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What is it really like being a Justice of the High Court?

DLS students and staff meet the Hon. Michael Kirby.

Deakin Law School (DLS) staff and students welcomed the opportunity to hear from Hon. Michael Kirby who is recognised as being one of Australia’s longest-serving judges, including 13 years on the High Court of Australia.

In his introduction for Justice Kirby, DLS Dean of Law, Professor Sandeep Gopalan said:

‘There is no person who better embodies the relationship between the profession, the judiciary and academia than Michael Kirby. His work both as a judge and thereafter has been highly normative…moving the law as it ought to be, to enable greater respect for human rights, the rights of marginalised people and indeed in promoting greater respect for the rule of law and a more equal society for all sections of society.’

Drawing on his unique experience, Justice Kirby’s address was informative and interesting as he brought to life his activities as a High Court judge. He outlined the process by which a case is accepted and heard and provided many anecdotes. Famous for his frequent disagreement with his colleagues, he was nicknamed, ‘The Great Dissenter’. With regard to this, Justice Kirby stated,

‘One should not be ashamed or concerned about dissent. It’s one of the most important features of the legal system which we have inherited from England…the English judges asserted and long held the right to express disagreement and state it firmly and honestly.

‘Essentially this is an attribute of intellectual freedom…If it’s a simple case and everybody can easily agree it shouldn’t be in the High Court of Australia. It should only be there if it’s a case where there are important clashes of values or it’s an important matter where something new is going to be said’, Justice Kirby said.

Justice Kirby’s presence was part of the launch of the new Centre on the Legal Profession, which seeks to bridge the divide between academia and the profession. An important part of the Centre’s strategy is to foster opportunities for students to be exposed to legal professionals. DLS has plans to invite more judges to the school and is in the process of establishing a ‘Judge in Residence’ program, enabling specialist skills and knowledge to be shared with staff and students.

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