Swearing in of his Honour Justice Anthony McGrath SC to the Supreme Court of New South Wales

Penny Thew

On 15 August 2023, the Honourable Justice Anthony McGrath was sworn in as a Judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales in a ceremonial sitting in the Banco Court presided over by the Honourable Andrew Bell, Chief Justice of NSW. Among others in attendance were the Honourable Michael Kirby AC CMG, the Honourable Justice Steven Rares of the Federal Court and the Honourable Justice John Robson of the NSW Land and Environment Court.

A resonating theme was not only his Honour’s outstanding legal excellence, but also his inspirational leadership at the Bar through diversity roles with the Bar Association and the establishment of Alinea Chambers. As Chief Justice Bell observed, Justice McGrath ‘has and has had a huge reputation’ at the Bar.

In the words of the New South Wales Attorney General, the Honourable Michael Daley MP, the breadth and complexity of his Honour’s practice was astounding, with friends and colleagues describing his Honour as having been ‘an amazing ambassador for the legal system in New South Wales.’

His Honour’s high-profile cases while at the Bar included Kraft Foods Group Brands LLC v Bega Cheese Limited (known as the peanut butter ‘yellow lid’ litigation1) in which his Honour successfully acted for Bega at each stage, from trial to the High Court special leave application. As the Attorney observed, he was Counsel Assisting the Independent Commission Against Corruption Inquiry Operation Misto in 2015 and in other ICAC investigations and royal commissions.

Born in Sydney to parents, Tony McGrath AM and Jill McGrath, themselves described by his Honour as heralding from impoverished circumstances, his Honour was one of five children, the only boy among four sisters. The family lived in the UK and in New Zealand before returning to Australia. Crystallising his Honour’s desire to become a judge, upon being awarded a Bachelor of Commerce and a Bachelor of Laws from the University of New South Wales, in 1987 he was the tipstaff to the Honourable Justice Harold Glass of the New South Wales Court of Appeal.

His Honour described his love of the law as blossoming in this period, during which he was, in addition, tipstaff and research assistant to the Honourable President Kirby (as his Honour then was), who stepped in to retain his Honour on his own staff following the Honourable Justice Glass having to leave the bench due to his cancer diagnosis. This ensured that Justice McGrath was available to other members of the court, particularly the Honourable Justice Hope of the Court of Appeal and the Honourable Justice Hunt, Chief Judge in Common Law.

In 1989 his Honour was awarded a Master of Laws from the University of Cambridge. He commenced as a solicitor at Mallesons Stephen Jaques, later becoming partner. It was while studying that his Honour met his first wife, Kathryn, although they had in fact met earlier when his Honour, for a dare, prophetically participated in the television show ‘Perfect Match’ where Kathryn was working a student job holding the cue cards. They married in March 1990, with Kathryn herself later becoming a partner of Freehill Hollingdale & Page.

His Honour was called to the Bar in 2000 and became a member of 12 Wentworth Selborne Chambers. In his first year at the Bar he appeared in a 14-week trial and was simultaneously involved as a volunteer in the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games. In the words of the Attorney, his Honour was one of those dressed as a Bondi lifesaver who bore Kylie Minogue ‘atop the most iconic of Australian footwear – a giant thong.’

Tragically, soon after the birth of their daughter Megan, his Honour’s first wife Kathryn was diagnosed with breast cancer. Over the next decade his Honour’s exceptional legal ability saw him successfully manage a heavyweight commercial practice while also caring for his wife and daughter. Kathryn sadly passed in 2013. His Honour was described by the President of the Law Society of NSW, Ms Cassandra Banks, as having dealt with a period of extraordinary personal tragedy with professionalism and grace, and thereafter continuing to be devoted to making real change to gender equality at the Bar.

From 2015 to 2017 his Honour chaired the Bar Association’s Diversity and Equality Committee and was appointed to the Law Council of Australia’s Equal Opportunity Committee. From 2021 his Honour was appointed by the Bar Association as an Advocate for Change for Gender Diversity.

In 2018, his Honour founded Alinea Chambers with Michael Henry SC, with the aim of establishing gender-balanced chambers. To his Honour’s credit, the result was a chambers in which exists a unique gender imbalance, with a greater number of women barristers than men.

His Honour described his second wife, Kate, whom he married in 2020, as unexpectedly returning to his Honour’s life the full brightness of the sun. As the President of the Law Society said, few are fortunate enough to experience this powerful force of love twice.

His Honour expressed gratitude for the love and support that he had received from family, friends and colleagues at all stages of his life (comprising the ‘village’ who raised him), and spoke of his intention, throughout his appointment, to exercise his powers in a respectful and inclusive way. As with his earlier achievements, there is no doubt that his Honour will succeed in this aim. BN


1 [2019] FCA 593; [2020] FCAFC 65; [2020] M41 of 2020.

Penny Thew

State Chambers