesterman AO RFD QC graduated Bachelor of Arts (1965) and Bachelor of Laws (1968) from the University of Queensland. He served as associate to the Hon Justice Wanstall from 1966 to 1968. In 1968 he was admitted as a barrister of the Supreme Court of Queensland. He commenced practice at the Bar in Brisbane in 1970 and took silk in December 1983.

On 12 March 1998 he was appointed a Judge of the Supreme Court of Queensland. He also served on the Mental Health Tribunal (1998–2002) and as a Commercial List Judge (2002–08). He was appointed a Judge of Appeal on 11 December 2008.

Justice Chesterman was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2011. He resigned from judicial office in April 2012. In May 2012 he was appointed by the Queensland Crime and Misconduct Commission to head an inquiry into claims of doctor malpractice leading to death and injury in Queensland.

Speakers notes

Download the paper from lecture five—The Hon Richard Chesterman on Supreme Court Fire of 1968.

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