Mabo in the Courts is the story of a court case that is a landmark in Australian legal and political history. Narrated by an insider, a lawyer who acted for the plaintiffs, it is at once a memoir and a factual account of dramatic, long-drawn-out, unlikely legal proceedings. The author has also set it against his reflections on the culture and history of the Meriam people of the Torres Strait; his client Eddie Mabo's motivations and premature death; the cut-and-thrust of exchanges between contesting counsel, and between counsel and judges; the effects on the proceedings of political influence and pressure; and the legacy of the High Court's decision, twenty years on.
The Mabo Case was a quest for justice by a group of Murray Islanders. In the history of the common law, scores of other cases dealing with Indigenous land rights have been heard in the courts of the former British Empire, and from the Indigenous perspective some were won, some were lost. Mabo, most importantly, was the first of such cases to succeed in Australia.
Bryan Keon-Cohen QC was educated at Scotch College, Melbourne, graduated in Law/Arts at Melbourne University, taught at the Monash Law School, worked with the ALRC, and has practised at the Victorian Bar for 30 years. He was junior counsel in the Mabo cases 1982–92 and has appeared in many Federal Court and High Court constitutional and native title cases. He has lectured and published widely on native title and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Monash University Law School. He is married to June, a sessional Member of VICAT. They have three daughters and one grandson, Christian nine months who barracks for Collingwood.
A two-volume, comprehensive work, Mabo in the Courts was launched at the Melbourne Writers Festival by former High Court Justice, the Honourable Michael Kirby AC CMG.