This week saw the passing of my very dear friend and mentor Kelly Macgroarty, one of Queensland’s greatest criminal law defence barristers of any era. Born Neil Joseph Macgroarty 81 years ago, he inherited the tag “Kelly” from his father Neil Francis Macgroarty, himself a distinguished Brisbane barrister who served as Queensland Attorney General in the Moore government of the 20’s and 30’s.
Kelly was a big man with a big heart. He had ‘the gift of the gab‘, a taste for the occasional rum, and all the warmth, humour, and irreverent charm you would expect of his cherished Irish heritage. Raised in the shadow of World War II he hated fascism in any form, and harboured a healthy distrust of overly-officious regulators, what he called “the pencil pushers and the shiny bums.” But he also had a deep love of the law, and an uncanny intuition that led him to the heart and soul of any courtroom conundrum. When it came to unravelling the factual matrix of a criminal case, there was no better forensic mind than Kel Macgroarty.
I first worked with the great man when I was still a fresh-faced kid straight out of university, back in the bad old pre-Fitzgerald days when Queensland’s criminal courts sometimes felt a little like a Wild West Show. He was at the height of his powers, having recently defended the infamous Southport Bookmakers Case, where he sensationally raised the lid on organised police perjury and fabrication that would later figure in the 1977 Lucas Inquiry. Acting for a bit player in a five-defendant criminal trial, I watched from the sidelines as Macgroarty’s masterful cross-examination comprehensively dismantled the testimony of a cocky young detective who had fabricated a good old-fashioned ‘verbal’ confession on one of my client’s co-defendants, and I was enthralled and inspired. The next criminal brief I had went straight to Kelly, and for the next 30 years or so he and I worked closely together on innumerable cases, including most of the more memorable moments of my professional career. I loved every minute of our long and successful collaboration. He was my friend, my teacher, and my inspiration. An outstanding advocate at a time when oral advocacy was everything, a pupil of the great Dan Casey and contemporary of brilliant criminal barristers like Bill Cuthbert and Des Sturgess, he constantly excelled through his unrelenting capacity for hard work, an unequalled eye for detail, and absolute commitment to the interests of his clients.
God love you ‘Uncle Kel’, you were one of a kind.
Gold Coast Lawyer, Novelist and Film Maker