John Willis

Willis was considered a bad judge and litigious for his litigation involvement concerning his appointment (p. 20 – 23, “A Short Book of Bad Judges” by Graeme Williams QC).

Conventional English education at: Rugby, London, Godalming, Trinity Hall in Cambridge.

In 1816, Willis was called to the Bar by Gray’s Inn at age of 23 and practised for 10 years.

At age 34 he was appointed as a King’s Bench Judge in “Upper Canada”, the future Ontario.

He expected to be transferred to the newly-established Chancery Court and became involved in disputes with the Attorney General about the duties.

Applied after less than one year in Canada to the position of Chief Justice when the occupant was to retire.

Refused to sit with a colleague as a Divisional Court in the Chief Justice’s absence.

He was removed by the Governor of Canada from office under the Colonial Leave of Absence Act 1782.

Returned to England to challenge the Governor’s decision in the Privy Council.  It was found that it was wrong by the Governor to remove Willis without allowing for his reply to the complaints. An elementary mistake.

Next appointment for Willis, in British Guiana as Vice-President of the Court of Civil and Criminal Justice. His stay was shorter than in Canada.

In 1837, Willis was appointed a Judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales (an appellation which at that time applied to a much larger part of Australia than it does today).

Willis arrived in Melbourne in March 1841 with 43 tons of luggage.

After two years from his arrival, the Governor, Sir George Gipps, invoked the same Act of 1782 as in Canada (Colonial Leave of Absence Act 1782) to remove Willis from his judicial position – Resident Judge of Port Phillip.

Willis was stopped from exercise of all power and authority as a judge.

Willis exercised his right of appeal to the Privy Council and the orders were reversed, similar to the Canadian experience. He was not given any proper opportunity to be heard (Willis v. Gipps (1846) 5 Moo. P.C. 379).

The Privy Council at that time included privy counsellors hearing the legal appeal with no legal expertise. Such was the  Right Honourable W.E. Gladstone.  It was not required at the time for membership of a panel of privy counsellors hearing a legal appeal to have formal legal expertise.

Leading council for Sir George Gipps was Mr R. Bethell QC (the future Lord Chancellor) who Graeme Williams QC described the situation as “the world of Bad Judges seems to be a small one, even though Bethell was then on the side of the angels.”

By mid-50s, Willis had his appointments revoked by the Secretary of State.

Sir Robert Megarry cited a number of views about Willis such as:

“quite unfitted for judicial office, (being) vain and conceited, quick-tempered and quarrelsome, vindictive in action and violent in language…” and “irascible and tempestuous”.