The Hon. John William Perry AO QC
Recently Retired Justice of the Supreme Court of South Australia
Councillor, University of Adelaide 1995-2004
Born: 2 June 1937, Adelaide
Died: 7 May 2007, Adelaide
John Perry came from what he described as a "modest background", attending a local primary school in Adelaide's inner southwest and Adelaide Boy's High School before studying law and violin at the University of Adelaide. He was the son of immigrants - a Greek Cypriot father, Yannis Gabriel Pieris, and a Liverpudlian mother, Mildred Harwood. For his children's sake his father changed his name to Perry, something John in his later years regretted.
As a five-year-old boy he was drawn to playing the violin, continuing to tertiary level under Lloyd Davies at the Elder Conservatorium. There he also met and performed with Jennifer Mary Goode, a student pianist whom he married in 1958.
His mother had encouraged him to study law and, after graduating in 1958, he became a very successful lawyer, counsel and later judge. Musical interests, however, nourished him throughout his life. As a student he led the Elder Conservatorium Orchestra and played in the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. He later led the Burnside Orchestra.
In 1957 he joined the legal firm that became Kelly & Co, becoming a full partner in 1963 and finally Managing Partner. There he nurtured South Australia's current Chief Justice John Doyle AC as his articled clerk. John joined Bar Chambers, Adelaide's first independent barristers' chambers, upon his appointment as Queens Counsel. He continued as a barrister until his appointment to the Supreme Court in March 1988.
Applying a strong sense of fairness towards people of widely varying ethnic backgrounds, John encouraged them to see themselves as part of, not separate, from the Australian community. In 1999 he joined Amnesty International and further developed his interest in human rights law. He was a Foundation Member of the Council of Civil Liberties and an active member of the Multicultural Forum of South Australia for over 10 years.
John had a strong sense of duty as a lawyer, judge and citizen. In addition to presiding over about 2,000 cases in the Court, he sat on many tribunals and councils. He was a member of the Council of the Law Society of SA during 1971-1985, its President in 1984-85.
He was also Chair of the Commonwealth Committee on Discrimination in Employment and Occupation, and was responsible for the establishment of the Legal Practitioners Education and Admissions Council of South Australia. He participated in the onerous task of drafting uniform legal admission rules for Australia in order to address the problems raised by the differences in the rules of the various states and territories. His membership of other bodies included the Legal Services Commission and the Law Reform Committee of South Australia. One of his last tasks was to chair the State Electoral Boundaries Commission. His report was ground-breaking in various respects which he considered were vital to maintaining confidence in the democratic process.
He was passionate about the value of education and, in particular, an advocate for the importance of ensuring that students had access to tertiary education irrespective of their ethnic or economic backgrounds.
His very active membership of the University's Law Faculty led to his election to the University Council for eight years from 1997, and the External Advisory Board of the Elder Conservatorium.
On Australia Day 2007 John became an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO). When he retired on 2 April 2007 he had been the longest serving Judge (19 years) on the then Supreme Court bench, the last period being as Senior Puisne Judge of the Court.
John Perry gave hugely to his community. He is survived by his wife, sons Michael and Julian, daughter Melissa, two daughters-in-law and five grandchildren.
Contributed by Philip Fargher, a friend of John Perry's for nearly 50 years