- Deputy President, New South Wales Mental Health Review Tribunal.
- President, International Commission of Jurists Australia.
- Goodwill Ambassador, Cerebral Palsy Alliance
- President, Community Justice Coalition.
- Leader of the State Opposition, New South Wales.
- Attorney-General of New South Wales.
- Justice of the Supreme Court of New South Wales.
- Former Chancellor, Southern Cross University.
- Former President, ActionAid Australia, formerly Austcare.
- Former Vice-President, International Commission of Jurists, Geneva.
- Member of the Executive of the Board of Opera Australia.
Graduating in Law from Sydney University, John Dowd was admitted as a solicitor, then became a partner of a Sydney city firm before being called to the Bar in 1967, practising then in New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory and Papua New Guinea. In 1991 he became a member of the Kings Inns in Dublin and was admitted to the Bar of Ireland. He was appointed Queens Counsel in NSW in 1990 and the ACT in 1992.
In 1975 John Dowd was elected member for Lane Cove in the NSW Parliament, and elected Leader of the Opposition 1981 to 1983. With the Liberal National Party forming government in 1988, he was appointed Attorney-General and Leader of the House, until his parliamentary retirement in June 1991.
As Attorney-General he instituted reforms of the Supreme, District and Local courts, enhancing the courts’ efficiency and carried out extensive reforms of criminal, tort and motor accident law. He was one of those instrumental in the establishment of Australia’s first Independent Commission Against Corruption in 1988, as well as creating the Office of State Coroner.
John Dowd was appointed to the Common Law Division of the Supreme Court of NSW in 1994, retiring in 2004. His judicial service included sitting on the Court of Criminal Appeal.
In 1973 John Dowd joined the International Commission of Jurists Australia (ICJA) subsequently being elected President. In 1999 he was appointed an International Commissioner of the ICJ, and elected Chairperson of the ICJ Executive Committee in Geneva, 2002–2009. He was elected Vice-President of the international ICJ in 2008. He has carried out missions including to the Philippines in 1977, to Hong Kong in 1991, East Timor in 2000, Nepal in 2003 and several times to Indonesia.
In 1996 John Dowd led the Australian Government delegation to Palestine to monitor the Palestinian Legislative Council Elections, and assisted in establishing the procedures for the Palestinian Legislative Council.
Between 1992–1994 John Dowd was Consul-General for the Cook Islands to Australia.
In 1992 John Dowd was elected as a Director of the Spastic Centre later Deputy President, retiring from that office in 1999. He was then appointed inaugural Goodwill Ambassador for the Spastic Centre, now the Cerebral Palsy Alliance.
John Dowd was for its lifetime a Director of the since replaced Alola Foundation, an organisation working to address the needs of East Timorese women in areas of advocacy, economic empowerment, education and literacy, maternal and child health and humanitarian assistance.
In 2002 John Dowd was elected Chancellor of Southern Cross University, a regional University in New South Wales with campuses at Lismore, Coffs Harbour, the Gold Coast, Sydney and Melbourne, retiring in September 2014. More than one third of the University’s students learn through distance education. In 2014 John Dowd had conferred on him an honorary Doctorate of Laws by Southern Cross University.
In 2005 John Dowd was appointed Protection Ambassador for Austcare, subsequently a Director, Vice-President in 2008, then President of its successor organisation ActionAid Australia from July 2009 until his retirement in 2017.
In 2007, he was appointed a Deputy President of the Mental Health Review Tribunal.
In 2009 he was elected Vice-President of the Community Justice Coalition. In 2014 he became President. In 2011 he accepted the role of Patron of the Justice Campaign.