Sir Anthony Mason: Towering Over the High Court of Australia

Two justices generally compete for the title of the Australian High Court’s ‘Towering Justice’: Sir Owen Dixon and Sir Anthony Mason. Dixon’s claim to the title lies in his articulation of a formalistic doctrinal methodology – ‘Dixonian Legalism’ – which held the Court for decades. Mason’s claim lies in his unshackling of the Court from legalism, and his reconceptualising of the Court’s role within the Australian system of government. In this paper, we claim that it is Mason’s legacy that is the most important today. It is the Mason Court’s methodological realism and explicit acknowledgement of values and policy in judicial decision-making, and the doctrinal development that gave the Australian ‘people’ constitutional status and protections that continues to shape modern constitutional law and debates over the judicial role and method. It is against Mason and the jurisprudence of the Mason Court that modern legalists must now define – and defend – themselves.