Woman judge to join top courtSydney Morning Herald14 August, 2007By Jonathan Pearlman
TWO women will sit on the country's top bench for the first time after the Attorney-General, Philip Ruddock, appointed a Queensland judge, Susan Kiefel, to the High Court.
Justice Kiefel, 53, who left school at 15 and worked as a law firm receptionist before becoming the state's first female QC, will replace a fellow Queenslander, Ian Callinan, who must retire when he turns 70 on September 1.
Mr Ruddock, who has appointed two female judges to the court since becoming Attorney-General, said last night gender was not a factor in either selection.
"Any suggestion that this appointment was to secure two female appointments would be quite wrong," he said.
"She will make an outstanding judge. It is a factual matter that there are now five male judges and two female judges. They were both people who were appointed on the basis of their merits - and they are worthy of the appointments."
Justice Kiefel, who has long been touted as a contender for the seven-member court, will be the Howard Government's sixth appointment and only the third woman to sit on the court. She will join Susan Crennan, who was appointed in 2005. The first woman High Court judge, Mary Gaudron, sat from 1987 to 2003.
Mr Ruddock said his decision was based on consultations with state attorneys-general, High Court judges, senior lawyers and fellow MPs. He said he had recommended Justice Kiefel to the cabinet, but had suggested other possibilities.
"She received strong support from those who I consulted, she is well qualified, and I look forward to her further contribution to the law," he said.
Justice Kiefel, from Cairns, is only the second judge to have studied law at a state barrister's admissions board rather than at a university. Though she is regarded as a black-letter lawyer, she has publicly criticised the Queensland bar for favouring men over women.
She was appointed a Supreme Court judge in Queensland in 1993 by the state Labor government, but is also believed to be close to senior Liberals, including the federal minister George Brandis, who was at Mr Ruddock's press conference yesterday.
The appointment was warmly received by the legal profession.
The president of the Australian Bar Association, Stephen Escourt, said Justice Keifel would add balance to the court.
"To have two women judges is most welcome," he said. "The court is becoming incrementally more representative of the Australian community. She is universally respected and has a first-class judicial mind."
An expert in constitutional law, George Williams, from the University of NSW, said the appointment of a second woman was welcome but overdue.
"She is regarded as an excellent black-letter lawyer and one of the leading lawyers in Queensland," Professor Williams said. "She made her name at the bar at a time when it was very difficult for a woman."
Several senior lawyers - including a former chief justice of the court, Gerard Brennan - have called for an independent body to take a role in selecting High Court judges. At present they are chosen by the cabinet, usually on the advice of the attorney-general, who consults leading lawyers.
Mr Ruddock yesterday repeated his staunch opposition to changing the selection process.
Justice Kiefel will take up her appointment on September 3.
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