Colleagues, friends and former students have come together at a memorial service at the Australian National University to celebrate the life of former Dean of ANU College of Law, Emeritus Professor Leslie Zines AO.
Professor Zines, who passed away in May, was remembered not only as a gifted researcher – widely considered to be one of Australia’s foremost experts on constitutional law – but an inspired teacher for generations of students at the ANU.
“Leslie was not only a constitutional law scholar of national and international renown but an outstanding teacher as well. Few academics manage to combine these two different qualities as successfully as he did,” said colleague, friend and former Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia, the Hon Sir Anthony Mason.
“His publications and lectures exhibited his incisive, ordered mind and a clarity of expression and style unmatched in the dense, impenetrable undergrowth of constitutional jurisprudence.
“As I speak to lawyers, who were his students, their immense respect and their sense of gratitude to him shines through,” said Sir Anthony.
With many in the audience having been taught or mentored by him, Professor Zines’ generosity and commitment to his students was a common theme among speakers. Former Deputy Dean of the ANU College of Law, Professor Fiona Wheeler, recalled the ubiquitous presence Professor Zines held among students, including herself.
“Many stories circulated within the student body about what awaited you in Leslie’s Commonwealth Constitutional Law class, and his socratic method of teaching.
“The stories, not surprisingly, grew in the telling and as an early year student, I’d look in awe at the final years, clutching their blue and red Sawer’s Australian Constitutional Cases disappear into the lecture room, to undergo who knows what intellectual torments grappling with High Court decisions.
“When I finally sat in on Leslie’s classes in 1991 as a young academic – having done constitutional law with Geoffrey Lindell a few years earlier – I realised Leslie, like Geoff, practiced a very humane version of the socratic method. Their mutual goal was simply for each student to reach their full potential in the subject,” said Professor Wheeler.
But it wasn’t just students who found Professor Zines’ knowledge daunting, with several former colleagues speaking about his patience with their own learning. Professor Geoffrey Lindell – who taught with and co-authored a seminal case book on constitutional law with Professor Zines – recounted the numerous times how he had presented Professor Zines with a ‘new’ insight, only to be told the insight wasn’t new at all.
“Leslie had an intuitive, incisive understanding of the way in which the High Court interprets – and should interpret – the Constitution, a subject which held a life-long fascination for him.
“The whole of Leslie’s academic endeavour throughout his life was characterised by constantly asking ‘why’.
“As well as showing a mastery of the technical and analytical aspects of public law, Leslie had an acute sense of social awareness, and a belief that social consequences – and not just an understanding of the language or the rules of interpretation – needed to be included in the process of considering the interpretation of the Australian Constitution.”
Professor Lindell said alongside being known as an expert in constitutional law, Professor Zines would be remembered as a lively, engaging person with a wry sense of humour and a genuine interest in others, including the students he taught.
“Leslie assumed a presence that was larger than life – a typical day at the law school wouldn’t begin until Leslie’s laugh was heard coming up the stairs.”
Professor Lindell said the contributions of Professor Zines marked an illustrious period for the ANU College of Law, and his influence on students, colleagues, courts and the legal profession had helped build the reputation the College now enjoyed.
– BY TIM GRAINGER