Ms Jane Mathews

Vale the Honourable Justice Jane Mathews, trailblazing lawyer and former justice

Vale the Honourable Justice Jane Mathews, trailblazing lawyer and former justice

University farewells renowned lawyer with strong connection to Wollongong

The University of Wollongong community has been saddened to learn of the death of the Honourable Justice Jane Hamilton Mathews, AO, a trailblazing legal practitioner whose family had strong ties with the city of Wollongong and the foundation of UOW.

Recognised as a role model who pioneered senior positions for women in the judiciary, Ms Mathews, aged 78, was appointed the first female crown prosecutor in NSW in 1977. In 1980 she became the first female judge of the NSW District Court, the first female judge of the NSW Supreme Court (in 1987) and in 1994 was appointed to the Federal Court. 

She also served as President of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, Deputy President of the Native Title Tribunal, Law Reform Commissioner, NSW Equal Opportunity Tribunal Senior Judicial member and later in her career as an acting judge of the NSW Supreme Court.

The former judge was proud of her family’s involvement in the Wollongong steelworks and RMB Lawyers. Her great grandfather Charles Russell established RMB Lawyers, previously known as Russell, McLelland & Brown, in 1885.

Ms Mathews’ father was Frank Mathews who was the chief engineer of Port Kembla Steelworks during the development phase of the plant.

Ms Jane Mathews

He also played a leading role in the establishment of the Wollongong University College (now the University of Wollongong) and Wollongong TAFE.

Ms Mathews was one of the first to teach law on the campus that her father helped set aside for the development of the University. She was a key member of the Committee that planned the formation of the University’s Faculty of Law and chaired for many years the Faculty of Law Visiting Committee since its inception in 1990.

In October 1993 UOW admitted the then Justice Mathews to the degree of Doctor of Laws, Honoris Causa.

Born in Wollongong in 1940, Ms Mathews was educated at Frensham School in Mittagong. After spending three years as an articled clerk in Sydney she returned to Wollongong as a solicitor with the local firm of Beale and Geddes. She was called to the bar in 1969.

During her impressive career Ms Mathews served as Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission into Human Relationships which looked into fundamental changes in Australian society and sought for ways of addressing issues such as de facto relationships, abortion and homosexuality.

She was actively involved in environmental causes and was a Trustee of the AIDS Trust of Australia. Jane was a lover of music and a collector of Australian art. She was Chair of the Arts-Law Centre of Australia which provides Australian-wide legal assistance to people in the visual and performing arts.

Fellow lawyers praised her as a ‘down-to-earth’ person who had a deep commitment to social justice and one who has left an indelible mark on the legal profession and the women who followed in her footsteps.

In 2005 Ms Mathews was made an Officer in the Order of Australia Honours Day List.