02 Jun 2021

Judge, advocate and scholar: James Crawford SC 1948-2021

The distinguished Australian jurist and judge James Crawford SC has died aged 72

James Crawford SC

James Crawford SC, who was a judge at the International Court of Justice, has died. He was one of the leading public international scholars and jurists of his generation, a distinguished academic who practised at the Bar as arbitrator, counsel and expert witness.

Crawford, who was educated at the University of Adelaide and Oxford University, completed his doctorate at University College under the supervision of the late Professor Ian Brownlie. He held academic positions at Adelaide, the University of Sydney (where he was dean of Sydney Law School) and Latrobe University, as well as serving on the Australian Law Reform Commission. He was appointed a Companion of the Order of Australia – its highest civic honour – in 2013.

Senator Marise Payne, Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, acknowledged Crawford’s service to the international community, while Senator Michaelia Cash, federal Attorney-General, described Crawford as “an outstanding advocate who appeared regularly as counsel for Australia in international litigation.”

Crawford was appointed as the Whewell professor of international law at Cambridge in 1992, concurrently with Brownlie’s tenure as Chichele professor at Oxford, in which role he inspired a generation of students.

Twice director of the Lauterpacht Centre for International Law, in 1992 Crawford was also elected to the United Nations International Law Commission, where he helped draft articles on the responsibility of states and create the International Criminal Court. He was appointed to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 2014, taking up office the year after.

Nor did his achievements stop there; he was active as an advocate before the ICJ and International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, as well as an advocate and arbitrator in over 100 investor-state arbitral tribunals composed under the ICSID Convention or ad-hoc under the UNCITRAL rules.

Having qualified as a barrister and solicitor of the High Court of Australia in 1977, Crawford was called to the Bar of New South Wales in 1987 and appointed senior counsel in 1997. He was also called to the Bar of England & Wales in 1999, becoming one of the founding members of Matrix Chambers.

Matrix, noting his work in over 40 cases before the ICJ, said Crawford “had an illustrious career and his impact will continue to be felt in the legal community around the globe.”

Fellow international lawyer and Matrix member Professor Philippe Sands commented: “The world is a lesser place today, with the death of James Crawford,” who was an “extraordinary human being, fabulous lawyer, teacher, friend and a mentor for many, one of the few to break the mould.”

Sands added: “Generous, funny, smart, warm, progressive, fair, as a thinker, advocate and judge he literally changed international law. You only have to think of his work on statehood, or responsibility, or international crimes to realise how deep the space is that he leaves and how indelible is his legacy. Many will miss his intelligence, spirit and energy.”

Rachel Holmes, chief executive at Matrix, said: "As a founding member of Matrix, James was instrumental in helping to make change happen at the Bar and in setting standards that others have now risen to. He was a warm and kind man with an incredible intellect and acted as an inspiration to many. His loss is felt keenly by us all." 

Crawford’s passing was shared on LinkedIn by his daughter Rebecca Huntley, who called him an “extraordinary writer, lawyer and teacher”.

Herbert Smith Freehills CEO Justin D’Agostino, who had worked very closely with Crawford over many years in Asia, described him as “a wonderful man”, while Dan Sarooshi QC, of Essex Court, spoke for many at the Bar as he recalled “the great kindness and support [Crawford] gave to me as a young international lawyer, as indeed I know he did to countless others".