While Attorney-General in the Fysh and Braddon
Governments, Clark became the most productive and progressive Tasmanian
Attorney-General of the nineteenth century. He introduced 228 Bills
into the House of Assembly and, displaying superlative drafting
skills, modernised and consolidated the law on a wide range of subjects.
Letters Patent appointing Clark Attorney General
of Tasmania 1894 - Enlarge
As a democrat and a representative of the working
man, Clark sought to break the power of property in Tasmanian politics.
He believed in 'the rights of man' and advocated participation of
working men, women and minorities in the electoral process. His
legislative programme sought to remove inequalities in social and
economic affairs, and ensure all citizens reached their full potential.
Clark's best known achievement was the introduction
of the Hare-Clark system of proportional
representation based on the concept of the single transferable vote.
He failed to secure manhood suffrage and womanhood suffrage, but
did secure the passage of social and industrial laws, such as amending
the licensing acts, protecting children from neglect and abuse,
legalising trade unions, preventing cruelty to animals, and updating
the marriage, defamation, trustee and companies laws.
From photograph of Clark in the
Tasmanian Mail, 24 December 1898
Clark's judgments were detached and fair and gave
no hint that he allowed himself to be influenced by the strong political,
moral, and social values which he privately held.
Clark (top left) Tasmanian Mail 24 December,
While a Supreme Court Judge, Clark published
his Studies in Constitutional Law in 1901, which confirmed
his reputation as a leading constitutional lawyer. This strengthened
his claim to a position on the High Court, but he was denied this
much desired prize. In 1903 the chance of a seat evaporated when
the Commonwealth Parliament cut the number of High Court Judges
from five to three. In 1906 when the bench was enlarged he was again
passed over and this soured relations with his Federation colleague
Prime Minister Alfred Deakin. Clark remained on the Tasmanian Supreme
Court until his death in 1907.
Clark resigned as Attorney-General
after his Cabinet colleagues did not seek his advice over the
legality of leasing Crown land to a private company. After a period
as Leader of the Opposition, Clark left politics to become a Judge
of the Tasmanian Supreme Court in June 1898.
Although his forte was constitutional
law, as a Judge Clark's time was divided between presiding in
jury trials in civil and criminal jurisdictions, hearing civil
cases as the sole Judge, and receiving appeals from lower courts.
One of his most celebrated cases, Pedder v. D'Emden involved constitutional
law and the doctrine of intergovernmental immunities.
Pedder v. D'Emden - enlarge
This was the first important constitutional
law case heard by the High Court, which supported Clark's dissenting
judgment and established the principle that the judiciary had
authority under the Constitution to determine the limits of the
powers of the Commonwealth and State Parliaments and to invalidate
legislation which exceeded those powers.
Judges robe as worn by Clark
Portraits of judges admired by Clark - Enlarge