New chief justice of Australia appointed

Stephen Gageler AC, a current justice of the High Court of Australia, appointed Australia’s new chief justice

Stephen Gageler AC Image courtesy of The Australian

Justice Stephen Gageler AC has been appointed as the 14th chief justice of the High Court of Australia. He will take up his appointment in November.

In a joint statement, Attorney General Mark Dreyfus SC and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced the decision on Monday, praising Gageler’s vast experience and impressive record in the legal field.

Gageler is widely regarded as one of the nation’s most respected legal minds, having served as a judge of the High Court since 2012. He is currently the most senior puisne justice of the High Court, having been directly appointed to the bench.

Prior to his appointment to the court, Gageler served as the Commonwealth solicitor-general, Australia’s federal chief legal advisor, second only to the attorney general, which is a political appointment to the federal Cabinet with a seat in Parliament.

Gageler, only the second solicitor-general appointed to the High Court, was appointed as senior counsel in 2000, having been called to the Bar in New South Wales (NSW) in 1989.

Gageler will succeed outgoing chief justice Susan Kiefel, who is retiring later this year. Kiefel, a Queenslander, was the first woman to hold that role. Albanese praised Kiefel for her “exceptional service” as chief justice since 2017, and service to the High Court since 2007, as well as her work on the Federal Court of Australia, Supreme Court of Queensland and other tribunals.

Hugh McDermott MP, the parliamentary secretary to the attorney general of NSW, said Kiefel had “led the way for women in the law, beginning as the first woman in Queensland to be appointed to the Queen’s Counsel”.

Meantime Dreyfus described Gageler as an “outstanding jurist” who is “highly respected for his leadership abilities and deep knowledge and understanding of constitutional law”, while Albanese said he had served the High Court “with distinction” since appointment.

Others in the legal community praised Gageler’s appointment, citing his extensive experience and commitment to upholding the rule of law, with Law Council of Australia president, Luke Murphy, saying Gageler had “served our community with distinction as a justice since 2012”. 

Murphy also praised Gageler’s replacement on the High Court, Justice Robert Beech-Jones. Tasmanian-born Beech-Jones joins Australia’s apex court from the Supreme Court of NSW, where he has been a judge since 2012.

In 2021 he was appointed chief judge of the Common Law Division of the Supreme Court of NSW and a judge of appeal. He was admitted as a barrister in that state in 1992 and was appointed senior counsel in 2006. The appointments mean the High Court will revert to a male majority, having become a majority-female bench with the appointment of Justice Jayne Jagot earlier this year. The court will now have four men and three women serving on it.

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