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High Court remains a male majority

High Court remains a male majority

The appointment of Stephen Gageler SC as Australia’s next High Court judge retains the male majority on the bench.

Attorney-General Nicola Roxon announced today (21 August) that Gageler, the Commonwealth solicitor general, will replace William Gummow on the bench in October when he reaches the compulsory retirement age of 70.

Gageler, 54, has been the solicitor general since September 2008. Prior to that, he was a barrister with Eleven Wentworth Chambers in Sydney for 16 years.  He was appointed a senior counsel in 2000.

Gummow will step down from the bench after more than 17 years of service on the High Court. The former Allens partner was appointed to the High Court by the Keating government in 1995, succeeding Sir Gerard Brennan.

Gageler’s appointment reverses a recent trend at the High Court, with three of the past four appointments being women.

If the Federal Government had appointed a female High Court justice to replace Gummow, it would have been the first time the majority of the High Court’s seven judges were female.

In announcing the appointment, Federal Attorney-General Nicola Roxon said she consulted “extensively” before making this decision.

She cited all the state and territory Attorneys-General, the Federal Opposition, the Chief Justice and other justices of the High Court, the Chief Justice of the Federal Court, the Chief Justice of the Family Court, the Chief Federal Magistrate, the Chief Justices of the state and territory Supreme Courts, the Council of Australasian Tribunals, the Law Council of Australia, the Australian Bar Association, state and territory Bar associations and law societies, Australian Women Lawyers, the National Association of Community Legal Centres, National Legal Aid, and deans of law schools as bodies that were part of the consultation process.

As the Commonwealth solicitor-general under the Rudd and Gillard governments, Gageler has provided legal advice to the Government with regard to many contentious pieces of legislation, including the proposed asylum seeker deal with Malaysia that was struck down by the High Court.

More recently, he has had victories in the High Court's decision to uphold the Government's plain packaging legislation on the sale of tobacco products and in May he was involved in the successful High Court appeal by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission over a decision in late 2010 by the NSW Court of Appeal that overturned a previous judgment banning seven former non-executive directors of James Hardie from sitting on boards for five years.

Gageler’s appointment to the nation’s top court is the first appointment made by the Gillard government.

The last High Court appointee was Justice Virginia Bell, who was appointed by the Rudd government in February 2009. She replaced Michael Kirby.


See for further updates on this story, including the reaction of legal bodies to Gageler’s appointment

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