Dr Elisabeth Peden SC
On the 6th of April 2022, Dr Elisabeth Peden SC was sworn-in as a judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales in a ceremonial sitting of the Banco Court. In attendance were the Governor of NSW, Her Excellency the Honourable Margaret Beazley AC QC, the Honourable Chief Justice Bell, her Honour’s spouse Professor Greg Tolhurst, and their four sons Joshua, Sam, Ben and Michael. Apologies were sent by Professor John Carter and the Honourable Michael McHugh AC QC. Her Honour noted and was grateful for the representation of the Sydney Bar and the presence of her great friends from the Sydney Law School: Professor Barbara McDonald, Professor Joellen Riley and Mr Lee Aitken. Also in attendance were Ms Ute Hill, spouse of the late Honourable Justice Graham Hill of the Federal Court of Australia, and their daughter Katrine.
Her Honour has practised law for some thirty years, most notably for the two decades leading up to her being called to the bar as an eminent Professor of Law at the University of Sydney. The attorney- general, the Honourable Mark Speakman SC MP, remarked that ‘from a young age [her Honour] chased goals and worked determinedly until she not only achieved those goals but excelled at them.’
Her Honour attended Abbotsleigh and Barker College and subsequently went on to the University of Sydney. From a young age, her Honour was surrounded by the law, something which was a great family calling. Her Honour’s grandfather was the late Sir John Peden KC and her father was Professor J.R. Peden, who was Foundation Dean at Macquarie University; anecdotally this may have facilitated her glimpse into academic life with dining tables full of textbook proofs and the checking and rechecking of essays and lists of marks.
Her Honour completed a Bachelor of Arts in German literature and a Bachelor of Laws, receiving First Class Honours in both fields and further distinguishing herself being awarded the University Medal in Law. Her Honour went on rotary exchange to the University of Freiburg and to this day she speaks fluent German. It was remarked upon that her Honour’s textbook writing skills were honed in the last few years of her undergraduate degree with her Honour having taken two courses where her textbook was on the prescribed reading list, and while still a student she edited Helmore’s Commercial Law & Property in NSW.
Subsequently, her Honour attended Gonville and Caius Cambridge as a W.M. Tapp and Ivan Roberts Scholar where she completed a doctorate on implied terms in contract law under the supervision of the learned Professor Beatson, as he then was before his appointment to the English Court of Appeal. Her mother was in attendance at the famous graduation ceremony at the Gate of Honour, which is iconic at Caius.
Her Honour commenced her academic career as a lecturer at the Sydney Law School in 1999 where she was promoted to professor in 2008. She taught numerous subjects at undergraduate and postgraduate levels, primarily in contract and evidence law. Her Honour would also maintain her academic links with Gonville and Caius where she has regularly returned as a lecturer. She continues to have an international reputation in contract, commercial and evidence law, having published numerous academic works and articles. Her Honour resigned from the Sydney Law School in March 2021 to devote more time to other endeavours in the law.
Early in her career, her Honour served as associate to the Honourable Justice John Stanley Lockhart AO QC in the Federal Court and then to the Honourable Justice McHugh AC QC in the High Court of Australia (as they then were). She was admitted as a legal practitioner in 1994 and was called to the bar in 1999. She practised as an academic barrister from the Twelfth Floor of Wentworth Chambers as the Sydney Law School reverted to the Camperdown campus. She practised in the areas of contract and general equity, regularly appearing in the Supreme Court of New South Wales and the Federal Court. Her Honour took silk in 2019.
Her Honour is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Law and a member of the Legal Services Council’s Admissions Committee. She has also served as an examiner and lecturer for the Legal Practitioners Admissions Board in contract and evidence law, as well as an examiner in the New South Wales Bar exams.
It was noted by all that her Honour had a certain quiet serenity which has carried her through the years as an academic, a barrister, senior counsel and now a judge of the Supreme Court. Her Honour was well-known among students for her sense of kindness and fun, particularly in a time when interaction between students and academics was limited and, if anything, forbidding. Accordingly, in evidence before the court at her Honour’s swearing-in were many of her former students. It should not be forgotten that her Honour has also raised four sons with their full suite of academic and sporting activities alongside her substantial commitment and contributions to the law.
With characteristic humility, her Honour concluded her swearing-in speech with a quote from the famous German poet Göethe: ‘the deed is everything, the glory nothing.’ BN