Open main menu

Sir Nigel Hubert Bowen, AC, KBE, QC (26 May 1911 – 27 September 1994) was an Australian politician and judge. He served in the House of Representatives from 1964 to 1973, representing the Liberal Party, and was a government minister under four prime ministers. After leaving politics he served as the inaugural Chief Justice of the Federal Court of Australia from 1976 to 1990.

Sir Nigel Bowen

Nigel Bowen 1966.jpg
Chief Justice of the Federal Court of Australia
In office
20 December 1976 – 31 December 1990
Nominated byMalcolm Fraser
Preceded byNew office
Succeeded byMichael Black
Minister for Foreign Affairs
In office
2 August 1971 – 5 December 1972
Prime MinisterWilliam McMahon
Preceded byLes Bury
Succeeded byGough Whitlam (acting)
Attorney-General of Australia
In office
22 March 1971 – 2 August 1971
Prime MinisterWilliam McMahon
Preceded byTom Hughes
Succeeded byIvor Greenwood
In office
14 December 1966 – 12 November 1969
Prime MinisterHarold Holt
John McEwen
John Gorton
Preceded byBilly Snedden
Succeeded byTom Hughes
Minister for Education and Science
In office
12 November 1969 – 22 March 1971
Prime MinisterJohn Gorton
Preceded byMalcolm Fraser
Succeeded byDavid Fairbairn
Member of the Australian Parliament
for Parramatta
In office
20 June 1964 – 11 July 1973
Preceded byGarfield Barwick
Succeeded byPhilip Ruddock
Personal details
Born(1911-05-26)26 May 1911
Summerland, British Columbia, Canada
Died27 September 1994(1994-09-27) (aged 83)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Political partyLiberal
Eileen Mullens (m. 1947–1983)

Ermyn Krippner (m. 1984)

Early lifeEdit

Bowen was born in a log cabin in Summerland, British Columbia, Canada, of Welsh and English parents. He came to Australia as a boy and was educated for two years in England and later at The King's School in Parramatta. He studied law at the University of Sydney as a resident of St. Paul's College, and then practised as a solicitor. He was admitted as a barrister in New South Wales in 1936 and later in Victoria.

During World War II, he volunteered in 1941 and joined the 2nd Australian Imperial Force in 1942 and served in the South Pacific theatre for two years.[1][2]

After the war, Bowen resumed his legal career, sharing chambers with Gough Whitlam, John Kerr and later Bob Ellicott. He took silk in 1953 in New South Wales and Victoria in 1954. He was president of the New South Wales bar council from 1959 to 1961 and was vice-president of the Law Council of Australia from 1957 to 1960. From 1946 to 1961, he was the editor of the Australian Law Journal.[2][3]

Political careerEdit

Bowen was elected to parliament at the 1964 Parramatta by-election, caused by the resignation of Sir Garfield Barwick to take up an appointment as Chief Justice of Australia. He was appointed Attorney-General of Australia in the Second Holt Ministry in December 1966, and in 1968 he introduced a bill for the establishment of a federal court junior to the High Court of Australia. Although that bill was withdrawn, it provided the basis of the Federal Court of Australia Act 1976. Bowen appointed the Commonwealth Administrative Review Committee, which reported in 1971 and formed the basis for the establishment of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, the appointment of a Commonwealth Ombudsman and the enactment of the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1977. He also introduced the Privy Council (Limitation of Appeals) Act 1968, which began the process of abolishing appeals from the High Court to the Privy Council in London, culminating in the Australia Act 1986.[1]

In November 1969, Bowen was appointed Minister for Education and Science in the Second Gorton Ministry. In the McMahon Ministry, he was Attorney-General from March to August 1971 and then Minister for Foreign Affairs until the election of the Whitlam Government in 1972.[1] Bowen was William McMahon's preferred candidate to replace William Owen on the High Court, but Anthony Mason was eventually chosen as it was feared that the Liberal Party would not be able to retain Bowen's seat at a by-election.[4] When McMahon resigned after the 1972 election, Bowen lost the resulting leadership vote by one vote to Billy Snedden, on the fifth ballot.[3]

Judicial careerEdit

In 1973, Bowen was appointed as Chief Judge in Equity in the Supreme Court of New South Wales. He was appointed first Chief Judge (later Chief Justice) of the Federal Court of Australia in 1976 and held this until his retirement in 1990.[1] Bowen was one of only six politicians to have served in both the Parliament of Australia and the Federal Court of Australia, alongside Bob Ellicott, Merv Everett, Tony Whitlam, John Reeves and Duncan Kerr.


Bowen was appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1976 and a Companion of the Order of Australia in 1988.[1]

He died in 1994, aged 83.


  1. ^ a b c d e Keating, Paul (10 October 1994). "Condolences: Bowen, Sir Nigel Hubert, AC, KBE". Hansard. Parliament of Australia. Archived from the original on 24 May 2011. Retrieved 30 September 2007. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  2. ^ a b Lavarch, Michael (10 October 1994). "Condolences: Bowen, Sir Nigel Hubert, AC, KBE". Hansard. Parliament of Australia. Archived from the original on 24 May 2011. Retrieved 30 September 2007. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  3. ^ a b Downer, Alexander (10 October 1994). "Condolences: Bowen, Sir Nigel Hubert, AC, KBE". Hansard. Parliament of Australia. Archived from the original on 24 May 2011. Retrieved 30 September 2007. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  4. ^ How McMahon was beaten by Whitlam and the Coalition, The Sydney Morning Herald, 31 December 2002. Retrieved 8 November 2017.


Political offices
Preceded by
Billy Snedden
Attorney-General of Australia
Succeeded by
Tom Hughes
Preceded by
Tom Hughes
Succeeded by
Ivor Greenwood
Preceded by
Malcolm Fraser
Minister for Education and Science
Succeeded by
David Fairbairn
Preceded by
Leslie Bury
Minister for Foreign Affairs
Succeeded by
Gough Whitlam
Legal offices
New office Chief Justice of the Federal Court of Australia
Succeeded by
Michael Black
Parliament of Australia
Preceded by
Garfield Barwick
Member for Division of Parramatta
Succeeded by
Philip Ruddock