Charles Powers KCMG (3 March 1853 – 24 April 1939), Australian
politician and judge, was a Justice of the High Court of Australia
from 1913 to 1929.
1 Early life
3 Legal career
4 Later life
Powers was born in 1853 in Brisbane, Queensland. He was educated at
Ipswich Grammar School
Ipswich Grammar School and
Brisbane Grammar School captaining the
Schools First XI. He was a talented sportsman, and at one point
captained a state cricket team against a touring English side.
After completing his articles of clerkship, Powers was admitted to
practise law as a solicitor in 1876, after which he moved to Bundaberg
to practise. In 1878, he married Kate Ann Thorburn, whose father was a
solicitor from Victoria. Powers continued to work in Bundaberg until
In 1883 Powers became the mayor of Maryborough.
In June 1888, Powers was elected to the Parliament of
Queensland as a
member of the Legislative Assembly of
Queensland for Burrum. On 19
November 1889, Powers became Postmaster-General and Minister for
Education in the ministry of Premier Boyd Dunlop Morehead, and he held
these positions until resigning with his colleagues in August 1890.
In 1891 he was a member of a
Royal Commission which was established to
investigate the possibility of establishing a university in
Powers was admitted to practice as a barrister at the
in 1894, although since he was still in parliament at the time, he did
not actually practice. From 1894 to 1895, Powers was the leader of the
opposition in Queensland. During this time, he put forward an
electoral reform bill which provided for women's suffrage, and the
abolition of plural voting, however the bill did not succeed. If it
Queensland would have become the second Australian colony after
Australia to allow women to vote. An industrial relations bill
brought by Powers also failed.
From 1899 to 1903, Powers served as the Crown
Queensland, and in 1903, he was appointed as the first Commonwealth
Crown Solicitor. During this time, he conducted several appeals on
behalf of the recently formed Federal Government to the Privy Council,
where he argued many significant constitutional issues. He played a
key role in preparing the prosecution in the Coal Vend cases, arising
out of prosecutions brought by then Attorney-General of Australia
Billy Hughes against a coal industry cartel. The case was successful
at first instance, but was lost on appeals to the full High Court and
to the Privy Council.
Nevertheless, Hughes was pleased with Powers' work, and Hughes's
opinion was undoubtedly influential when the Fisher government
appointed Powers to the High Court of
Australia in 1913. Powers was
the only solicitor to be appointed, and remains the only Justice (with
the exception of the initial three) to have not argued a case before
the court. He was also the first Justice appointed without a
university degree. Powers was one of two justices of the Court to have
previously served in the Parliament of Queensland, along with Samuel
The appointment of Powers, along with the concurrent appointment of
Albert Piddington, were highly controversial. The press considered the
two appointees to be insufficiently qualified, and both were
criticised for their lack of expertise and experience. There was
also controversy arising from Hughes' desire to appoint judges who
would be sympathetic to interpreting the power of the Parliament of
Australia broadly. Piddington caused the most public outrage for
stating his sympathies in a telegram, although Powers had actually
prepared many of the arguments Hughes would wish him to uphold on the
While Piddington ultimately resigned, Powers persevered, and remained
on the High Court. Later in 1913 he was made Deputy President of the
Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration under Justice
Higgins, leaving the court on 30 April 1920. He was reappointed as
Deputy President on 12 February 1921 and ultimately succeeded Higgins
as President on 30 June. As President, Powers introduced the first
system of automatic adjustments to the basic wage to account for
changes in the cost of living, applied quarterly. He finally left
the Arbitration Court on 25 June 1926.
Powers was created a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and
St George (KCMG) in 1929, and on 22 July that year resigned from the
High Court. Powers died in
Melbourne in 1939 and was buried in Burwood
^ a b Forster, Colin. "Powers, Sir Charles (1853–1939)". Australian
Dictionary of Biography. Canberra: Australian National University.
Retrieved 9 July 2013.
^ a b Mennell, Philip (1892). " Powers, Hon. Charles". The
Dictionary of Australasian Biography. London: Hutchinson & Co.
^ "Obituary. Sir Charles Powers". The Argus. Trove. 26 April
Charles Powers KCMG, High Court of Australia
^ Nygh, Peter; Butt, Peter, eds. (1998). Butterworths Concise
Australian Legal Dictionary (2nd ed.). Sydney: Butterworths.
^ a b Fricke, Graham (1986). Judges of the High Court. Melbourne:
Century Hutchison. ISBN 0-09-157150-2.
^ "The Honourable Sir
Charles Powers KCMG". Australian Industrial
Relations Commission. Archived from the original on 23 September 2015.
Retrieved 21 April 2006.
Serle, Percival (1949). "Powers, Charles". Dictionary of Australian
Biography. Sydney: Angus and Robertson.
Parliament of Queensland
Member for Burrum
1888 – 1893
Member for Maryborough
1893 – 1896
Served alongside: John Annear
Justice of the High Court of Australia
H. V. Evatt
Justices of the High Court of Australia
Justices shown in order of appointment