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From high country to High Court


Cite as: October 2012 86 (10) LIJ, p.11

The Australian legal profession has congratulated Stephen Gageler SC on his appointment to the High Court of Australia.

Mr Gageler’s appointment, the 49th since Federation, will follow the October retirement of Justice William Gummow AC, after 17 years of service to Australia’s highest court, when he reaches the compulsory retirement age of 70.

Mr Gageler served as the Commonwealth Solicitor-General – the Australian government’s second law officer behind the federal Attorney-General – since September 2008.

Previously, the 54-year-old was a Sydney-based barrister specialising in constitutional, administrative, revenue and commercial law.

Law Council of Australia president Catherine Gale said the appointment was richly deserved and gave recognition to a distinguished legal career.

“He is a highly regarded and well respected member of the legal profession and will bring to the position his sound judgment, integrity and well-recognised commitment to the law and to social justice issues,” she said.

“Both in his work as a barrister and as Commonwealth Solicitor-General, Mr Gageler has been a respected contributor to the Australian legal profession.”

Mr Gageler hails from a four-hectare property in the Upper Hunter Valley that housed the family sawmill business, C. Gageler and Son, after his grandfather Clive and father John. His mother Patricia was a hairdresser. He holds a black belt in taekwondo.

Mr Gageler graduated in 1982 with law and economics degrees from the Australian National University (ANU) and completed a master of laws at Harvard University in 1987.

He served as associate to Sir Anthony Mason AC KBE QC, while he was a High Court judge from 1983 to 1985, after working as a solicitor in Canberra for a year from 1982.

Mr Gageler did not release any press statements or conduct media interviews following the announcement, but he said in a speech given at the ANU in December 2011 that it was “crucial for judges to have discipline in their reasoning, even in tough cases”.

“Every legal institution in every legal system at some time is tested by the extreme case arising urgently in politically controversial circumstances,” he said.

“The ultimate test of its legitimacy as a legal institution lies in its sincerity, transparency and consistency of the process by which it arrives at every judgment, whatever the circumstances, and especially when the going gets tough.”

In a 20 August press statement, federal Attorney-General Nicola Roxon said Mr Gageler, who is married with three children, was “the best person for the job” and that “it is a role he will fill with distinction.”


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