By political reporter Matthew Doran
From leaving school at age 15 to the High Court Chief Justice, Susan Kiefel will become the first female appointed to the highest judicial office in the land.
Justice Kiefel will replace 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 making the announcement, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Justice Kiefel’s legal career should serve as an “inspiration” to aspiring lawyers across the country.
“Study well, get admitted, become the Chief Justice of Australia,” Mr Turnbull said.
Justice Kiefel 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.
She completed her high school studies part-time while working as a legal secretary, 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.
“She has been one of Australia’s most outstanding judicial officers,” Mr Turnbull said.
“Her appointment grounds a great career with even greater judicial service yet to come in this very important role.”
Justice Kiefel will be sworn in as Chief Justice at the end of January.
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.
“I will continue to serve this very important institution to the best of my ability and I would like to offer Justice Edelman my congratulations on his appointment.”
Government hopes for a long period of stability
Her elevation creates another vacancy on the High Court bench, which will be filled by West Australian Justice James Edelman.
Justice Edelman is one of the youngest ever appointments to the court, aged only 42, which hints the Government hopes for a period of stability on the bench.
The Prime Minister was quick to sing his praises as “one of the most outstanding legal minds of his generation”.
“He was a professor of law at Oxford at the age of 34 — quite precocious,” Mr Turnbull quipped.