Supreme Court of Tasmania

Supreme Court of Tasmania - Chief Justices

The Hon Sir John Demetrios Morris, KCMG (1940-1956):

John Demetrios Morris was born at Hawthorne, Melbourne on 24 December 1902. Morris graduated in Law from the University of Melbourne and was admitted to the Victorian Bar on 7 November 1927. In 1930 Morris and his wife moved to Tasmania where he was admitted to the Tasmanian Bar on 24 October 1930. He joined the firm of A. G. Ogilvie which became Ogilvie, McKenna & Morris in 1931. Morris quickly established a reputation as a legal all-rounder, known for his sharp intelligence and skill in interrogation. In 1938 Morris left the partnership to set up a legal practice on his own.

In June 1939 Morris filled in as acting Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Tasmania and he was then appointed to the position in April 1940, at 37 years of age. The most well known case which he presided over whilst on the bench was that of Robert Cosgrove, the premier of Tasmania, who stood trial in February 1948, charged with bribery, corruption and conspiracy. Cosgrove was acquitted on all counts and resumed his premiership.

Morris became Chancellor of the University of Tasmania on 25 February 1944. In this position he managed to increase staff, to improve salaries and conditions, and began building at the new site for the University in Sandy Bay. Morris replaced the voluntary Workers’ Educational Association with the Adult Education Board which was sponsored and funded by the government. He served as foundation chairman of the Board from 1949 to 1956. In the years following the war Morris was a great contributor to cultural life in Tasmania. Morris was knighted in 1943 and appointed KCMG in 1952. He also stepped in as Administrator of the Government during the absence of the Governor and he was Chairman of the State Library Board in which role he assisted in the expansion of the free library scheme.

In 1955 there were calls for Morris to resign from the position of Chancellor of the University of Tasmania, following accusations from the staff association that Morris was dominating council and a Royal Commission which, while recognising his contributions to the university, was critical of him. This public criticism undermined Morris’ health which was already suffering due to over-exertion. On 3 July 1956 Morris died in his Chambers in the Supreme Court in Hobart.