Susan Kiefel

Susan Mary Kiefel AC (/ˈkfəl/;[1][2] born 17 January 1954) is the chief justice of Australia, in office since 30 January 2017. She has served on the High Court since 2007, having previously been a judge of the Supreme Court of Queensland and the Federal Court. Kiefel is the first woman to serve as Chief Justice.

Susan Kiefel
Kiefel in 2011
13th Chief Justice of Australia
Assumed office
30 January 2017
Nominated byMalcolm Turnbull
Appointed bySir Peter Cosgrove
Preceded byRobert French
Justice of the High Court of Australia
Assumed office
4 September 2007
Nominated byJohn Howard
Appointed byMichael Jeffery
Preceded byIan Callinan
Succeeded byJames Edelman
Judge of the Federal Court of Australia
In office
17 October 1994  4 September 2007
Nominated byPaul Keating
Appointed byBill Hayden
Judge of the Supreme Court of Queensland
In office
16 June 1993  16 October 1994
Nominated byWayne Goss
Appointed byLeneen Forde
Personal details
Born (1954-01-17) 17 January 1954
Cairns, Queensland, Australia
SpouseMichael Albrecht
Alma materLegal Profession Admission Board
Wolfson College, Cambridge

Early life and education

Kiefel was born in Cairns, Queensland, in 1954. She attended Sandgate District State High School, leaving at the age of 15 upon completing year 10. In 1971, she completed secretarial training at Kangaroo Point Technical College on a scholarship. She worked as a secretary for a building society, an architect, and an exploration company before starting work as a receptionist for a group of barristers. During this time, she completed secondary school and began studying law.[3]

In 1973, Kiefel joined a firm of solicitors as a legal clerk. Completing her education at night, she enrolled in the Barristers Admission Board course and passed her course with honours.[4] In 1984, while on sabbatical leave, she completed a Master of Laws (LLM) at the University of Cambridge, where she was awarded the C.J. Hamson Prize in Comparative Law and the Jennings Prize. In 2008, she was elected to an honorary fellowship of Wolfson College, Cambridge. She is a life fellow of the Australian Academy of Law.[5]


Kiefel was admitted to the bar in 1975. She became an honorary secretary of the Queensland Bar Association in 1978 and served on its committee in 1993. She was appointed as the first female Queen's Counsel in Queensland in 1987 and was appointed to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission in 1989. In May 1993, Kiefel was appointed to the Supreme Court of Queensland.[6] The following year she was appointed by the Keating Government to the Supreme Court of Norfolk Island and was one of the first women to be appointed to the Federal Court of Australia on 17 October 1994, after Justice Deirdre O'Connor.[7]

In October 2001, Kiefel was appointed Deputy President of the Australian Federal Police Disciplinary Tribunal and became its president in April 2004. In 2003, Kiefel was appointed as a part-time commissioner of the Australian Law Reform Commission, and was re-appointed for a further three years in 2006.[4]

In August 2009, Justice Kiefel was granted an honorary doctorate from Griffith University. Justice Kiefel was chosen to recognise her distinguished contributions to the legal profession and for leading the way for women in the industry.[8] On 13 June 2011, she was named a companion of the Order of Australia for eminent service to the law and to the judiciary, to law reform and to legal education in the areas of ethics, justice and governance.[9][10]

Appointment to the High Court

On 13 August 2007, Attorney-General Philip Ruddock announced Kiefel as the nominee to the High Court of Australia to replace the retiring High Court Justice Ian Callinan. Kiefel had previously been considered a favourite nominee to replace former High Court Justice Mary Gaudron when she retired in 2003,[11] and again in 2005 as replacement for Justice Michael McHugh.[12] Kiefel is the third female High Court Justice and the forty-sixth overall. Her appointment alongside incumbent Justice Susan Crennan marked the first time two women sat concurrently on the High Court bench.[13]

Kiefel's nomination was met with support from the Australian Bar Association amid criticism of the lack of consultation by the Australian government.[14] She was considered a conservative "black-letter" judge.[12] She may remain on the High Court until 2024, when she will reach the constitutionally mandatory retirement age of 70.[15]

Chief Justice of Australia

On 29 November 2016, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Attorney-General George Brandis announced Kiefel's appointment as Chief Justice of Australia.[16] The appointment took effect from 30 January 2017, following the retirement of Robert French. Kiefel is the first woman to be appointed as Chief Justice.[17][18] Her seat on the court was filled by James Edelman.[16]

Giving the inaugural Lord Atkin Lecture in November 2017, Kiefel expressed her disapproval of the prevalence of judicial dissent, which she believes should be reserved for only the most important cases. She said law students should devote more attention to "mundane majority opinion", and described judges who frequently dissent as "somewhat self-indulgent". She further observed that "humorous dissent may provide the author with fleeting popularity, but it may harm the image the public has of the court and its judges".[19] An article in May 2018 noted that Kiefel had dissented in only two out of 164 cases before the High Court since 2014, classing her as one of the court's "great assenters" along with Patrick Keane and Virginia Bell.[20] She was one of three dissenters in Love v Commonwealth (2020), which found that Aboriginal Australians are not subject to the aliens power in section 51(xix) of the constitution. She stated that the majority had confused property rights with citizenship rights, and said that "race is irrelevant to the questions of citizenship and membership of the Australian body politic".[21]

In June 2020, Kiefel announced that the High Court had in 2019 commissioned an independent investigation into sexual misconduct allegations against her former colleague Dyson Heydon. The inquiry, led by Vivienne Thom, concluded that Heydon had sexually harassed six female associates. In a statement, Kiefel said that she had apologised to the women on behalf of the court and that it had adopted recommendations from the inquiry.[22]

Personal life

While at Wolfson College, Kiefel met her future husband, Michael Albrecht, a social anthropologist, when she became a member of the college rowing crew and Albrecht was her coach.[23]

See also

  • List of first women lawyers and judges by nationality


  1. Justice Susan Kiefel. SBS World News. 12 June 2011. Retrieved 30 November 2015.
  2. Michael Sexton SC, Solicitor-General for the State of New South Wales (10 June 2015). Hearing of McCloy & Ors v. State of New South Wales & Anor. High Court of Australia. Event occurs at 2:25:00. Retrieved 30 November 2015. See [2015] HCATrans 141 at 1730.
  3. Marriner, Cosima (18 August 2007). "Straight-shooter jumps the bar". The Sydney Morning Herald. Archived from the original on 8 November 2012. Retrieved 18 August 2007.
  4. Pelly, Michael (14 August 2007). "Third time's a charm". The Australian. Archived from the original on 9 March 2017. Retrieved 25 July 2020.
  5. "Susan Kiefel – Member public profile". Australian Academy of Law. Archived from the original on 26 October 2020. Retrieved 31 July 2020.
  6. "Biographies: Susan Kiefel". Women in the Law in Queensland. Supreme Court of Queensland. Archived from the original on 19 September 2006. Retrieved 13 August 2007.
  7. "List by appointment date of current judges". The Court. Federal Court of Australia. Archived from the original on 26 March 2012. Retrieved 13 August 2007.
  8. Phipps, Julia (6 August 2009). "Justice Kiefel awarded honorary doctorate". Griffith News. Archived from the original on 12 November 2009. Retrieved 9 August 2009.
  9. "Susan Kiefel AC". It's an Honour. Commonwealth of Australian. 13 June 2011. Archived from the original on 24 March 2012. Retrieved 13 June 2011.
  10. Leys, Nick (13 June 2011). "Justice Susan Kiefel awarded AC in Queen's Birthday Honours". Herald Sun. Retrieved 13 June 2011.
  11. Shaw, Meaghan (20 September 2005). "Second woman appointed to High Court". The Age. Australia. Archived from the original on 1 September 2007. Retrieved 13 August 2007.
  12. Pelly, Michael (19 August 2007). "McHugh's angels: 10 women fit for High Court, says top judge". The Sydney Morning Herald. Archived from the original on 12 September 2007. Retrieved 13 August 2007.
  13. Hudson, Phillip (13 August 2007). "Ruddock names new High Court judge". The Sydney Morning Herald. Archived from the original on 23 October 2012. Retrieved 13 August 2007.
  14. Karvelas, Patricia (14 August 2007). "Kiefel will make High Court history". The Australian. Retrieved 15 August 2007.
  15. Constitution (Cth) s 72.
  16. Chan, Gabrielle (29 November 2016). "Susan Kiefel becomes first woman appointed as high court chief justice". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 6 February 2017. Retrieved 6 February 2017.
  17. McLoughlin, Kcasey (29 November 2016). "Chief Justice Susan Kiefel and the politics of judicial diversity". AUSPUBLAW. Archived from the original on 29 November 2016. Retrieved 29 November 2016.
  18. Roberts, Heather (9 February 2017). "Ceremony matters: The lasting significance of the swearing-in ceremony of Chief Justice Susan Kiefel". AUSPUBLAW. Archived from the original on 12 February 2017. Retrieved 9 February 2017.
  19. Kiefel, Susan (28 November 2017). "Judicial Courage and the Decorum of Dissent" (PDF). High Court of Australia. Archived (PDF) from the original on 5 May 2018. Retrieved 5 May 2018.
  20. Jeremy Gans (1 May 2018). "The great assenters". Inside Story. Archived from the original on 4 May 2018. Retrieved 4 May 2018.
  21. Twomey, Anne (12 February 2020). "High Court decision in Love and Thoms case reflects Aboriginal connection to the land". Archived from the original on 27 April 2020. Retrieved 27 June 2020.
  22. "High Court statement reveals investigation findings of sexual harassment, denied by former High Court judge Dyson Heydon". ABC News. 23 June 2020. Archived from the original on 25 June 2020. Retrieved 27 June 2020.
  23. "The Hon Justice Susan Kiefel appointed to Australian High Court". Wolfson College News. 15 August 2007. Archived from the original on 7 November 2007. Retrieved 18 August 2007.
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