News: ACs in the HCA

This has undoubtedly been a busy week for the High Court’s website manager, with multiple changes to incorporate, including moving Kiefel J to Chief Justice and inserting Edelman J in the current justices list, and removing French CJ from the current justices list – he is now at the end of the Former Chief Justices list. A further change, also visible on the Court’s ‘About the Justices’ page, as to add ‘AC’ to all mentions of Gageler J:

As this image shows, the photo of the seven judges has not yet been updated (though French CJ is blocked by the drop-down menu.) Presumably, the Court is waiting for the first occasion when the seven current judges sit together (probably Thursday’s hearing of Rizeq v Western Australia, concerning the application of the constitutional right to a jury in state prosecutions involving non-state residents.)

Amidst the excitement of Kiefel CJ and Edelman J’s new judicial roles, Gageler J’s entry into the General Division of the Companion of the Order of Australia,  five years after his appointment to the High Court, has received little attention. However, the honour receives star billing on the Court’s webpage, alongside date of appointment. As the drop-down menu makes all too clear, there are now four sitting High Court judges who currently have that honour and three who do not. Justice Gageler’s entry in the Australia Day honours list (just ahead of the Prime Minister who nominated him) states:

The Honourable Justice Stephen John GAGELER,
High Court of Australia, PO Box 6309, Kingston ACT 2604
For eminent service to the law and to the judiciary through contributions in the areas of constitutional, public, international, common and criminal law, to legal reform, education and academic discourse, and to professional organisations.

The other sitting judges received their ACs in 2011 (Kiefel CJ), 2012 (Bell J) and 2015 (Keane J), respectively four, three and two years after their appointments to the High Court.

Seventeen past High Court judges are Companions, from Kitto J (in 1983, though he had already been a Knight for 28 years at the time!) through to French CJ (in 2010), although two of those (Gleeson CJ and Kirby J) pre-dated their appointment to the apex court. Prior to 1986 (when Knighthoods were abolished), most High Court judges were knighted. The new pattern of honours emerged in 1987 when Gibbs CJ (already a knight) was made an AC as he retired and then in 1988 when six of the seven sitting judges were made ACs at part of the bicentennial honours. Who was the missing judge, you ask? That would be Gaudron J, who is the one of two High Court judges since 1986 (the other being Murphy J, a special case) who has not received an Australian honour. Before you race to social media to protest, note that Gaudron J was reportedly offered an AC in 1988 but refused, without giving reasons. Those keen to protest might instead consider Callinan J, who is the only former judge whose honour is not mentioned in his biography on the High Court’s website.

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About Jeremy Gans

Jeremy Gans is a Professor in Melbourne Law School, where he researches and teaches across all aspects of the criminal justice system. He holds higher degrees in both law and criminology. In 2007, he was appointed as the Human Rights Adviser to the Victorian Parliament's Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee.

2 thoughts on “News: ACs in the HCA

  1. Menzies, when PM,adopted the practice of knighting High Court judges on appointment,so that the conferring of the honour did not appear to compromise the judge’s independence.He also adopted the practice of having each judge appointed as a Privy Councillor and thus eligible to serve on the Judicial Committee.

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