'I hope to be of some real assistance to your government'. The Extra-Judicial Activities of Sir William Flood Webb, 1942-1948

Author: Peter Provis

Provis, Peter, 2016 'I hope to be of some real assistance to your government'. The Extra-Judicial Activities of Sir William Flood Webb, 1942-1948, Flinders University, School of History and International Relations

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Australian judges are frequently called upon to perform government services that are separate from their judicial function and, some would argue, are incompatible with the principles that underlie the separation of powers and the impartiality of the judiciary. With the rapid expansion and centralisation of government administration during the Second World War there was a growing need for legal expertise, resulting in additional demand for the services of judges to perform non-judicial roles. Moreover, the national emergency and wartime conditions did not remove the potential for conflict for judges between their judicial role on the one hand and their acceptance of government appointments on the other. This dissertation, through a case study centred on one judge, examines the role of the Australian judiciary in the political process and policy development while considering the potential negative impact these activities may have on the perceptions of judges’ impartiality and their ability to fulfil their judicial functions.

The wartime extra-judicial activities of Sir William Flood Webb provide an insightful case study because he presided over a wide range of extra-judicial activities during the Second World War. The thesis examines Webb’s extra-judicial activities performed during and immediately after the Second World War: as Chairman of the Industrial Relations Council; Chairman of three war crimes commissions; Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry into Censorship; and, finally, President of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East.

The dissertation, through the case study, illustrates that there are a number of potential ‘hazards’ judges can experience in participating in extra-judicial activities. Moreover, it examines the criticism of Webb as a ‘political judge’ and argues that while filling these roles certainly brought Webb to the attention of the Commonwealth Government and earned him his appointment to the bench of the High Court, no evidence was found that he ever bowed to political pressure while performing these extra-judicial activities.

Keywords: Sir William Flood Webb, Industrial Relations Council, Censorship, International Military Tribunal for the Far East, High Court, Extra-judicial activities, royal commissions, war crimes

Subject: History thesis, International Studies thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2016
School: School of History and International Relations
Supervisor: Peter Monteath