Meet Australia's first female Chief Justice of the High Court - Women's Agenda

Meet Australia’s first female Chief Justice of the High Court

Susan Keifel
Justice Susan Kiefel

Justice Susan Kiefel is to be the next Chief Justice of the High Court, the first woman to occupy the position in Australia.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull described the appointment as crowning a “great career”.

“She has been one of Australia’s most outstanding judicial officers,” Prime Minister Turnbull said. “Her appointment grounds her great career with even greater judicial service yet to come in this most important role,” 

Kiefel, who became a High Court judge in 2007, left school at age 15 and worked as a legal secretary in Brisbane before finishing school and studying law at night.

She was admitted to the bar as a lawyer in 1975, after graduating with honours. In 1984 she completed a Master of Laws at the University of Cambridge. She was the first female appointed Queens Counsel in Queensland in 1987 and has since served as a judge in the Federal and Supreme Courts.  

Prime Minister Turnbull described Kiefel’s career path as “inspiring”. He said her appointment reminds him of some advice the late journalist Alan Reid shared with him: “I’m always very polite to cadet reporters in the lift. Over the years I’ve found they tend to become my editors.” He encouraged lawyers everywhere to consider that the junior staff in their offices – including para legals and secretaries – “may now follow in Susan Kiefel’s footsteps, study law, get admitted and become Chief Justice”.

Justice Keifel will commence in the position at the end of January next year when Justice Robert French steps down. James Edelman has been appointed to the High Court to fill the vacancy created by Justice Kiefel’s promotion.   

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