Acting Judge, Supreme Court of New South Wales, 01/04/1936 - 24/10/1937
Puisne Judge, Supreme Court of New South Wales, 25/10/1937 - 21/09/1961
Justice, High Court of Australia, 22/09/1961 - 31/03/1972
William Francis Langer Owen was born on 21 November 1899 in Sydney, the son of the Hon. Sir Langer Meade Loftus Owen and Mary Louisa Dames nee Longworth. Both his father and grandfather served as judges of the Supreme Court of New South Wales: the Hon. Sir Langer Owen from 1922 to 1932 and the Hon. Sir William Owen from 1887 to 1908. (1)
Educated at the Sydney Church of England Grammar, William Francis Langer Owen left school to enlist in the Australian Imperial Forces on 31 December 1915, increasing his age by two years. Arriving in France on 5 September 1916, he served as a sapper with the 7th Field Company. Wounded in action on 20 September 1917 and gassed on 23 May 1918, he transferred to the Australian Flying Corps on 29 August 1918. He was in England training as a pilot when the war ended. Promoted to Second Lieutenant on 1 April 1919, he returned to Australia on 29 September 1919 and was discharged on 15 November 1919. (2)
Owen enrolled in the Law School of the University of Sydney in 1920 and passed the first year examinations in March 1921. On 1 March 1921 he was appointed Clerk Associate to William Portus Cullen, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of New South Wales. (3) Owen was admitted to the Bar on 2 August 1923 after passing the Bar examinations and practised out of Chancery Chambers and by 1927 Denman Chambers, as well as on the Northern Circuit (1924-1925) and South and South-Western Circuit(1926-1934). His appointment as a King's Counsel was approved by the Executive Council on 26 March 1935. He was a member of the Council of the Bar of NSW from 1932/33 to 1933/34 and again in 1935/36. (4)
On 1 April 1936, Owen was appointed an acting Judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales in all jurisdictions. This appointment was extended five times until he was made a Puisne Judge on 25 October 1937. By 1955 he was Senior Puisne Judge and concentrating on appellate work. He was elevated to the High Court of Australia on 22 September 1961, a position he held until his death. (5)
During World War II, Owen was Chairman of the Central Wool Committee, from 28 May 1942 to 1945. In 1945 he was a member of the Australian Delegation to the Imperial Wool Conference which was established to dispose of war time stocks. (6)
Owen was chosen by Sir Robert Menzies as chair and one of the three Commissioners of the Royal Commission on Espionage in Australia, which was established by Letters Patent on 3 May 1954 and reported on 14 September 1955. The Commission was prompted by information supplied by Vladimir Petrov, Third Secretary and Consul in the Soviet Embassy in Australia, after his defection. (7)
Owen was appointed a Knight Commander of the British Empire on 1 January 1957, and sworn into the Privy Council in 1963. (8)
Sir William Owen died in office on 31 March 1972. Suffering constant ill health since 1967 due to an aneurysm, he had continued his duties in the High Court of Australia. He was survived by his wife, Joan Bately nee Rolin, whom he married on 11 July 1923, and their daughter. (9)
1. Who's Who in Australia, Melb., Herald and Weekly Times Ltd, 1938, p.394; 1941, p.524; 1944, p.645; 1947, pp.659-60; 1950, p.556; 1955, p.597; 1959, p.620; 1962, p.660; 1965, pp.660-61; 1968, p.670; 1971, p.734; Australian Law Journal, Vol.46 (May 1972), p.251; Phillipa Weeks, 'Owen, Sir William Francis Langer (1899-1972)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Online Edition, http://www.adb.online.anu.edu.au/biogs/A150642b.htm (cited 11 January 2008).
2. National Archives of Australia: B2455, First Australian Imperial Force Personnel Dossiers, 1914-1920; 'Owen William Francis Langer', http://naa12.naa.gov.au/scripts/ItemDetail.asp?M=0&B=8004773 (cited 14 April 2008).
3. University of Sydney Calendar, 1920, p.603; 1921, pp.479, 632, http://calendararchive.usyd.edu.au/index.php (cited 9 December 2009); NSW Government Gazette, No.32, 4 March 1921, p.1504.
4. Barristers Admission Board; NRS 13665, Roll of Barristers, 15 June 1876 - 1 December 1926; Reel 2147, p.25; New South Wales Law Almanac, Sydney, NSW Government Printer, 1922, p.40; 1923, p.38; 1924, pp.67, 70; 1926, pp.71, 77; 1927, pp.71, 78; 1935, pp.78, 87; 1936, p.79; Attorney General's Department [III]; NRS 333, Letters received - Special Bundles, 1874-1984; [10/42917] Correspondence re appointment of King's Counsels, 1898-1941; 'Bar Councillors 1902-2006', New South Wales Bar Association, http://www.nswbar.asn.au/docs/about/history/bclist1930_1940.php (cited 9 December 2009).
5. NSW Government Gazette, No.57, 27 March 1936, p.1400; No.150, 25 Sept 1936, p.4057; No.29, 26 Feb 1937, p.934; No.91, 2 July 1937, p.2478; No.131, 3 Sept 1937, p.3546; No.145, 1 Oct 1937, p.3992; No.157, 22 Oct 1937, p.4286; State Reports New South Wales, Syd., Law Book Company of Australasia Ltd., Vol.36 (1936), Vol.37 (1937), Vol.61 (1961); Australian Law Journal, Vol.35 (28 September 1961) p.225.
6. Who's Who in Australia, op.cit.
7. 'National Archives of Australia - Agency notes for agency CA 1882', http://naa12.naa.gov.au/scripts/AgencyDetail.asp?M=3&B=CA+1882 (cited 9 December 2009).
8. It's an honour website http://www.itsanhonour.gov.au (cited 23 January 2008); Who's Who in Australia, op.cit.
9. Phillipa Weeks, 'Owen, Sir William Francis Langer (1899-1972)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Online Edition, op.cit.; Who's Who in Australia, op.cit.