John Gibson 1950-2012
RCOA and the refugee sector lost one of its best and most-loved advocates on Friday 28 September 2012 with the passing of John Gibson. He had fought a long battle with cancer but remained engaged with the issues affecting the refugee sector even in his final days.
John was engaged in the refugee sector in different capacities for more than 25 years. He served as RCOA President between January 2006 and August 2012 and was a member of the board since 2003. He was the founding chairperson of the Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture Inc (also known as Foundation House). He was also a Member (Part-Time) of the Refugee Review Tribunal for four years, during which time he dealt with asylum cases from a wide range of countries.
John was engaged in projects analysing asylum systems in overseas countries as a Senior Associate with Eurasylum Ltd based in Brussels. He became a Member of the Victorian Bar in 1981 and began a specialist practice in refugee and migration law in 1999. He was junior counsel in two leading High Court cases – Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs v Yusuf (2001) 20 6 CLR 325 and NAGV and NAGW of 2002 v Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (2005) 213 ALR 668. He also appeared as junior counsel on behalf of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, intervening as amicus curiae in the High Court appeal from QAAH of 2004 v Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs.
John was the editor of a CD-ROM Legal Service and of a weekly email case-note service for migration practitioners. He conducted training courses in Australia and overseas on a variety of refugee-related issues and on several occasions made oral and written submissions to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Committee on Migration Bills.
On 13 September, members of the Victorian Bar inducted John as a Legend of the Victorian Bar in recognition of his achievements and service to the public and administration of justice. Since the Legends of the Victorian Bar was established in 1998, only 34 barristers have been inducted. The Honourable Justice David Beach, in his address at the 2012 Legends Dinner, likened the Legends to a football team whose members "have made great contributions both to the administration of justice and society generally". He named John as team captain - "the person whose contributions, in appearing for and looking after [those in need], without fee, for years and years, without any expectation of reward or acknowledgement, have most gone unremarked".
The University of Melbourne is also establishing the John Gibson Prize in Refugee Law, which will be awarded annually.
In a statement released on the day John died, CEO Paul Power said John was widely respected for his knowledge of refugee law, his advocacy for refugees and asylum seekers and his leadership of Australia's refugee sector. "Those who knew him well will remember John not only for his legal expertise and leadership but also for his people skills, particularly his amazing capacity to make friendships and build connections between people wherever he went," the statement read. "John was as much at home talking to asylum seekers and refugees about their lives and their hopes as he was advocating on their behalf with senior leaders of governments and United Nations agencies. His passing after a long illness is devastating. Everyone who knew John will consider themselves fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with him and to have known him."
In November, The Age published a moving obituary describing John as a "warrior for justice and human rights".
Last updated October 2012