CUSSEN, Sir Leo Finn Bernard (1859-1933)


CUSSEN, Sir Leo Finn Bernard (1859-1933)
advocate and judge
son of Maurice Cussen, was born at Portland, Victoria, on 29 November 1859. Educated at Hamilton College, Cussen went to the university of Melbourne and obtained his certificate as a civil engineer in 1879. He then entered the department of railways and did good work on a difficult section of the line from Melbourne to Ballarat. Having decided to study law he went to the university again, and after a brilliant course graduated B.A. in 1884 and M.A., LL.B. in 1886. In September of that year he was called to the bar and in 1890 he became one of the lecturers in law at the university. Though of a modest and retiring nature, and entirely without influence, he was already building up a large practice as a barrister. A few years later, though the Victorian bar included such brilliant men as Isaacs, Higgins (q.v.), Duffy (q.v.), Weigall, Irvine, Purves (q.v.) Coldham and Mitchell, Cussen had as large a practice as any of them. It has been said that at this period it almost became a maxim that if a solicitor had a difficult case and did not consult Cussen, he was guilty of negligence. In 1906 Cussen was made a supreme court judge, and as a judge proved as great a success as he had been as an advocate. He was asked to consolidate the Victorian acts and completed his task in 1915. In 1922 he did another remarkable piece of work, the drafting of the bill which became the Imperial acts application act, an attempt unique in the British empire to select and edit the statutes in English law applicable to the State of Victoria. Five years later, with some assistance, Cussen made a second consolidation, with the result that practitioners in Victoria had a complete view of the relative statutes both Imperial and Victorian. In recognition of his great labours Cussen was given 12 months leave of absence, but unfortunately his health had suffered and he was never quite the same man again. He had been acting chief-justice for a period in 1924 and again held that position in 1931-2.
In spite of this work Cussen gave much time to cultural and other activities. He was a member of the council of the university of Melbourne for 30 years, and was appointed a trustee of the public library, museums and national gallery of Victoria in 1916. In 1928 he was elected president of the trustees and in this position he did admirable work. As a young man he had been a good cricketer and footballer, was later elected to the committee of the Melbourne Cricket Club, and for many years was its president. In spite of failing health in his later years, Cussen managed to carry on most of his activities until his death at Melbourne on 17 May 1933. He married in 1890 Johanna, daughter of John Bevan, who survived him with six sons and a daughter. His portrait by Longstaff (q.v.) is in the national gallery at Melbourne, another by McInnes (q.v.) is in the pavilion at the Melbourne cricket ground. He was knighted in 1922.
Cussen had an unassuming disposition; no one could ever associate him with pride or self-esteem. His genial and lovable character had a background of sincere religion. As an advocate he showed great legal ability, clarity in argument, sound knowledge of the law, and a talent for unravelling intricate cases. These qualities were just as evident when he went on the bench, where his courtesy, patience and consideration made him much liked in the legal profession. A man of quiet wisdom with a judicial mind, a great sense of what was just and right, and the knowledge and ability to avoid mere technicalities, his judgments carried great weight throughout the Commonwealth, and earned him the reputation of being a great judge.
The Age, 18 May 1933; The Argus, 18 May 1933; The Advocate, 25 May 1933; Who's Who, 1933; The Book of the Public Library, 1906-1931.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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  • Leo Cussen — Sir Leo Finn Bernard Cussen (29 November 1859 ndash; 17 May 1933), Australian jurist, was a Judge of the Supreme Court of Victoria.Cussen was born in Portland on the western coast of Victoria in 1859. He was educated at Hamilton College in… …   Wikipedia


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