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by Jerome Doraisamy - July 22, 2024

1st-ever female Federal Court Chief Justice named

The Prime Minister and Attorney-General have today announced the new chief justice of the Federal Court of Australia.

In a statement earlier today (Friday, 31 March), Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said that Governor-General David Hurley had accepted the federal government’s advice to appoint the Honourable Justice Debra Mortimer (pictured) as the nation’s new Chief Justice of the Federal Court.

Mortimer J has served on the Federal Court since 2013 and is, the PM and A-G noted, “widely recognised for her legal acumen, intellectual capacity and judicial leadership”.

Her Honour becomes just the fifth CJ of the Federal Court since its inception in 1976 and the first woman to assume the role.

The news follows the appointment, earlier this week, of NSW Court of Appeal Judge Paul Brereton, who headed up the inquiry into alleged ADF war crimes in Afghanistan, as the inaugural commissioner of the National Anti-Corruption Commission.

A-G Dreyfus “consulted extensively on the appointment”, including all state and territory attorneys-general, the heads of the federal courts and state and territory supreme courts, the Law Council of Australia, and the Australian Bar Association.

“The government is grateful to all members of the legal profession who provided nominations and assisted with its consideration of candidates for this very important role,” the PM and A-G noted.

The joint statement also thanked outgoing Chief Justice James Allsop for his “outstanding judicial service”.

“Chief Justice Allsop’s affiliation with the Federal Court first began in 1980 when he commenced his distinguished legal career as an associate to the inaugural chief justice, Sir Nigel Bowen,” the PM and A-G detailed.

“In 2001, Chief Justice Allsop was appointed as a judge of the court, and spent several years on the bench, before moving from the federal courts in 2008 to take up an appointment as president of the New South Wales Court of Appeal. In 2013, Chief Justice Allsop returned to the Federal Court, this time as Chief Justice, where he has since served with great distinction.”

PM Albanese and A-G Dreyfus thanked Allsop CJ for his “dedicated service to the Federal Court and broader contribution to the Australian legal system, and [we] wish him all the very best for the future”.

“The government congratulates Mortimer J on her appointment, and looks forward to her distinguished contribution to the justice system as she leads the Federal Court,” the PM and A-G said.

Her Honour will commence as Chief Justice on 7 April 2023, following the retirement of Allsop CJ.

The Victorian Bar welcomed the announcement, noting it is proud that Mortimer J is a member.

“Her Honour is an outstanding jurist who will make a substantial contribution to the Federal Court for many years to come,” Vic Bar president Sam Hay KC said.

“The appointment of Justice Mortimer is especially significant as a model of inspiration for our female members. Her appointment as the first female Chief Justice of the Federal Court is a significant, deserving, and well-earned milestone.”

Australian Women Lawyers president Astrid Haban-Beer added that Mortimer J is "widely respected, and known for her work ethic, fairness, her brilliant legal mind, and her humanity".

"As the new Chief Justice, Her Honour’s leadership will continue to propel the administration of justice for all the community. For women lawyers, it is wonderful to see the first woman appointed as Federal Court Chief Justice, and we hope this senior leadership appointment is echoed elsewhere in the legal profession," she said.

"Throughout Her Honour’s career, the Chief Justice has had a long history of supporting women lawyers, and as a legal practitioner Her Honour was a significant contributor to human rights, and pro bono work. This appointment is an historic moment, and AWL extends sincere congratulations and best wishes to Her Honour, and the Court."



This article originally featured in Lawyer's Weekly