Australia's High Court announces Queenslander Susan Kiefel as first female chief justice

By @mik_mapa on
high court
A sign stands outside the High Court of Australia in Canberra, Australia, October 15, 2014. Reuters/David Gray

Queenslander Susan Kiefel was named Australia's first female High Court chief justice on Tuesday. She will replace Chief Justice Robert French, who will retire early next year. Brisbane-based Federal Court Justice James Edelman will replace Kiefel as puisne judge. According to Attorney-General George Brandis, the judges will take their oath on Jan. 30.

"It will be a privilege to walk in the footsteps of the eminent jurists who have been appointed Chief Justices since the Court was established in 1903," Kiefel said in a statement.

Brandis said that state attorneys-general and other leaders of the profession were consulted to find the right candidate. He also said that the Queenslander justice had emerged as the overwhelmingly favourite candidate.

"Susan Kiefel's story is one that is an inspiration," Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said in a statement.

The Queenslander began working as a legal secretary after leaving school at 15. Then she studied law part-time through the barristers admission board. "She went on after practising at the bar to win a Master of Laws at the University of Cambridge," Turnbull said.

"She has been one of Australia's most outstanding judicial officers. Her appointment grounds her great career with even greater judicial service yet to come in this most important role."

Turnbull also highlighted the works of Edelman and described him as a different generation to most of the other judges of the High Court.

"He became a judge in Western Australia in 2011 when he sat on the Supreme Court ... and since 2015 he has been a judge of the Federal Court of Australia," Turnbull said.

At age 34, Edelman was already a professor of law at Oxford.

The name of the candidate that will fill the vacancy created by Justice Kiefel has not yet revealed. However, there are some speculations that there are three possible contenders including South Australian chief justice Chris Kourakis, Federal Court judge Anthony Besanko and Sydney-based chief justice of the Federal Court and former president of the NSW Court of Appeal James Allsop.

Justices Virginia Bell, Stephen Gageler and Patrick Keane are the senior judges on the High Court bench. Bell and Gageler were appointed during the Rudd government and Keane was appointed during the Gillard government. Kiefel is also a senoir judge who was appointed during the Howard government. The High Court now consists of three women on the seven-judge bench including Justice Michelle Gordon.