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New High Court justice appointed


Cite as: (2009) 83(02) LIJ, p.12

The High Court of Australia has a new judge and bidden farewell to a great dissenter.

Justice Virginia Margaret Bell is the 48th person, and the fourth woman, to be appointed to the High Court since Federation.

Her Honour’s tenure commences on 3 February following the retirement of Justice Michael Kirby on 2 February – six weeks before he turns 70.

Justice Bell, 57, who was previously an appeal judge of the NSW Supreme Court, has been lauded as a criminal law specialist.

Justice Bell began her legal career as a volunteer in 1977, before embarking on an outstanding career as a criminal law barrister, both as a public defender and in private practice.

In 1999, she was made a judge of the NSW Supreme Court.

Justice Bell replaces Justice Kirby, who was appointed to the High Court in 1996.

In his time on the Bench, Justice Kirby became one of the nation’s most outspoken legal figures, known for his dissenting decisions, especially on human rights cases.

Federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland said Justice Kirby had provided exemplary service during his 13 years on the High Court and previous appointments to the NSW Court of Appeal and the Federal Court.

Justice Kirby’s decision to retire early was influenced by the passing of laws removing discrimination against same-sex couples.

Last year he said he wanted his partner of four decades, Johan van Vloten, to be given access to his pension entitlements should he die first.


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