About Brian Bourke AM

Our chambers are named after Brian Bourke AM, a barrister and outstanding advocate who practised at the Victorian Bar for well over half a century and who was well loved by the legal profession and his clients. He defended Ronald Ryan, who was executed in 1967, 50 years before the establishment of our chambers. Brian was a founding member of Amnesty International in Australia and remained a strong opponent of capital punishment.

Brian passed away on 30 March 2018. The Victorian Bar eulogy for Brian stated:

When Brian retired on 20 October 2017, he had practised at the Bar for more than 57 ½ years and was the member on the Practising List longest in continuous, full-time practice.

Twenty years ago, in 1998, he was named a Legend of the Bar in the small first group of Legends.

Last year, Brian Bourke Chambers was named after him, a tribute to the love and admiration in which he was held – an example and inspiration to the members of, and to future generations of barristers in, those Chambers.

Brian’s father was a restless publican, buying, building-up and selling pubs all over country Victoria. Brian went to numerous different country State Schools. He left school after Year 11 to work on his father’s farm. Then, working full-time in the Lands Department, encouraged by Mother Superior Columbanus, “Bourkey” completed Year 12 in 5 months at Taylor’s College.

He served 5-years long Articles with Brendan McGuinness at Brew & McGuiness; and remained another 5 years as a solicitor after admission in March 1953. He completed the remaining subjects and graduated Bachelor of Laws from the University of Melbourne.

In the early 1950s, Brian was a prime mover in establishing the Latrobe Debating Team at Pentridge. He coached the team in the A Grade Victorian Championships – Champions in 1955. Brian himself was in teams that won The Age & Leader Competition; and represented Victoria nationally 3 or 4 times. He co-authored with Senator Alan Missen, Victorian Debaters Association past President,The Australian Debater (1963 Cheshire).

Brian read with James Gorman (later QC; then County Court Judge). Having had 10 years at Brew & McGuinness in Licensing Law, his practice at the Bar began in that field, as well as in Crime. In 1962, Brian’s first edition of “the book”, Liquor Laws (Victoria), was published. It later became Bourke’s Liquor Laws a LexisNexis loose-leaf. Brian remained an author until about 1999 – then a Consulting Editor.

In 1961, Brian was the first Australian member of Amnesty International. The first Australian Amnesty group met in Brian’s Chambers – recognised in the 1986 25thAnniversary of Amnesty.

Brian had 11 Readers. He never applied for Silk: “the Queen has quite enough Counsel; and I’m Irish”. Ronald Ryan was Brian’s client and Brian did the Committal alone.

Brian served on the Board of the South Melbourne Football Club, including as President; was made a Life Member of the VFL in 1973; and sat on the Tribunal and Appeals Board. His prodigiouspro bono representation extended to members of all Australian Rules Football Clubs; and to Priests, Ministers and Religious of all denominations.

We were fortunate to have Brian speak at our opening on 6 October 2017. Please find below a link to a video from the opening, including speeches by his Honour Judge Cahill, Brian Bourke AM, and Robert Richter KC:

The Victorian Bar News published an article on the opening of our chambers:

On 21 October 2022 we celebrated our fifth anniversary, with speeches from his Honour Judge Stewart Bayles and Jason Gullaci SC (both founding members of Chambers) and Glenn Casement who gave a great tribute to Brian. Glenn’s speech is available here.