Third time's a charm

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					Third time's a charm
August 14, 2007

The newest addition to the High Court bench had two things in her
favour: she is female and a Queenslander, writes Michael Pelly

New High Court justice Susan Kiefel

FOR the High Court's newest judge, Susan Kiefel, it was a case of third time
lucky yesterday. The Queensland-based Federal Court judge narrowly missed out
on a High Court appointment to John Dyson Heydon in 2003, and in 2005 was
considered the frontrunner before Susan Crennan was given the nod.

But when the federal cabinet approved the selection of only the third woman to
sit on the nation's top bench, it completed quite a journey for the 53-year-old.

Kiefel left school at 15 and took her first job in law as a receptionist with
Brisbane firm Messrs Fitzgerald, Moynihan and Mack. Kiefel soon decided she
would rather write memos than take them.

After completing her studies (with honours), she came to the Bar in 1975 and
within 12 years had become the first woman in Queensland to be appointed a
Queen's Counsel. She became known for her dogged approach, particularly in
commercial cases, before the Labor state government appointed her to the
Supreme Court in 1993.

She was on that court for only a year before the Keating government lured her
to the Federal Court in 1994, where she has won plaudits as a trial judge with a
reputation as a "black-letter" lawyer in the mould of Heydon and Crennan.

Kiefel replaces Ian Callinan, who will formally step down from the court when he
turns 70 on September 1. However, many in the profession have their
reservations about the appointment.
"I think she will find it difficult at first," one lawyer says. "She is a good trial
judge, but she has never been regarded as top flight when it comes to appeals.
She has been a judge for a long time but she has never really shone."

Another colleague thinks this criticism about her skills as an appellate judge to be
unfair. "She hasn't had much of an opportunity at that level. But her life
experience will really add to something to the court. She hasn't exactly trod a
conventional path."

It appears Kiefel had two things in her favour: she is female and a

Callinan was clear in his wish to be replaced by a Queenslander and Prime
Minister John Howard told attendees at one function that he was "under a lot of
pressure to appoint someone from Queensland". Philip Ruddock has long been a
promoter of women in senior judicial roles and it is significant that his only two
appointments to the High Court as Attorney-General have been women.

But a former colleague of Kiefel says she has made it "through sheer hard work".

"You don't start out in the law as a secretary and end up making it to the top
without a lot of drive and ambition. Tony Fitzgerald (the former judge and royal
commissioner) inspired her to do law and she has always been focused."

Her brother is an actor and her family has no background in the law. While they
were not necessarily working class, Kiefel has never forgotten her humble
beginnings and was renowned for taking others with an establishment
background under her wing when she was a barrister.

"She would ring you up and say: 'What are you doing on Sunday?"' the former
colleague says. "She would invite you to her place, where there would be other
barristers, academics and judges." The colleague says she is testimony to the
saying that success is 5 per cent ability and 95 per cent hard work.

Her work ethic will come in handy in her new position, as former High Court
judge Michael McHugh says the workload borders on the oppressive.

Those appearing before Kiefel can expect a stern examination. "If you asked her
for some advice, she didn't want to give you the answer; she wanted you to do
the work," one colleague says. "She is going to make you think it through and
question the way you approached it. And you have to know your facts

At last month's launch of the Australian Academy of Law, where she is a
foundation fellow, Kiefel outlined her views on the role of a judge.
She said it was "the responsibility of judges to demand skill and competence in
the preparation of cases and adherence by lawyers to the duty to the court".

"Judges speak among themselves about perceived problems in the way litigation
is conducted -- inevitably how it is overdone -- and sometimes they even speak
about it in general terms," she said.

"Perhaps the time has come for judges to give detailed consideration to their
concerns and articulate them. I am not sure solutions will be obvious but clear
statements about what is unacceptable in presentation must be a starting point.
Case management is not itself the solution."

Ruddock was sitting in the front row when she delivered her address and would
have been intrigued by her introductory remarks. She said she was "going to
stick to the point, which I have been told I should be doing more of lately".

According to authors Deborah Whitehall and Helen Gregory, Kiefel had an idyllic
childhood in Cairns before her family moved south to Brisbane, where she
attended Sandgate High School.

She loved sport, music and the theatre and even considered journalism as a
future career. But dreaming of financial independence, she left in Year 10 -- a
move she later described as a mistake.

She worked as a secretary at a building society, for an architect and at an
exploration company before her time with the Fitzgerald law firm stirred her
interest in the law. While continuing to work, she completed secondary school
and began legal studies. She graduated with honours in three years.

She became known as thorough, hardworking and relentless.

Kiefel met her husband -- Michael Albrecht, an acedemic who specialises in
public health issues -- when she went to Cambridge to study in 1984. She joined
the rowing team and he was the coach. She doesn't have any children.

In her 18 years at the bar, she had a broad practice but preferred to stay away
from family law and criminal law.

Whitehall and Gregory wrote of how she came to realise that "judges regarded
blustering techniques as covers for poor preparation".
"In Susan's view, the essential qualities were to be quite courageous and strong,
a quiet confidence arising from knowing what you are doing and doing it well,
which was far preferable to irritating overconfidence."

They said she was annoyed in the 1980s when people frequently asked her what
it was like to be a women barrister.

"Such a question focused on the perceptions of sex discrimination within the
profession rather than on the intellectual calibre of its female members.
However, she did note that many people continued to believe that women were
different in their thought processes and that many solicitors, including women,
had briefed men because they thought their clients wanted them to -- a myth
which she believed could be dispelled."

Kiefel also held similar views to Crennan about opportunities for women, telling
students in 1997 that family responsibilities were difficult to combine with the
long hours demanded of those who want to succeed at the bar.

When she took silk in 1993, she made a point of praising the male barristers who
had helped her, singling out Callinan. She also became used to workers laughing
at the sight of a woman in legal robes.

Kiefel has many interests outside the law including reading -- she is a fan of the
poetry of Judith Wright -- cooking, fly fishing, playing her cello and the arts.

In what could be the Coalition's last appointment to the bench, Kiefel is
considered to fit with the Government's conservative line. The previous three
Howard government appointments have been Crennan, Heydon and Callinan.
She will also join Chief Justice Murray Gleeson, William Gummow, Michael Kirby
and Kenneth Hayne.

She gave a hint of her belief system in an address at a girls-only All Hallows
School in 2001. "You can usually do whatever you determine to do," she said.
"The constraints or limits placed on a person's life and career usually come from
themselves. I hope that you will focus on the possibilities open to you and not
dwell on the problems that others tell you about too much."

Kiefel returns from leave in early September and with no judgments outstanding,
she can begin her new job on September 4.

Susan Kiefel, 53, is considered a conservative black letter lawyer.

Body: 1954:Born in Cairns and educated at Sandgate State High School in

1971: After leaving school at 15, she begins working as a law firm receptionist at
barristers Fitzgerald, Moynihan and Mack.

1973: Joins Cannan and Peterson solicitors as a legal clerk. Completes her senior
examination and then her bar board course with honours.

1975: Comes to the Bar.

1984: Studying at Wolfson College, Cambridge, obtains a Master of Laws and is
awarded the C.J. Hamson prize in Comparative Law.

1987: Appointed Queen's Counsel.

1993: Appointed to the Queensland Supreme Court.

1994: Appointed to the Federal Court of Australia, becoming the first woman.
Also a Supreme Court judge of Norfolk Island.

2003: Appointed to the Australian Law Reform Commission as a part-time
member and reappointed in 2006 for three years.

Yesterday: Replaces Justice Ian Callinan as High Court judge.

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