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'Prodigious' restitution expert joins HCA bench

Former Oxford University professor of law James Edelman has been sworn in as a judge of the High Court of Australia.

user iconMelissa Coade 02 February 2017 The Bar
'Prodigious' restitution expert joins HCA bench
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Justice James Edelman (pictured) was sworn in as a judge of the High Court of Australia on Monday 30 January.

At 43, he is the youngest appointment to the bench since 1930 and the fourth-youngest judge ever to be appointed to the HCA bench. Justice Edelman was also the youngest person to hold a professorship at the Oxford law school, at the age of 34.

Delivering an address at a special sitting of the HCA to welcome Justice Edelman, Attorney-General George Brandis QC noted that the new judge’s relative youth gave him the rare opportunity to shape jurisprudence for decades to come.


“I have no doubt that, with your immense intellectual gifts and your fine human qualities, your honour will seize that opportunity and accomplish it with distinction,” Senator Brandis said.

In 2011 Justice Edelman was the youngest judge to be appointed to the Supreme Court of Western Australia, where he held judicial office until his appointment to the Brisbane registry of the Federal Court in 2015.

He presided over a number of notable cases and produced many examples of what the A-G described as comprehensive judgments on complex areas of law. According to Senator Brandis, as a Federal Court judge, Justice Edelman quickly earned renown within the Queensland fraternity as a popular judicial officer.

“I know from my friends and colleagues at the Brisbane bar that you have been a hugely popular judge, and that solicitors and counsel almost elbow each other out of the way to get their matters onto your list,” the A-G said.

Before his appointment to the Australian judiciary, Justice Edelman forged a reputation at the London Bar and was one of Oxford University’s most prodigious legal scholars. He was a pupil to Lord Wolfson at the London commercial chambers of One Essex Court in 2008.

“Recognised as a force of nature, your deep legal insight meant that despite being a pupil, you were often sought after for advice from even the most senior members of chambers,” the A-G said.

“It is not unknown for Australian barristers to establish successful practices at the London Bar. It is almost to be expected that a professor of law at Oxford would have an international reputation. What is, I think, without precedent for an Australian is for one person to do both – and to do so before they had reached the ripe age of 35,” he said.

Justice Edelman is a former associate to the late High Court justice John Toohey AC QC and practised as a barrister in Western Australia from 2001 to 2011. The Rhodes Scholar, originally from Perth, received his PhD in law from Oxford University in 2001 for a thesis on gain-based damages. Two years later his thesis was published and won the Society of Legal Scholars' prize for the most outstanding new work of legal scholarship that year.

The Attorney-General remarked at the special ceremonial sitting in Justice Edelman’s honour that throughout his career he had been “not just a warrior, but one of the generals” of the “restitution wars”.

As a fellow of Keble College at Oxford University, he lectured in restitution, commercial remedies, contract and Roman law. Justice Edelman is also the author of six legal textbooks, with a chief focus on restitution.

According to an anecdote shared by Justice Edelman’s wife, fellow academic Sarah Percy, while on his honeymoon the new High Court judge was caught purchasing a legal textbook. Apparently the text was Restitution at the Crossroads: A Comparative Study.

“A common thread to your achievements is a love of the law and commitment to public service,” the A-G said.


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