- Autumn 2023
- Alexander ‘Sandy’ Tamerlane Sinclair Dawson SC (1972 – 2022)
Sandy Dawson, a loved, admired and dazzlingly able member of our Bar, died in November 2022, aged 50. The loss of such a loyal family member, friend and colleague to cancer, in the light of what he and his family had already had to endure, is inexplicable. Sandy is one of those remarkable people, the recollection of whom stays vivid in the memory, and for that reason it's hard to believe that he's gone.
Sandy was born in 1972 into a close and loving family, to Sandy (snr) and Jane, née Watson. Angus and Katrina followed him. Sandy excelled at Cranbrook, though his siblings did even better, and Katrina topped the state; Sandy, in a lapse from his habitual honesty, cheerfully referred to himself as the dunce of the family. He read arts and law at Sydney University, where, as others have noted, certain lifelong habits formed: his immaculate sense of style and his unpunctuality, perhaps his only notable failure (though he was never late to court).
More substantively, at university he had the great good fortune to meet, and subsequently have his proposals accepted by, the love of his life, Alexandra Hunter. A year as associate to Justice Hill in the Federal Court was followed by six years as a solicitor, first at Minter Ellison, then at Freehills, where he worked and developed under the guidance of Leanne Norman, who would later brief him very frequently for Fairfax and other clients. Sandy came to the Bar in 2003. He was a founding and valuable member of Banco Chambers, where he was admired and much-loved. Barristers junior and senior to him like me have gratefully benefitted from his insights and advice. Sandy was a wonderful barrister. Honesty, decency and intelligence gave him an instinctive understanding of his duties to the court, to his clients, and to his opponents, and from that secure perspective he set about his task of persuading and convincing. The tools he used to persuade and convince were wholly admirable: skill, diligence, courtesy, knowledge of the law, courage and unfailing good humour. Sandy was insightful, ingenious and hard-working; having him on your side of the bar table was a joy; doing battle with him drew from you a maximum effort, to the benefit of the court and the clients.
Those who had the good luck to have Sandy as their junior, or later as their leader, were invariably struck by his intelligence, his diligence and his ingenuity. As a junior he just got better and better, and it was terrific to see the confidence and the loyalty that he inspired in his clients. His work rate, and the quality of his work, were astonishing.
Working up a case with Sandy was always an exhilarating experience. He would bubble over with ideas: memorable questions for cross-examination, concise and pithy submissions or, something he was particularly good at, getting to the heart of some legal principle, identifying the encrustations that obscured it, and explaining it convincingly.
Working with Sandy was intense but the burden was lightened at opportune moments by his irrepressible sense of humour, which was sometimes almost anarchic. I remember working one night with Sandy for a trial the next day. We were both tired but there was a lot of work that still needed to be done. Sandy was reading a passage out of a law report, and without a blip he moved seamlessly through a series of his astonishingly accurate impersonations of well-known public figures. It is quite surreal having some dry point in the law of contextual truth read out to you by John Laws. Far from flagging, we then attacked the problem with renewed vigour. Sandy practised mostly in media law, but not exclusively. He was formidable when briefed for VW owners in the diesel affair. He appeared successfully in the High Court with Tim Game SC in Grajewski v DPP, a criminal damage case, after counsel for the defendant at the trial, who had had Sandy as his opponent in another case, asked Sandy to lead him in the CCA. He generously and frequently gave of his unpaid time to help friends and others who were in difficulties with the law.
In 2016 Sandy took silk, and in June that year he was my junior for the last time. We were for the defendant. The plaintiff got a modest verdict. Sandy took the case up to the Court of Appeal the next year, with his own junior, and won handily. The last time I appeared in court with Sandy was in the Queensland Court of Appeal in 2020. He was on the other side, and for the appellant. Sandy managed to shave a couple of hundred thousand off the verdict. I think I liked it better when he was on my side.
But the law was not the centre of his life; Alex and their growing family were. Sandy had many interests: skiing, at which he was expert, golf, music and cars, among others.
Over the years, he and Alex have been incredibly kind and hospitable to me and many other friends and colleagues. We all treasure those occasions, and the memories of Alex and Sandy together. Alex, their children Jack, Holly, Freya and Henry; his brother Angus, and Sandy snr and Jane, survive him. It will surprise no-one to hear that Sandy bore his illness with good humour and great strength, all the more admirable in view of what he and the family had endured in 2014 with the death of Katrina.
Declan Roche, in his obituary in the SMH, wrote ‘those of us lucky enough to have experienced the warmth of his affection will never forget him’. No, we won’t, and I will only add that I miss my good and loyal friend more than I can say.
by Tom Blackburn SC