RICHARD REFSHAUGE | Canberra Times | Extract
CANBERRA - A common stereotype of a judge is of a distant authoritarian who imposes severe prison sentences, often accompanied by a tongue-lashing.
While the Honourable Jeffrey Miles AO, the Australian Capital Territory’s second chief justice, who died on 11 February aged 84, could and did impose long sentences when deserved, his love of nature, his commitment to social justice and his devotion to his family showed that this eminent citizen and jurist was more human - and humane - than the stereotype.
He made a really substantial contribution to his family, his friends and to the Australian community.
Miles presided over the third arm of the territory’s government for 17 years and his leadership spanned the period of transition to self-government.
His firm defence of the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary improved the new constitutional arrangements, despite a few hiccoughs along the way.
Born in Newcastle, NSW, Miles attended Newcastle Boys High School, and commenced as a cadet journalist at the Newcastle Herald. But he eventually decided to study law at Sydney University, graduating in 1958.
He was called to the bar in 1965; conscription had just been introduced in Australia and Miles acted for a number of conscientious objectors and for activists arrested at anti-war and anti-conscription demonstrations.
He successfully defended his first client and went on to appear for many others, including high profile clients, such as Michael Matterson and the SDS leader, Mike Jones. He also joined the Council of Civil Liberties.
He left the Bar when, in 1980, he was appointed as a judge of the National Court of Papua New Guinea for a three-year term.
At the end of his term, he was appointed a judge of the Supreme Court of NSW, in the common law division.
He was sworn in as Chief Justice of the ACT Supreme Court on 17 June 1985, finding a court where there were tensions between the resident judges. But his calm sincerity and collegiality managed to reduce, though not eliminate, the tensions.
Miles retired on 30 September 2002, but this did not end his judicial career. He was made an Acting Judge in the ACT and in 2006 was appointed to Chair the Torres Strait Fisheries Assessment Advice Panel for two years.
Miles was always interested in social justice and, on retirement, renewed his involvement with Civil Liberties, writing for Civil Liberties Australia that section 59 of the Constitution should be repealed.
He became the Chair of the ACT Chapter of the International Commission of Jurists. He recently signed, with 33 other retired judges, a letter calling for an effective National Integrity Commission.
Jeffrey Miles is survived by his wife Patricia, his daughter Anna and son James, their partners and their children.