Vale Robert Alexander Hayes (1942-2011)

On 20 November 2011, Dr Robert Alexander Hayes, a former Commissioner of the ALRC, passed away in Sydney after a long illness.

Robert Hayes was an Associate Professor of Law at UWS and UNSW and was a much admired law teacher. In 1971 Robert played an important role in the creation of the Law School at the University of New South Wales, and helped to change institutional thinking about teaching law. The faculty created by Robert Hayes and Professor Hal Wootten championed small-class teaching in the Socratic model and enforced student participation. They designed a very wide range of electives and extra-curricular involvement; worked to bring in Indigenous students; to serve the needs of part-time students; and to involve all students beyond their classes. 

Of his teaching style, Professor AJ Brown of Griffith University, one of his former students, remarked in an obituary, that

“Hayes was popular for his humour, style and directness.  He confronted career-hungry students with the reality that conflicts over the rights and duties of citizens were often sordid and tragic, and rarely glamorous.  His torts lectures began with stories of children being packed off to school by their mother, with fresh egg-and-lettuce sandwiches in their bags, only to be mown down by a negligent driver or crushed by a falling building: ‘terrible… imagine it… egg and lettuce everywhere.’”

Another of Robert Hayes’ great achievements was his work at the ALRC on the right to privacy. Robert was a full-time Commissioner with the ALRC between 1980 –1983, and was a principal author of the 1983 report on Privacy. He was also Commissioner in Charge of the inquiry on Insurance agents, brokers and contracts.

During the same period, Robert was arbitrating in relation to the rights of the disabled, particularly the intellectually disabled and the mentally ill. He was involved in numerous community services programs including the Intellectual Disability Rights Service and was Chair of the Management Committee of Charmian Clift Cottages, a residential programme for mothers with mental illness and their children, supporting women suffering from schizophrenia.

Dr. Hayes was a fellow of the Australian Institute of Forensic Sciences and former president of the NSW Mental Health Review Tribunal.

A funeral service for Dr Hayes was held in a jam-packed St James Church, Sydney, on 25 November. Moving tributes were given by Stuart Littlemore QC and Sue-Ellen Bullock, and by his widow Elayne and daughter Claudia. Stuart Littlemore concluded his eulogy fittingly, in saying:

“The great success of Robert Alexander Hayes – his triumph – was that, right to the end, he had causes that he believed in. Not too many lawyers can lay claim to that.”

Vale Robert