Harold Luntz: Doyen of the Australian Law of Torts *

Article excerpt

[Professor Harold Luntz came to the Melbourne Law School from South Africa in 1965. His recent retirement affords the opportunity to survey the changes that have occurred during his service to the law of torts and to damages for personal injury. The author, by reference to Harold Luntz's writings, reviews the emergence of a distinctive Australian body of law, freed from the controls of English law. The outcome, however, is not always clear. For example, Australia has resisted Professor Luntz's call to embrace the New Zealand accident compensation system as a more just and cost-effective way to deliver compensation. In the context of current national and state moves to introduce special legislation with caps and limitations, the author suggests that a struggle is under way for the future of the law of torts. He proposes an annual or biennial symposium to continue the intellectual work on tort law carried on by Professor Luntz, the doyen of the Australian law of torts.]


I   Beginnings
II  Writings
III Scholar and Teacher


Putting it quite simply, Harold Luntz is one of the foremost scholars and teachers of the law in Australia. He is honoured internationally, as well as in Australia. He came to this country from far away to share his intellectual gifts with us--his colleagues and pupils.

Glancing through a recent volume of the Torts Law Journal, of which Harold Luntz is long-time editor, I came upon an opinion of Justice Heydon, then a judge in the New South Wales Court of Appeal, in Union Shipping New Zealand Ltd v Morgan. (1) Warming to the new role as critic general of the law, Justice Heydon, himself 'a former academic and author of considerable distinction', (2) took aim, this time at his erstwhile academic colleagues. He declared that 'academic legal literature is, like Anglo-Saxon literature, largely a literature of lamentation and complaint. The laments and complaints can be heard even when academic wishes are acceded to.' (3)

Like much else said of late, such verbal flagellations must be taken with a pinch of salt. Most academic legal literature, like most judicial writing, is penned in a positive spirit. It is designed to help the law in its never ending quest for clear principles, accurate understandings and the advancement of human law and justice. (4) In my opinion, there is currently no greater exemplar of these attributes in academic law in Australia than Harold Luntz. His energy is unbounded. His analysis is principled. His personal attitude is one of politeness mixed with firmness. To this splendid concoction he adds respect for his fellow human beings and optimism about the future of human society. These are virtues that other Australian lawyers should strive to emulate.

To find the sources of these qualities, it would be necessary to engage in a biological study of the rare genetic combination that came together in Harold Luntz, born in South Africa in 1937. To do him full justice, I would need to know much more of his ancestors, their struggle and what took them to South Africa instead of, say, Australia or some other part of the world then coloured with so much red. I would need to explore the influence of his teachers at the Athlone Boys' High School in Johannesburg, which he was attending at the time that King George VI visited with his family just before the dawn of the dark age of apartheid; those years were ushered in with the election of the National Party government that lasted until Nelson Mandela presided over the birth of the rainbow nation. I would have to explore the influence of his ethnicity and his cultural and religious upbringing to understand fully the response of an outsider to the stern society of laws set in place by the Afrikaner government. I would have to speak to his surviving teachers and fellow pupils in that most distinguished of South African universities, that of the Witwatersrand, where he took his primary degrees in arts and law with distinction. …