Swearing in of his Honour Justice Scott Nixon SC to the Supreme Court of New South Wales

Kevin Tang

On 8 August 2023, Scott Nixon SC was sworn in as Judge of the Supreme Court of NSW by the Honourable Andrew Bell, Chief Justice of NSW in a ceremonial sitting in the Banco Court. In attendance were the Attorney General the Honourable Michael Daley MP who spoke on behalf of the Bar, and Ms Jacqueline Dawson, Councillor of the NSW Law Society speaking for the solicitors of NSW. Also in attendance were his Honour’s wife Sophie, his three children, Celia, Ben and Phoebe, and his mother, Irene. His brother Kevin and sister Narelle were also in attendance. His Honour also expressed his gratitude at the presence of the Hon WMC Gummow KC, the Hon TF Bathurst QC, and his mentor at Blake Dawson Waldron, Meredith Beattie.

His Honour was born to parents Irene and Ron Nixon, a homemaker and printer respectively. He was the middle of three children, alongside his elder brother and younger sister. His Honour is remembered as a constantly curious, open and friendly child and a pleasure to his mother. In his early years, his Honour lived in Waverley, followed by Macquarie Fields and also Campbelltown. His Honour noted his parents and family giving him their time, love and constant support: that in itself was a most privileged upbringing.

His Honour attended Sydney Grammar School on a scholarship in the years when Alistair Mackerras was headmaster. This was where he excelled and took every opportunity to learn and study, no matter the subject. His Honour is forever grateful for the opportunities granted therein as they were so transformative to the breadth of his educational curiosity. He embodied that gratitude as an exceptional student, becoming an eloquent debater and public speaker, winning the Lawrence Campbell Oratory Competition in 1985. Friends recalled that he exuded decency and generosity at both school and university.

His Honour then commenced a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Sydney in 1986, graduating with First Class Honours and the University Medal in English Literature. He then read a Bachelor of Laws at the Sydney Law School in 1991, again graduating with First Class Honours. His Honour was a paragon of academic excellence but was equally recognised for his kindness among his peers, often helping those struggling academically or socially.

At Law School, His Honour had brief stints at Mallesons Stephen Jacques and Blake Dawson Waldron, as they then were, and obtained a graduate offer at the latter. However, in 1992 His Honour came to serve as Associate to the Honourable WMC Gummow, then on the Federal Court. That year gave him a great insight into the realities of the law including how to read statute and to test and dismantle arguments. Apart from the formal parts of his education, his Honour expressed his gratitude for these earliest professional experiences.

Later that year, his Honour was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship and went up to Oxford to read a postgraduate law degree. He then continued his studies and completed a DPhil on 17th century poetry and the works of Thomas Carew. At the conclusion of his doctorate, his Honour spent a year as a lecturer in law at New College. He was subsequently awarded a research fellowship at the Queen’s College Oxford to pursue his keen interest in English literature. His Honour used his time at Oxford to full advantage, living out every possible lifetime available to him in those nine years as both student and Oxford Don, from High Tables to the Bodleian and Sheldonian Libraries.

After his Oxonian sojourn, the law beckoned and so did a return to the Antipodes. He decided that life as an academic was not for him and that living in the UK was not part of his original plan. His Honour returned to Australia in 2001 and commenced practice at Blake Dawson Waldron, deciding to take up the graduate role they had offered him ten years earlier! His Honour cited his good fortune in working in the litigation team under Meredith Beattie who was a great mentor and among the best litigators of the time.

His Honour was called to the Bar in 2004, reading with Justice Payne and Peter Brereton SC, and was particularly grateful for their guidance, and for the support of TF Bathurst KC and Justice Sackar in his early years at the bar. His Honour held chambers on the Sixth Floor for some nineteen years where he maintained an eminent practice in large commercial and corporate matters and arbitrations, acting for many clients throughout and beyond the financial tumult of 2008. His Honour was renowned as an extremely erudite and strategic practitioner working with considerable efficiency. He is also remembered as unfailingly humble and generous with his colleagues and as writing beautifully, as befits a scholar of poetry. His Honour applied the craft of advocacy with great integrity and precision to the praise of his fellow counsel and instructors. His Honour took silk in 2016.

His Honour was noted for his devotion to his family – they always came first. He married Sophie, a fellow lawyer, in 2007, and with whom he has two daughters and one son. In chambers, his Honour was known for putting in the school holidays as the first events in his diary. His Honour expressed the following notion that was central to his work-life apportionment: he had tried to work by the principle that the time he needed to spend with his family should dictate the time available for work, and not the other way around.

His Honour observed that over the last 20 years there had been significant changes in the legal profession. In particular, the weakening of the default assumption that a barrister is always available all of the time. In fact, so-called outside commitments are a necessity and not a dispensable luxury. They are the main events of life itself. Nixon J also observed that the health of practitioners is inextricably linked to the health of legal practice itself. These are all encouraging observations from a practitioner of the highest calibre.

The Bar looks forward to his contribution on the Bench. His Honour will sit in the Equity Division of the NSW Supreme Court. BN

Kevin Tang

8 Wentworth Chambers