CANBERRA- Susan Mary Kiefel has been announced as Australia’s first female chief justice for the High Court.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull dubbed the 62-year-old “an inspiration” in his announcement to reporters in Canberra on Tuesday. And he wasn’t wrong.

“She left school at 15. She began her working life as a legal secretary. She studied for her completion of high school qualifications part time,” the prime minister said.

The Turnbull government has appointed Susan Kiefel as chief justice – the first woman to lead the high court of Australia – replacing Robert French, who retires from the bench in January.

A second judge, James Edelman, has been appointed to the court to fill the vacancy created by Kiefel’s elevation, the Guardian reported.

Susan studied law part time through the barristers admission board. She was admitted to the bar in 1975. She went on after practicing at the bar to win a master of laws at the University of Cambridge. She took silk in 1987 – the first woman in Queensland to do so.


In 1993 she became the first woman to be appointed a judge of the supreme court of Queensland. She has been one of Australia’s most outstanding judicial officers.

Wide praise

The Law Council of Australia called it a “landmark moment” for the nation and its legal system.

“Prior to her her appointment, Justice Kiefel was already a trailblazer for women in the legal profession,” said Law Council president Stuart Clark. “She was the first female QC appointed in Queensland in 1987. She was appointed to the Queensland Supreme Court in 1993 and the Federal Court of Australia in 1994.”

She also served as Queensland Bar Association president and as a part-time Australian Law Reform commissioner, he said.

In a short statement on Tuesday, Justice Kiefel said the High Court was as relevant now as it was more than a century ago.

“The issues that come before the High Court affect many aspects of the life of the nation,” she said.

“It will be a privilege to walk in the footsteps of the eminent jurists who have been appointed chief justices since the court was established in 1903.”

At the High Court, Justice Kiefel has been involved in high-profile judgments including dismissing the Australian government’s Malaysia refugee solution, the overturning of a same-sex marriage law and the collapse of a company owned by billionaire former MP Clive Palmer.