The Hon RJ ‘Bob’ Ellicott AC KC 1927—2022

Kevin Tang

The Honourable Robert James ‘Bob’ Ellicott AC KC died on 31 October 2022 at the age of 95.

Ellicott KC was born in 1927, raised in Moree and near Cobar in country NSW. Notably he was the second cousin of Sir Garfield Barwick.

Ellicott KC would go on to attend Fort Street High School and the University of Sydney where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Laws. He was called to the Bar in 1950 where he practised continuously until relatively recently. At heart, he was a great advocate and frequently appeared in common law cases in his early days at the Bar.

Ellicott KC practised in keeping with the old school traditions of the Bar. In court, he would talk about a number of topics in opening, astutely observing anything which piqued the interest of the Bench with an eye to following-up such points with grand expositions and colourful speeches. It was a technique of the old bar which worked very well for Ellicott KC. In 1964 he was appointed one of Her Majesty’s Counsel and was clearly at the height of his powers. He would have a long and significant career.

From 1969 to 1973, Ellicott KC served as Solicitor-General of Australia.

Following his term as Solicitor-General, Ellicott KC more than dabbled in politics and in 1974 was elected as the Liberal member for Wentworth at the Federal Election.

Ellicott KC is the only person to have served as both Solicitor-General and Attorney-General of Australia.

In 1975 Ellicott KC was appointed Attorney-General, however he resigned in 1977 after a falling out with Malcolm Fraser, interestingly enough over a dispute regarding costs in the famous case of Sankey v Whitlam. Ellicott KC took the view that it was the obligation of the Commonwealth to pay the individual respondents’ costs in respect of a private prosecution taken against Whitlam, Murphy QC (by then a High Court judge) and others in respect of their time as Ministers of the Crown. Ellicott was then reassigned to the portfolio for Home Affairs.

In 1981 Ellicott KC was appointed to the Bench of the Federal Court of Australia. He was one of only six politicians to have served in Federal Parliament and the Federal Court, the others being Sir Nigel Bowen QC, EG Whitlam QC, Reeves KC, Kerr SC and Merv Everett.

Despite the fact he had more than a ring of old Australia about him, Ellicott KC was always enthusiastic about public rights and public affairs, which led some to regard his life in the law as somewhat radical. He practised at arguably the most exciting time in respect of administrative law in this country, while it was taking shape, and as a barrister, judge and politician, he had his fair share of opportunities to fashion it. He left his mark on the law.

From 1995, Ellicott KC served on the Court of Arbitration for Sport and in November of 2007 he was appointed as Chair of the tribunal investigating allegations of misconduct by the then Chief Justice of Fiji.

In 2006 Ellicott KC was awarded the Olympic Order of Merit, for his role in establishing the Australian Institute of Sport in his time as Minister of Home Affairs from 1977 until his appointment to the Bench. Ellicott KC would also go on to enter the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 2016.

In 2017 he was appointed as a Companion of the Order of Australia for eminent service to parliament as Attorney-General, legal practice and innovative policy development, and to advancements in international trade and arbitration in sport.

For a short time, he reverted to the Bar and it was a haven for him from politics and the Bench. It reminded him of his best days as a relatively young man. He loved referring to his old friend the Hon TEF ‘Tom’ Hughes AO KC as ‘Snappy Tom’ (referring to the jingoistic pet food advertisement and that he always had a can in his top drawer) when they shared chambers and crossed paths. Although he did not appear much in the later years, both he and Tom Hughes KC would, on occasion, stand up in court to do a small case. The rustle of the old silk gowns on those days was unforgettable. No doubt both felt the wrench of leaving the Bar where so much of life was lived and experienced. Time waits for no one. A gentler way of life awaited both of them in retirement.

In later years, Ellicott KC was no stranger to St Vincent’s Hospital owing to his declining health. He was amicable, hail and well met, as always, and knew all the staff.

His funeral was held at St Stephen’s in Macquarie Street. BN

Kevin Tang

8 Wentworth Chambers