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This guest post was written by Kim Rubenstein, Director, Centre for International and Public law, ANU

It is with great sadness that I write about the news of the death of our former academic colleague, Deborah Cass.

Many in the Australian academic world will know Deborah as a member of the ANU Law School from 1993-2000 and a highly regarded member of the Centre for International and Public Law under three different Directors: Professor Philip Alston (1990-1995) Professor Julian Disney (1996-1997) and Professor Hilary Charlesworth (1998-2004).

This was well before my own time at ANU, but Deborah and I were contemporaries as undergraduate law students at the University of Melbourne in the 1980s. While I did not know her well then, this was probably because she was busy with a range of extra curricular activities, including editing the student paper Farrago with James Button and Tania Patston.

Her concern for international justice and the rights of people who had suffered a great deal was already evident at that time, for while a student in 1987 she became a research assistant to the Commission of Inquiry into the Rehabilitation of Nauru, which won compensation from the Australian Government for damage done to Nauru by phosphate mining. Professor Anthony Anghie, now Samuel D. Thurman Professor of Law at the University of Utah, became involved in the Commission’s work soon after Deborah had finished (they came to know each other better when Deborah and he were both SJD students at Harvard) but he explains that “Deborah did the legal research that the Commission relied on by getting all the relevant documents together. She did extensive archival work in the UN in New York, Geneva for (League of Nations documents), and also archives in London (British Foreign and Commonwealth), New Zealand and Canberra (and perhaps other places too). She did an amazingly thorough and professional job-especially given the intricacies of the operations of the British Phosphate Commissioners, and the fact that all three governments did not relax the standard 30 year rule for the release of documents despite the fact that all the sought documents related to the administration of an international trust.”

Anghie continues, “The quality of her work is indicated by the fact that it provided the materials and the essential framework of the case of Nauru v Australia before the International Court of Justice”.

I came to know Deborah better while she was at ANU and I was teaching at the University of Melbourne when we became co-authors of the article 'Representation/s of Women in the Australian Constitutional System' (1995) 17 Adelaide Law Review 3-48. http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/journals/AdelLawRw/1995/2.html

This piece is of most interest to those reading this blog of Helen Irving’s as it was one of the first pieces written by legal academics about women and the Australian constitutional law system.

In 1992, before moving up to ANU from the University of Melbourne where she had also been a member of the law faculty, Deborah met a new academic, Gerry Simpson, and by the end of 1993 they were engaged and soon married.

Deborah had an outstanding career. During her time at ANU she won various scholarships enabling her to undertake the LLM and later doctorate at Harvard Law School. And by 2000 both she and Gerry were appointed as academics in the London School of Economics where they went with their then two young children, Hannah and Rosa.

During her time in Harvard Deborah began working on a new area of International Economic law and in 2005 her book The Constitutionalization of the World Trade Organization: Legitimacy, Democracy, and Community in the International Trading System (Oxford) was published to great acclaim. The following year, she was informed that she had won a prize for it from the American Society for International Law, to be presented by Condoleezza Rice. It was at this time that the terrible news arrived that the cancer that had been first detected in 2003 had returned, and she was unable to go. Instead it was more operations, chemotherapy and radio-therapy, and a decision to return with the family to Melbourne.

Since that time Deborah devoted herself to maintaining her health and enabling her daughters Hannah and Rosa, now 17 and 15 to know the wonderful and strong person she was. She will live on in the hearts of those who were close to her, and her scholarship continues to be cited to this very day.

In the Jewish tradition, we wish “a long life” to Deborah’s family: Gerry Simpson, their daughters Hannah and Rosa and her parents Moss and Shirley, and her brother Daniel and sister Naomi and their families.

An obituary written by James Button also appears in the Age – see

Kim Rubenstein
July 2013