Higgins Chambers was established in 1985 by four newly admitted barristers: Stephen Keim SC, Douglas Savage QC, Andrew Crowe QC and Bronwyn Springer. Out of admiration for his progressive values and outstanding career, these founding members chose to name chambers after Henry Bournes Higgins KC.
H.B. Higgins KC was admitted to the Victorian Bar in 1876 at the age of 25, and was called to the English Bar in 1886. Higgins grew a strong practice specialising in equity. In 1894, Higgins joined state politics and was elected to the Victorian Legislative Assembly. He was known for his progressive political opinion, and supported advanced liberal positions, such as greater protection for workers, government investment in industry and female suffrage. Higgins was also elected to assist in drafting Australia’s Constitution and is credited with the inclusion of a guarantee of religious freedom and giving the federal government the power to make laws relating to the conciliation and arbitration of industrial disputes.
After Federation, Higgins joined federal politics and stood as a Protectionist candidate for the working-class electorate of North Melbourne. When the first federal Labor government was formed in 1904, Higgins was offered the post of Attorney-General as the Labor party lacked a legal practitioner.
In 1906, when the High Court expanded from five judges to seven, Higgins was appointed as a Justice of the High Court, alongside Isaac Isaacs. A year later, his Honour Justice Higgins KC became the President of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration (‘CCCA’).
While President of the CCCA, Higgins J handed down the landmark “Harvester” decision (Ex parte H.V. McKay (Harvester Case) (1907) 2 CAR 1). In his judgment, Higgins J set the standard for a fair and reasonable wage, and ruled that one of Australia’s largest employers was obliged to pay his employees a wage that guaranteed a standard of living reasonable in a civilized community, regardless of whether the business could afford it. This decision laid the foundation for the Australian minimum wage.
Since its foundation, Higgins Chambers has expanded from four members to eighteen, moved from level 13 to 29 of 239 George Street but has always remained helmed by Stephen Keim SC.