Canberra | A former law firm receptionist who left school at 15 was today named the first woman to become Australia’s highest ranking judge.
High Court Justice Susan Kiefel, 62, will in January become the senior judge on the seven-judge bench with the retirement of Chief Justice Robert French, the government said.
She will become the 13th Chief Justice of Australia since the court first sat in 1903.
In announcing her appointment, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull described Kiefel as an inspiration and a reminder to lawyers that their own office secretary might one day become Australia’s most senior judge.
Kiefel cautioned against others making the same early life choices. She quit a government school in Brisbane to learn secretarial skills at a technical college. She then held down full-time jobs while completing high school and studying law at night.
“I didn’t like school and I didn’t think I was being told what opportunities there were out there,” she said today. “I thought it was best to get out in the world and find out what career opportunities there were.”
“I would definitely counsel anyone against it. Working full-time and studying at night and not having holidays for five years is not to be recommended,” she said.
Kiefel earned a Master of Laws at the University of Cambridge in Britain before returning to her home state where in 1993 she became the first woman judge of the Supreme Court of Queensland state.
Kiefel is currently one of three women on the High Court bench and the longest serving judge after French.
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