Lawyers laud ‘historic’ appointment of Jayne Jagot to High Court
Legal advocates and member associations are celebrating the appointment of Justice Jayne Jagot to the High Court of Australia, particularly given that, for the first time, the nation’s foremost bench will be majority female.
A historic appointment
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Yesterday (Thursday, 29 September), Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus KC announced that Jagot J — formerly of the Federal Court of Australia — has been elevated to the High Court. Her honour will commence in the role on 17 October, following the retirement of Justice Patrick Keane.
In a statement, A-G Dreyfus said that Jagot J is “regarded as outstanding lawyer and an eminent judge”.
“The government congratulates Justice Jagot on her well-deserved appointment. It is a role that she will fill with distinction,” he said.
“We also take this opportunity to again thank Justice Keane for his nine years of distinguished service on the High Court and wish him well in his retirement.”
Lawyers across the country welcomed the decision — not least of all, because Justice Jagot now becomes the 56th justice of the High Court and the seventh woman appointed to the court. Her honour’s accession to the bench also means, significantly, that the High Court boasts more female than male judges in its ranks.
An ‘impeccable jurist’
Law Council of Australia president Tass Liveris said that Jagot J has “demonstrated her commitment to the rule of law and access to justice in this country”.
“She will continue to be a dedicated and respected jurist as she takes up this new role in our nation’s highest court,” he proclaimed.
Australian Bar Association Dr Matt Collins KC supported this, noting that her honour will serve “with integrity and distinction”.
“On behalf of the legal profession, I also thank Justice Keane for his outstanding service, and the contribution he has made to Australian jurisprudence as a judge of the High Court since March 2013 and in his former roles, and wish his honour all the best for his forthcoming retirement.
“Australia is fortunate to have persons of their honours’ calibre who are prepared to serve the community as judicial officers,” Dr Collins noted.
NSW Bar president Gabrielle Bashir SC said: “Throughout her various judicial appointments, Justice Jagot has demonstrated herself to be an impeccable jurist, and a model of clarity, efficiency, diligence, and good humour.
“The bar has no doubt that she will make a substantial contribution to the jurisprudence of Australian law and the common law more generally.”
Justice Jagot’s appointment, Dr Collins went on, followed a comprehensive period of consultation by the Attorney-General, that included seeking the views of the ABA on suitable candidates.
“The Attorney-General is to be thanked for the consultative way in which this important decision was approached,” he said.
This sentiment was echoed by Australian Women Lawyers president Leah Marrone, who said that the premier member group for female legal professionals “warmly welcomes the appointment, and we are grateful for the extensive consultation process by the Attorney-General, which included our organisation”.
A passionate mental health advocate
Jagot J is also a board director of the Minds Count Foundation (the writer of this story is also on that board).
Speaking on behalf of the Minds Count Foundation Board, chair Melinda Upton offered “our warmest congratulations to our fellow board member, the Honourable Justice Jayne Jagot, on her appointment to the High Court of Australia”.
“Justice Jagot’s dedication to mental wellbeing in the profession is inspiring, and this significant appointment grounds her personal and professional achievements with even greater judicial service,” Ms Upton said.
A ‘proud moment’ – but more work to be done
“Her honour’s appointment is a fitting recognition of her extraordinary contributions to the law. We know she will serve the people of Australia with distinction,” Ms Marrone said.
“We recognise the historical significance of her honour’s appointment in that it represents the first time the High Court has had a majority-female bench.
“This is a proud moment for our organisation, and for Australia’s legal profession as a whole.”
Looking ahead, Mr Liveris added, promoting greater judicial diversity is an essential part of ensuring public and litigant confidence in the administration of justice and, particularly, in judges’ ability to make responsive and well-informed decisions.
Diversity in the judiciary, he argued, has a clear flow-on effect for a person’s experience in a courtroom and could be considered a necessary part of enjoying comprehensive access to justice.
“The Law Council recognises diversity as an essential feature in ensuring a responsive and well-informed judiciary. Over 50 per cent of our profession and population are female. Representation in our courts should reflect the community that they serve,” Mr Liveris submitted.
Ms Marrone made similar remarks, noting that AWL “strongly believes” that appointing women judges is an important part of ensuring that the judiciary is representative of the community both demographically and in terms of the life experience they bring to their work.
It is important, she outlined, “that the people making some of the most important decisions in the country are truly representative of the community those decisions are made for”.
“We hope that into the near future we will also see a greater representation on the bench from other underrepresented sectors of society, with greater diversity reflecting the wonderful diversity of our country,” she said.