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Higgins, Dame Rosalyn --- "Foreword" [1999] AUYrBkIntLaw 2; (1999) 20 Australian Year Book of International Law iii


Rosalyn Higgins[∗]

Don Greig is nothing if not his own man. In his long and distinguished career he has combined great gregariousness with an unostentatious intellectual individualism — a very attractive amalgam.

Every international lawyer who has been lucky enough to spend some time in Australia has been the beneficiary of Don Greig’s largesse. He has seemed at the centre of all hospitality in that most hospitable of countries, and over the years has used his senior position in the Australian National University to welcome colleagues from abroad and to ensure that they have the widest possible exposure to those in academic and government circles who share their professional background. Nothing has been too much trouble to arrange, whether lectures, visits, appointments or supper parties.

While clearly loving the company of others, Don Greig has followed his own, distinct, intellectual path. This is not to say he is a ‘loner’, academically speaking. He has worked amicably with others. But he arrives at his own views and he belongs to no ‘school of law’. As Bill Edeson perspicaciously puts it in his chapter in this volume, ‘Don Greig throughout his career has shown a lively disregard for conventional wisdom and has often taken a stand on many initially unpopular ideas’. As the same author points out, Greig’s contribution has been in the area of ‘hard’ law. He has not been part of the network of international lawyers either developing the concept of soft law or using it to advance desired outcomes in disarmament law, human rights law, or law of the environment. He has found problems enough to deal with in the more established sources of international law, and his detailed knowledge is second to none. This is a man whose knowledge of the substantive corpus of international law is appreciated by all. Equally, he is the master of technical detail without ever losing sight of the broader picture.

In an era of ultra-specialisation, Don Greig exemplifies the virtues of the thoroughly competent generalist. His important textbook evidences his familiarity with virtually all areas of international law. Leading journals contain his articles on recognition, jurisdiction, immunities, the use of force, the International Court, and of course treaties (on which he is acknowledged everywhere as having a very particular competence).

That the contributors to this volume should themselves choose to write on subjects as diverse as fisheries, environmental law, decolonisation, regional human rights norms, international and domestic law, the Optional Clause and the law of treaties, the use of force, immunity, overlapping jurisdictions, the United Nations Charter, the role of the Secretary-General, federal offshore disputes, various aspects of the International Court and the World Trade Organisation, is entirely appropriate. The breadth of the chosen subject-matter reflects indeed the breadth of interest of the colleague being honoured.

His writings have other characteristics. Not for Don Greig short ‘opinion pieces’ or light commentaries in the legal journals. His articles are typically very long, precisely in order to deal in the necessary scholarly depth with the issue at hand. His writings are characterised by prodigiously profound knowledge over a remarkably wide field of international law — an exceptional combination. The reader comes away feeling that the matter in hand has been fully explored, as well as set in its wider legal context.

At the same time, Don Greig is no great respecter of persons. By this I mean that neither the importance of an institution nor the eminence of a colleague will prevent trenchant analysis and such robust criticism as is felt necessary.

These characteristics are fully displayed in, for example, Greig’s long article on the Nicaragua v United States case on jurisdiction before the International Court of Justice [1] in the 1991 British Yearbook of International Law: in this he criticises a passage at page 410 of the Court’s judgment, which ‘contains a sequence of shifts glissando, from agreement to estoppel and back to agreement again’.[2] He suggests also that in a passage on the Barcelona Traction Case in Law and Practice of the International Court,[3] ‘Rosenne seems to be confusing two distinct legal relationships, one established by estoppel, and the other arising by way of implied agreement’.[4] And Greig states his disagreement with certain parts of Judge Jennings’ analysis in the Nicaragua v United States (Jurisdiction).[5] In his long review article on the ninth edition of Oppenheim in the Australian Year Book of International Law, while he readily finds the text and the cited materials ‘of inestimable value’, and the two Editors of the ninth edition of Oppenheim ‘the worthiest of successors to the previous editor’, he does not hesitate to take them to task on a multitude of aspects.[6] Most fundamentally, he finds artificial the claimed distinction between a practitioner’s book and an academic treatise. And Greig enters into detailed debate with the Editors on their treatment of specific questions of recognition, state immunity, territorial acquisition, decolonisation and law of the sea (among others).

Nor have the views of this writer been exempt from the critical reach of Don Greig’s scrutiny: see his powerful analysis of the legal issues regarding reservations to human rights treaties in the 1995 Australian Year Book of International Law — an analysis of a greatly superior quality to most of that proffered elsewhere in this difficult debate.[7]

Greig’s position in international law seems to me similar to that of the late Francis Mann in the domestic sphere: we authors and judges may fear the pen, but never the man. For Don Greig, to probe and challenge is entirely compatible with friendliness and good companionship. In a world full of sycophancy, hostility, superficiality and amour propre, how much we have benefited from Don Greig’s contributions as scholar, critic and friend. This volume, edited and contributed to by so many of his colleagues, is a tribute to both the work and the man.

[∗] Dame Rosalyn Higgins is a Judge of the International Court of Justice.

[1] [1984] ICJ Rep 392.

[2] D Greig, ‘Nicaragua and the United States: Confrontation over the Jurisdiction of the International Court’ (1991) 62 British Yearbook of International Law 119, 162.

[3] S Rosenne, Law and Practice of the International Court (1985) 322.

[4] See above n 2, 161.

[5] Ibid 168.

[6] D Greig, ‘Oppenheim Revisited: An Australian Perspective’ [1992] AUYrBkIntLaw 6; (1993) 14 Aust YBIL 227.

[7] D Greig, ‘Reservations: Equity as a Balancing Factor?’ [1995] AUYrBkIntLaw 2; (1995) 16 Aust YBIL 21.

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