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Brett, Professor Peter
Date of birth: 4 September 1918
Place of birth: London, Middlesex, England
Date of death: 9 May 1975
Place of death: Ivanhoe, Victoria, Australia
Biography: Peter Brett (1918-1975), professor of jurisprudence, was born on 4 September 1918 at Stoke Newington, London. Educated at a private preparatory school and at St Paul's School, Hammersmith, at 16 he was articled to Ernest Bevir & Son, solicitors. He graduated with first-class honours from the University of London (LL.B., 1939). Brett served with the British Expeditionary Force in Europe (1940) and in the West African Force (1941-43); as temporary captain, Royal Fusiliers, he was again in Europe between 1944 and 1946. From that year until 1951 he was a legal assistant in the Office of the Treasury Solicitor, London. In 1951 Brett was appointed senior lecturer in law at the University of Western Australia (LL.M., 1954). Appointed senior lecturer at the University of Melbourne in 1955, Brett became reader in 1961, the first Hearn professor of law in 1963 and professor of jurisprudence in 1964. He was Ezra Ripley Thayer teaching fellow (1958-59) at Harvard University (doctorate of juridical science, 1960) in the United States of America, and a visiting professor at the University of Texas (1959 and 1967), and at both the University of Colorado and York University, Toronto, Canada (1973). In his writing Brett re-examined the philosophical and psychological bases of the law—particularly the criminal law—in the light of modern learning, and undertook a searching reappraisal of the aims of the law and its relation to moral values. His major books were An Inquiry into Criminal Guilt (Sydney, 1963) and An Essay on Contemporary Jurisprudence (Sydney, 1975). A keen sense of injustice led him to challenge the outcomes of three murder trials: the Tait case (1962) in Victoria, the Beamish case (1966) in Western Australia and the Ratten case (1972-73) in Victoria. As president of the Federation of Australian Universities Staff Associations, Brett secured the settlement of its long-standing dispute with the University of Tasmania (which had followed the dismissal of Professor Sydney Sparkes Orr), and maintained a commitment to academic freedom and autonomy through his service on F.A.U.S.A.'s committees. He also chaired the academic sub-committee of the professorial board, University of Melbourne. Brett enjoyed music, literature and the theatre. In his later years he expressed no formal religious beliefs, but as a Freemason played a prominent part in the United Grand Lodge of Victoria. He died of a coronary occlusion on 9 May 1975 at his Ivanhoe home and was cremated with Masonic forms.
Activities/Occupation: Academics - Law
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