Nicholas Richard Cowdery

Honorary Doctor of Laws

Citation delivered by Professor Gerard Sutton, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Wollongong on the occasion of the admission of Nicholas Richard Cowdery as a Doctor of Laws (honoris causa) on 21 July 2011.


Chancellor, I present Nicholas Richard Cowdery.

When Nicholas Cowdery retired as NSW Director of Public Prosecutions this year, Socrates’ famous words were recalled in his valediction: “I am that gadfly which god has attached to the state …arousing and persuading and reproaching…You will not easily find another like me." Throughout his career, he has acted without fear or favour, always with painstaking attention to detail and integrity. Over and above that, he has shown great humanity. For our graduates today, Nicholas Cowdery’s story is a lesson in dealing bravely and intelligently with the light and darkness in human and professional enterprise.

That story began in this region. Nick spent his primary school years in Woonona and Fairy Meadow and attended Wollongong High School before becoming a boarder at Sydney Grammar School. He graduated in Arts and Law at the University of Sydney and was admitted as a barrister in 1971. Choosing not to follow a conventional path, he first practised as a public defender in Papua New Guinea. After over a decade in private practice in Australia, he became a Queen's Counsel in 1987 and also served as an Associate Judge of the District Court.

Nicholas Cowdery was appointed the Director of Public Prosecutions for New South Wales in 1994, a position he held with great distinction until this year. He has been recognised by his peers, nationally and internationally, for his work in human rights and criminal justice. He was elected to serve as President of the International Association of Prosecutors for two consecutive terms from 1999 to 2005.

In 2001, Nicholas Cowdery wrote an important book - “Getting Justice Wrong: myths, media and crime”. His comments at that time were provident and resonate still in current debates. He spoke then about “the risk to justice – the risk of getting justice wrong – posed by the influence of some sections of the media on policy making and legislating by politicians. I am also concerned, more generally, with policy being based other than on fact and reason… without careful analysis and a critical assessment”.

Throughout his career, Nicholas Cowdery has acted in our stead with care, diligence and sacrifice. For this he has attracted much admiration as well as some disapprobation but the occasional contretemps are simply markers of his passion for doing his duty with discipline and dedication. He has worked toward a vision of the common good that prizes service to others above all else. That vision does not value celebrity or notoriety but esteems the quiet, earnest effort, steadfastly focused on the public interest without notion of reward.

Nick has retained his connection to Wollongong over the years, making a significant contribution to this University, especially through the Centre for Transnational Crime Prevention. He has given guest lectures in postgraduate prosecution courses and was recently appointed an Honorary Professorial Fellow in the Faculty of Law. We are proud to welcome him today to permanent membership of the University community. By word and example, he has shown our students and staff that public service and the rule of law are foundation stones of how we live and how we might live better.

Chancellor, it is an honour and privilege to present Nicholas Richard Cowdery for admission as a Doctor of Laws (Honoris Causa).