High Five For Our Chief Justice

December 1, 2016

On hearing that the first woman in history to be appointed Chief Justice of the High Court is from Queensland, the She Brisbane office erupted in cheers and a lot of high-fiving.

A former Queensland high school girl’s appointment to the highest judicial office in the land, should serve as an “inspiration” to aspiring lawyers across the country, according to the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Mr Turnbull’s comments came as he was announcing the appointment of Susan Kiefel as Chief Justice of the High Court.

He said Justice Kiefel had been one of Australia’s most outstanding judicial officers.

“Her appointment grounds a great career with even greater judicial service yet to come in this very important role,” he said.

Born in Cairns in 1954, Justice Kiefel left Sandgate District High School at the age of 15 after Year 10, completing her high school studies part-time while working as a legal secretary.

She studied law part-time before being admitted to the Queensland Bar in 1975, and later became the first woman in Queensland to be appointed Queen’s Counsel in 1987.

Justice Kiefel, who was appointed to the High Court in September 2007, having already served as a judge in the Federal Court and the Supreme Court of Queensland, will take up her new post at the end of January.

She will become the first female appointed to the highest judicial office in the land when she replaces the outgoing Chief Justice Robert French, who ends his term on the High Court bench because he has reached the mandatory retirement age of 70.

In a statement, Justice Kiefel said the issues the High Court dealt with affected “many aspects of the life of the nation”.

“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,” Justice Kiefel said.

She said “of course” it was a special honour being the first women to be appointed.

“I’m honoured by the appointment and very conscious of the responsibilities that go with the office of Chief Justice,” Justice Kiefel told reporters.

“The work of the High Court affects the nation and it affects people in their daily lives.”

Her elevation creates another vacancy on the High Court bench, which will be filled by West Australian Justice James Edelman.

The Federal Government appointment followed extensive consultation with the State Attorneys-General, members of the High Court and the legal profession.

“Justice Kiefel emerged from that process of consultation as the overwhelmingly favourite candidate — as almost the consensus choice of the judiciary and of the profession, so in that sense this appointment, significant though it is, will come as little surprise,” said Federal Attorney-General George Brandis

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk congratulated Justice Kiefel on her appointment.

“Another Queensland woman has been appointed to high office,” Ms Palaszczuk said.

“Dame Quentin Bryce was our nation’s first female governor-general.”

What has made this appointment even more inspiring is that it shows that you can find your passion and purpose at any stage of your life – and in Susan Kiefel’s case finishing school early was the step that led to her to this success.

Photo Credit: Ray Strange

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