Staff and students of the Griffith University have paid tribute to Griffith Law School founder, Sir Zelman Cowen, who died in Melbourne on Thursday, aged 92.

The Griffith Law School began at a time when many saw a need for an overhaul in the way law was being taught. Under the guiding hand of Sir Zelman Cowen, the Griffith Law School became a leading institution with a distinctive and innovative approach to legal education.

In 1990 Sir Zelman became the Vice Chancellor’s Advisor on Legal Education and a member of the Legal Education Advisory Committee. This committee was responsible for planning and developing a curriculum for the University’s Law School.


Sir Zelman introduced the idea that the students’ courses should be integrated. This approach ultimately resulted in a law curriculum which was hailed as revolutionary, and which drew strong support from the legal profession.

After the Griffith Law School opened in 1991, Sir Zelman became the Chair of the Griffith Law School’s advisory committee, known as Visiting Committee, which comprises senior members of the legal community, judiciary and scholars. Sir Zelman chaired the Committee from 1992 to 2003.

Sir Zelman’s contribution to the formation and development of the Griffith Law School cannot be overstated. Aside from the integrated curriculum idea and Visiting Committee, Sir Zelman’s influences are everywhere: in the Griffith Law School’s foundational commitment to social justice; promoting the legal profession for rewards other than simply financial enrichment; and in its excellence for teaching, research and engagement with the community.

He also contributed immensely in informal ways. Sir Zelman was an invaluable source of counsel, advice and encouragement to the respective Law Deans and mixed regularly with the more junior staff of the Griffith Law School as a respected mentor and role model.

During Sir Zelman’s brilliant career he also served as Governor-General of Australia from 1978 to 1982. He returned to Oxford as President of Oriel College and Chair of the Press Council before returning to Australia and being awarded a Doctor of the University at Griffith in 1981.

The Law Collection at the Nathan campus Library is named after Sir Zelman in recognition of his highly valued contribution to the foundation and development of the Griffith Law School.