Chief Justice of Australia

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Chief Justice of Australia
The Chief Justice of Australia
Robert French, AC

since 1 September 2008
Style The Honourable
Nominator Prime Minister of Australia
Appointer Governor-General of Australia
Term length No set term, though retirement is mandatory at age 70
Inaugural holder Sir Samuel Griffith
Formation 1 January 1901
Salary $486,000
Website High Court
Coat of Arms of Australia.svg
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The Chief Justice of Australia is the informal title for the presiding justice of the High Court of Australia and the highest-ranking judicial officer in the Commonwealth of Australia. The present incumbent is Robert French.

The office of Chief Justice of the High Court is established under section 71 of the Australian Constitution, which establishes the High Court as consisting of a Chief Justice and at least two other Justices. The Court was constituted by, and its first members were appointed under, the Judiciary Act 1903, with the first appointments to the High Court commencing on 5 October 1903.

The Chief Justice is first among equals among the Justices of the High Court, and the position differs little from that of the other Justices. All Justices, including the Chief Justice, are appointed by the Governor-General of Australia, on the advice of the federal government. They can be removed only by the Governor-General, on a request from both houses of the federal parliament, although this has never been done. Since 1977, appointment has been until the mandatory retirement age of seventy (before 1977, appointment was for life).[1] The one substantial difference between a Chief Justice and the other Justices of the Court is that, where opinion on the court is evenly divided, ordinarily the side of the question that is supported by the Chief Justice prevails.[2]

The Chief Justice often acts as the Governor-General's deputy, especially at ceremonies such as the opening of Parliament after an election. Chief Justice Samuel Griffith was several times consulted by Governors-General of Australia on the exercise of the reserve powers.[3] However, Chief Justice Garfield Barwick created controversy during the 1975 Australian constitutional crisis[4] when he advised Governor-General Sir John Kerr on the constitutional legality of dismissing a prime minister—especially as the prime minister, Gough Whitlam, had refused Kerr's request for permission to consult Barwick or to act on any advice except Whitlam's own.

The Chief Justice also administers the Oath of Allegiance to the Monarch and an Oath of Office to the Governor-General-designate when he or she takes up his or her appointment.[5]

List of Chief Justices of Australia[edit]

No. Image Chief Justice Term of Office Nominating
Prime Minister
1 SGriff1.jpg Sir Samuel Griffith
(21 June 1845 – 9 August 1920)
5 October 1903 – 17 October 1919 Alfred Deakin
2 SirAdrianKnox.jpg Sir Adrian Knox
(29 November 1863 – 27 April 1932)
18 October 1919 – 31 March 1930 Billy Hughes
3 Ac.isaacs.jpg Sir Isaac Isaacs
(6 June 1855 – 11 February 1948)
2 April 1930 – 21 January 1931 James Scullin
4 Frank gavan duffy.jpg Sir Frank Gavan Duffy
(29 February 1852 – 29 July 1936)
22 January 1931 – 1 October 1935 James Scullin
5 CJSJohnLatham.jpg Sir John Latham
(26 August 1877 – 25 July 1964)
11 October 1935 – 7 April 1952 Sir Joseph Lyons
6 Dixon 01.jpg Sir Owen Dixon
(28 April 1886 – 7 July 1972)
18 April 1952 – 13 April 1964 Sir Robert Menzies
7 Barwick CJ.jpg Sir Garfield Barwick
(22 June 1903 – 13 July 1997)
27 April 1964 – 11 February 1981 Sir Robert Menzies
8 No image.svg Sir Harry Gibbs
(7 February 1917 – 25 June 2005)
12 February 1981 – 5 February 1987 Malcolm Fraser
9 No image.svg Sir Anthony Mason
(born 21 April 1925)
6 February 1987 – 20 April 1995 Bob Hawke
10 No image.svg Sir Gerard Brennan
(born 22 May 1928)
21 April 1995 – 21 May 1998 Paul Keating
11 Gleeson photo.jpg Murray Gleeson
(born 30 August 1938)
22 May 1998 – 29 August 2008 John Howard
12 Cj French.jpg Robert French
(born 19 March 1947)
1 September 2008 – Kevin Rudd

Chief Justice Sir John Latham was absent from the office when he served from 1940 to 1941 as Australia's first ambassador to Japan.[6] Sir George Rich was Acting Chief Justice in Latham's absence.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Constitution, s 72 (amended in 1977).
  2. ^ Judiciary Act 1903 (Cth), s 23(2).
  3. ^ Donald Markwell, "Griffith, Barton and the early governor-generals: aspects of Australia's constitutional development", Public Law Review, 1999.
  4. ^ Murphy, Damien (2010-01-01). "How Barwick lost his would-be country pile". Sydney Morning Herald (Fairfax Media). Retrieved 2010-04-10. 
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ Stuart Macintyre (1986). "Latham, Sir John Greig (1877–1964)". Australian Dictionary of Biography 10. Melbourne University Press. pp. 2–6. ISBN 0-522-84327-1.