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.
Justice Edelman became a judge of the WA Supreme Court in 2011, before being appointed to the Federal Court in 2015.
“His distinguished record as a jurist, James Edelman, is widely acknowledged as well,” Attorney-General George Brandis added.
The appointment is another snub to the South Australian legal profession, which has never had a representative on the nation’s highest court.
“All the State Attorneys-General, as required by law, were consulted,” Senator Brandis said.
“All members of the High Court were consulted, the leaders of the other Australian Federal courts were consulted.
“The leaders of the Australian legal profession were consulted.
“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.”
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.”
South Australian Attorney-General John Rau said it was “particularly significant that Australia will have a woman as Chief Justice for the first time”.
“I continue to look forward to another first for the Court, namely the elevation of a South Australian judge,” he said.
This post originally appeared on ABC News.
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