Meet Australia’s new High Court judges

By Naomi Neilson|29 October 2020
Justice Simon Steward and Justice Jacqueline Gleeson

Justice Simon Steward and Justice Jacqueline Gleeson will take their new, pre-eminent positions on the High Court of Australia bench but who are they and how can the court benefit from their qualifications and experiences in the profession?

In a relatively quiet affair, the Australian High Court has appointed new Justice Steward and Justice Gleeson to its bench to replace retiring judges Geoffrey Nettle and Virginia Bell. With both new justices predicted to hold the positions for at least the next 16 years, they have plenty of time to make their mark on the rule of law. 

The new appointees – praised as “outstanding judges” by the federal Attorney-General, Christian Porter – have been largely welcomed by the legal profession and celebrated for the breadth of the experiences that they will each bring with them to the bench. The court may now be missing a criminal lawyer’s expertise, but it’s still gaining new skills. 

NSW Bar Association’s president Tim Game SC said both new justices would make a “significant contribution” to the administration of justice and to the bench itself. 

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“Both judges are fine judicial officers. They have served with a diligence, demonstrated excellence and with sound judgement throughout the course of their appointments to the Federal Court of Australia,” Mr Game praised, adding that the association will look forward to their contributions in serving the Australian community. 

If there’s anything that has come out of the media coverage and the social media storm since the announcement it is that Justice Gleeson will be “following her father”, a former justice, into Australia’s highest court. While the lineage may have opened some doors, and perhaps closed others, the new Justice Gleeson far surpasses the expectations. 

Justice Gleeson joined the Sydney registry of the Federal Court in April 2014 and Chief Justice James Allsop tasked her with the commercial and corporations list. She boasts of being the first judicial appointment of the Abbott government and while there was a bit of a quip of her “burden of expectation”, she far and away proved her worth. 

After graduating from Sydney University, Justice Gleeson was a judge’s associate and a solicitor until joining the NSW Bar in 1991. She would go on to represent some of Australia’s most high-profile cases, including in the cash-for-comment inquiry.

In an impressive mid-career change, Justice Gleeson also worked as general counsel at the Australian Broadcasting Authority and then also as the senior executive lawyer for the Australian Government Solicitor. She would return to the Bar in 2005 and would wait just a few years to become senior counsel and then achieve a bench position. 

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Justice Steward, on the other hand, had a relatively low profile before this appointment (and the appointment speculation) and has primarily focused on tax law. He currently works at Melbourne’s Federal Court bench, 21 years after being called to the Victorian Bar and 11 years after being called up as a silk. 

Between 1991 and 1999, Justice Steward was working at Mallesons Stephen Jaques (now known as King Wood & Mallesons) where he specialised in its tax group. In 1999, he began his practice with the Victorian Bar exclusively in revenue law. 

The “black-letter lawyer” commenced in the role of senior fellow in the Faculty of Law at the University of Melbourne. He was then appointed as a judge of the Federal Court in 2017 and commenced his career on the bench in 2018. Justice Steward also spent two years as president of the Tax Bar Association of the Victorian Bar. 

Law Society of NSW president Richard Harvey described the new appointments as a “tremendous accomplishment” for both Justice Gleeson and Justice Steward. 

“I have no doubt that both His Honour Justice Steward and Her Honour Justice Gleeson will discharge their duties on the High Court with the great integrity, wisdom, diligence and dedication to the rule of law for which they are both renowned and respected,” Mr Harvey said. 

“I wish them well in their new role serving the Australian community.”

Meet Australia’s new High Court judges
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