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High Court gets first female chief justice


Malcolm Turnbull wasn’t wrong when he described the Susan Kiefel story as one of inspiration. The next chief justice of the High Court left school at 15, worked as a legal secretary, studied at night to first complete her high school qualifications and then law through the Barristers Admission Board.

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Now, at 62, she’s the most senior judge in the land and the first woman to lead the nation’s highest court.

The prime minister said Kiefel’s appointment – effective from January 30 – showed that even paralegals and legal secretaries could make it to the top of the profession.

“They can follow in Susan Kiefel’s footsteps, study well, get admitted, become the chief justice of Australia,” Turnbull said in announcing the appointment in Canberra today.

The Kiefel career is marked by groundbreaking achievements: the first woman in Queensland appointed a Queen’s Counsel; ditto to the state’s Supreme Court; the third woman appointed to the High Court.

Highly regarded by the judiciary and the legal profession, Kiefel was the overwhelming favoured candidate to succeed Robert French.

“This appointment will come as little surprise,” Attorney-General George Brandis said.

Every step in her career was a step she took on merit and she would be a great leader of the court, he said.

For her part, Kiefel said she was deeply honoured by the appointment and vowed to work to uphold the importance of the court as an institution in our society and to maintain its independence.

“The High Court remains as relevant today to Australians as it did at Federation,” she said in statement.

The issues that came before the court 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.”


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