The Hon Justice Sir John Vincent William Barry

1967-1969: Foundation President

  • QC, LL. D. (Melb)
  • Judge of the Supreme Court of Victoria from 1947
  • First chairman of the Board of Studies in Criminology at the University of Melbourne from 1958
  • First chairman of Victoria's Adult Parole Board from 1957
  • Born June 13, 1903 and died November 8, 1969

Sir John Vincent William Barry: A Biographical Note

Sir John Vincent Barry(Adapted from the biographical note in the introduction to: Sir John V. Barry: A Guide to his Papers in the National Library of Australia. Canberra: Manuscript Section, National Library of Australia, 1976.)

John Vincent Barry, eldest of the four children of William and Jeanette Barry, was born in Albury, New South Wales on June 13, 1903. After completing his primary education at a convent school in Albury, Barry won a scholarship to St. Patrick's College, Goulburn, for the years 1917 to 1920. In 1921 he went to Melbourne to become articled to the legal firm, Luke Murphy and Company, and was admitted as a. barrister and solicitor to the Supreme Court in 1926. Barry rapidly built up a wide and successful practice as a barrister, being an able and persuasive advocate before criminal and civil juries. In 1942 he became a King's Counsel.

On several occasions during World War II Barry was engaged by the Governments of John Curtin and J. B. Chifley to conduct or assist commissions of inquiry, notably that which investigated the circumstances under which the civil administration of Papua was superseded by the military in 1942.

During his years at the Bar, Barry was active in many causes and held executive office in several organisations. He was greatly affected by the hanging of Angus Murray, whom he had represented in 1924, and wrote and spoke on many occasions throughout his life in favour of the abolition of capital punishment. A foundation member and Vice-President of the Australian Council for Civil Liberties, he was its President from 1944 until 1947. Barry joined the Australian Labor Party in 1939, contested the seat of Balaclava in 1943, and served as a member of the Victorian Central Executive of the Party in the period from 1945 until 1947. An executive member of the Australian Journalists' Association, he was also President in 1948-49 of the Medico-Legal Society of Victoria. In 1967 he was elected Foundation President of the Australian and New Zealand Society of Criminology Inc.

Barry's outstanding career at the Bar culminated in his appointment as a Judge of the Supreme Court of Victoria in 1947. In 1951 he became the first Chairman of the University of Melbourne's Department of Criminology, and was appointed Chairman of the Parole Board of Victoria when it was created in 1957. Barry had a deep and lasting interest in criminology and penology and during this period he was many times called upon by the Government of Victoria for advice in the preparation of the Penal Reform Act (1956), the Social Reform Act (1960) and as chairman of the committee to report on juvenile delinquency in 1956. The Commonwealth Government sought his advice in the preparation of the Matrimonial Causes Rules in 1960, and as a Judge in Divorce, it was his responsibility to interpret and apply the Matrimonial Causes Act (1959) which, from 1961, replaced the State legislation.

In 1955 the Carnegie Foundation awarded Barry a fellowship to investigate developments in criminology and penology in the United States of America and Europe. Later that year he attended the First United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders in Geneva, and the Third International Congress on Criminology in London. In 1960 he travelled to London again, to lead the Australian delegation at the Second UN Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders and the Fourth International Congress on Criminology in The Hague. He spent two months in 1964 in Japan as a visiting expert at the UN Institute for the Prevention of Crime and Treatment of Offenders (UNAFEI), Fuchu, Tokyo.

Barry, who was a prolific reader as well as a writer, was much sought after as a guest speaker during his years at the Bar. Many of his addresses were subsequently published in journals such as Meanjin and the Australian Law Journal. His principal published works were Alexander Maconochie of Norfolk Island (O.U.P.1958) for which he was awarded the Degree of Doctor of Laws (University of Melbourne) in 1969, The Life and Death of John Price (M.U.P. 1964) which won him a share in the Harbison Higinbotham Scholarship; and An Introduction to Criminal Law in Australia (Macmillan 1948), which was written in collaboration with George Paton and Geoffrey Sawer. He was a contributor to the Australian Dictionary of Biography, a reader for Melbourne University, and a book reviewer. From 1955 until 1966 Barry was a council member of the Royal Historical Society of Victoria, and in 1968 was elected a Fellow of the Society.

Barry was created a Knight Bachelor in 1961. In 1930 he married Ethel May Pryor of Sydney who died in 1943. There were two children, Joan, Mrs David Hardy, and John Edward. In 1951 he married Nancy Lorraine Hudson of Auckland N.Z. and they had a daughter Susan Jane. Barry died in Melbourne on November 8, 1969.


  • Hetherington, A. Uncommon Men. Melbourne, Cheshire, 1965.
  • Morris, Norval and Perlman, Mark, ed. Law and Crime: essays in honour of Sir John Barry. New York, Gordon and Breach, 1972.
  • Ryan, Peter. "Sir John Barry". Historical Studies, v.14, April 1970: 329-31.

Sir John Vincent Barry : In Memoriam

(From the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology, December 1969, Vol. 2, No. 4)

It is with deep regret that we record the death of our Foundation President, the Hon. Sir John Barry on the November 8, 1969. His death, after a fairly short terminal illness, took place within two weeks of the first Biennial General Meeting of the Society.

Sir John Barry was no narrow jurist; his interests were wide and diverse as was noted in a recent Editorial recording his award of the degree of Doctor of Laws of the University of Melbourne.

His background was a traditional Catholic schooling which led to Melbourne University which also led to admission to the Bar. During his time at the Bar he stood as a Labor Party candidate for Federal Parliament. He was appointed King's Counsel in 1941. Before his appointment as a Supreme Court Judge he was a Royal Commissioner in relation to a number of national issues. In 1946 he was appointed Judge of the Supreme Court of Victoria.

In this appointment he spent much of his time in the Divorce Jurisdiction which permitted him to indulge his interest in criminological matters and in particular to accept the Chairmanships of the Parole Board and- of the Board of Studies of Criminology at Melbourne University.

This recitation of biographical data cannot do justice to Sir John, the man, as opposed to Sir John, the public figure. Sir John, the man, was a person of imagination and erudition who had the priceless capacity of communication, in both the written and spoken word. He was a person who was able to relate to those of all ranks in all walks of life. And he was an individual who had his own standards and values by which he lived.

Apart from his utterances as a Royal Commissioner and a Judge of the Supreme Court, he should be considered as one of the outstanding Australian criminologists of international stature. At overseas conferences, should he not be attending, delegates from many different countries would ask after "Judge Barry" or "John Barry".

To us, his death represents the end of an era, but we feel happy and privileged to have known him. In expressing our feelings of loss of a colleague and leader of our Society, we would also wish to express our sympathy to his widow and children.