Sir George Edward Rich KCMG PC (3 May 1863 - 14 May 1956), Australian judge, was a justice of the High Court of Australia.
Rich was born in the town of Braidwood, New South Wales, in 1863. He was educated at Sydney Grammar School, and later studied at the University of Sydney, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in 1883 and a Master of Arts in 1885. In 1887, Rich was admitted to the New South Wales Bar. Around this time he married Betha Bowker, with whom he would have two sons and a daughter.
Rich remained involved with the University of Sydney, founding the student magazine Hermes, the first publication by the University of Sydney Union, in 1886. He also started the boat club at the university, and in 1889, was among those who established The Women's College at the university. In his legal work, Rich was principally an equity specialist. From 1890 to 1910, Rich lectured in equity part-time at the University of Sydney's law school. He was also the co-author of the first New South Wales-specific textbook on equity practice. He was made a King's Counsel in 1911, and in the same year was appointed as an acting judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales. He was made a full judge in 1912.
In 1913, Rich was appointed to the newly created seventh seat on the bench of the High Court of Australia, taking up his seat on 5 April of that year. He was appointed following the resignation of Albert Piddington, who never took up his seat on the High Court, and quit amidst a controversy over his appointment. There has been some suggestion that Rich was a "safe" choice, because of his uncontroversial and uncombative nature, but Rich's legal ability was rarely questioned.
Rich had a long career on the High Court, not retiring until 5 May 1950. During World War I, Rich's associate was Edward McTiernan, a future Justice of the High Court, and indeed a future colleague. Rich was also a judge of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration, from 1921 to 1922, and later in 1922 he served as Australia's delegate to the League of Nations. He was made a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George in 1932, and in 1936 was appointed to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. From 1940 to 1941, Rich was acting Chief Justice of Australia, while John Latham took leave to serve in Tokyo as Australia's first Minister (Ambassador) to Japan.
Rich's judgments are generally considered to be clear and concise. Some commentators attribute this more to laziness than to a knack for clarity. It was often rumoured that fellow justice (and later Chief Justice) Owen Dixon wrote many of Rich's judgments for him, and Dixon recorded in his papers that on one occasion (the case of Isaacs v McKinnon), in an appeal from the Federal Court of Bankruptcy, Rich's judgment was written by the judge whose decision was being appealed.
Rich, who retired at age 87, holds the record for being the oldest justice to sit on the bench of the High Court. This record will almost certainly not be broken, since High Court justices must retire at age 70. It is said that following the funeral of former justice Sir Isaac Isaacs in 1943, Hayden Starke said to Rich (who at that stage was 80 years old) "George, are you sure it's worth your while going home?"
Rich retired on his eighty-seventh birthday in 1950. Geoffrey Sawer has suggested that Rich delayed his retirement until after the 1949 federal election (at which the conservative Menzies government came to power) in order to prevent the Labor Chifley government from being able to appoint a judge. Following his retirement, the members of the Honourable Society of the Inner Temple elected Rich as an Honorary Master. Later that year, he married his second wife, Letitia Woodward (Betha had died in 1945). Rich died in 1956, at age 93. An obituary in the Australian Law Journal described Rich as:
"...patient, helpful to counsel, wise in his sense of judgment and he had a rare but unobtrusive humour. His contribution as a Justice of the High Court to constitutional problems is by no means as insignificant as the brevity of many of his judgments might suggest, for he had the facility for expressing complex propositions in clear and succinct terms."