Friday 30 July 2021, 10:00 am
The Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT says Emeritus Professor Hal Wootten AC QC will be fondly remembered for his insight, compassion, and his great legacy in helping to establish the country’s first Aboriginal legal service.
Prof Wootten passed away on Tuesday 27 July at the age of 98. He was a co-founder of the Aboriginal Legal Service (ALS) in Redfern in 1970, serving as its first President until he stood down to join the Supreme Court bench in 1973. He continued to strongly support the ALS until his death.
The Redfern ALS was the first Aboriginal legal service in the country, soon to be followed by others in each state and territory. It broke new ground as Australia’s first free community legal service of any kind.
Prof Wootten also founded the University of New South Wales law school in 1971 and served as a commissioner on the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody in the late 1980s to early 1990s.
Quote from Mark Davies, ALS Director:
“The Aboriginal Legal Service began with a group of young Aboriginal activists with a strong hunger for justice. Thankfully, Hal Wootten shared that hunger. He used his legal connections and considerable skills to open up resources and opportunities for the Aboriginal justice movement. The fact that Aboriginal Legal Services now operate across Australia is part of that ongoing legacy.”
Quote from Gary Williams, one of the original Redfern activists who founded the ALS:
“Hal was full of energy. He certainly made it his mission to make sure that the ALS got off the ground and that we had a political arm as well as the arm that provided legal services. He put the law faculty at UNSW at the ready, getting the legal fraternity behind the ALS.”
Quote from John McKenzie, NSW Legal Services Commissioner, former Chief Legal Officer at the ALS (1983-1986 and 2006-2015), and Principal Solicitor on the Royal Commission into Deaths in Custody:
“The two proudest achievements of Hal’s life were the establishment of the law faculty at UNSW and being part of the establishment of the Aboriginal Legal Service. He said that many, many times throughout his life – they were the two things that meant the most to him.
“Though he was physically frail towards the end of his life, he was razor-sharp in his mind as always. I was still learning from the great man.”
Media contact: [email protected] / 0427 346 017
Media are welcome to publish the below photo with attribution to the Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT (please email the address above to request a copy of the high-resolution image):
Left to right: Felix Orcullo, Antionette House, John McKenzie, Hal Wootten, Peter Stapleton, Gordon Briscoe, Gerry Moore, Gary Oliver and Steve O'Connor at the ALS’ 40th anniversary celebrations in 2010.