Elizabeth Evatt

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Elizabeth Andreas Evatt

1st Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia
In office
5 January 1976 – 5 January 1988
Personal details
Born (1933-11-11) 11 November 1933 (age 86)
ParentsClive Evatt QC
Alma mater
OccupationReformist lawyer and jurist
Known forFirst Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia

Elizabeth Andreas Evatt AC (born 11 November 1933), an eminent Australian reformist lawyer and jurist who sat on numerous national and international tribunals and commissions, was the first Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia, the first female judge of an Australian federal court, and the first Australian to be elected to the United Nations Human Rights Committee.

Early years and background[edit]

Evatt was born in 1933, the daughter of the barrister Clive Evatt QC, granddaughter of Harry Andreas of Leuralla, and the niece of H. V. Evatt. Educated at the Presbyterian Ladies' College in Pymble, Sydney, Evatt studied law at the University of Sydney, as the youngest law student ever accepted, and became the first female student to win the University's Medal for Law, graduating in March 1955. Admitted as at barrister in New South Wales in 1955, Evatt won a scholarship to Harvard University where she was awarded a LLM in 1956 and was admitted to the bar at the Inner Temple in London, United Kingdom. From 1968 to 1973, Evatt worked at the England and Wales Law Commission under Lord Scarman.

Judicial appointments[edit]


In December 1972, Evatt was appointed as the first female Deputy President of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission and retained this position until 1989. Between 1974 and 1977, Evatt chaired the Royal Commission on Human Relationships, producing recommendations which ultimately led to the enactment of the Family Law Act 1975 where no-fault divorce and the single ground of irreconcilable differences evidenced by twelve months separation were introduced into Australian family law. The Act also established the Family Court of Australia, and Evatt was appointed as its inaugural Chief Justice holding this position from 1976 until 1988.

In 1988 Evatt was appointed President of the Australian Law Reform Commission, a position she held until 1993. From 1995 to 1998, she served as a part-time Commissioner of the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.


Appointed as a member of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in 1984, Evatt later chaired the Committee, from 1989 to 1991, and remained a member until 1992. Evatt was the first Australian to be elected to the United Nations Human Rights Committee in 1992, serving as a member from 1993 to 2000.

Between 1998 and 2007, Evatt served two consecutive, five-year terms as a judge of a tribunal of the World Bank that determines staffing disputes. Evatt was elected as a Commissioner of the International Committee of Jurists in April 2003.[1]

Non-judicial appointments[edit]

In 1988 Evatt was made Chancellor of the University of Newcastle, holding this post until 1994.

In 1995 Evatt was commissioned by Senator Herron, the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, to review the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984. Her extensive report, Review of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984 ('the Evatt Review') was presented in August 1996 and paved the way for legislative reform to a complex and controversial area of law.[citation needed]

Human rights advocate[edit]

Evatt has been an outspoken advocate of issues relating to human rights in Australia, particularly women's rights.[citation needed] In a 2004 speech to mark the twentieth anniversary of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, Evatt critiqued the Act and other laws relating to women's rights in Australia, in terms of its inadequacies in satisfying Australia's obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.[2] She was also critical of the then Howard Liberal government's anti-terrorism legislation, particularly provisions relating to control orders and preventive detention, saying that "These laws are striking at the most fundamental freedoms in our democracy in a most draconian way."[3]

Evatt was a signatory to the Yogyakarta Principles in November 2006.

Awards and honors[edit]

Evatt was made an Officer of the Order of Australia on 14 June 1982, in recognition of services to the law,[4] and was granted the status of Companion of the Order of Australia, at the Queen's Birthday honours on 12 June 1995. The latter citation was awarded "in recognition of service to the law, social justice and to the promotion of human rights worldwide, particularly in the areas of equal opportunity and anti-discrimination legislation and practice."[5]

In 1985 an honorary degree of LL.D was conferred on Evatt by The University of Sydney at a special ceremony which celebrated the centenary of the first graduations by women at the University.[6] In 1994, the Flinders University of South Australia conferred the same award on Evatt.[7]

In 2007 the Blue Mountains Community Legal Centre changed its name to the Elizabeth Evatt Community Legal Centre. The Centre provides free legal advice to clients in the surrounding region, and Evatt serves as patron of the Centre.[citation needed] Evatt is a Life Member of the Evatt Foundation, an organisation established as a memorial to her uncle, Dr H. V. Evatt, with the aim of advancing the highest ideals of the labour movement, such as equality, participation, social justice and human rights.[8] Evatt served as Vice-President of the Foundation between 1982 and 1987.[9] Elizabeth Evatt was added to the Victorian Honour Roll of Women in 2001.

Notable published works[edit]

  • Evatt, Elizabeth (1987). "Recollections". In Curthoys, Ann; Martin, A.W.; Rowse, Tim (eds.). Australians from 1939 (2nd ed.). Sydney: Fairfax, Syme & Weldon Associates. p. 474. ISBN 0-949288-23-3.
  • Evatt, Elizabeth (19 July 1991). New South Wales Women's Advisory Council (ed.). Valuing women's work: women, equality and family law reform (Lecture). Anne Conlon memorial lecture. Haymarket, Sydney.
  • Evatt, Elizabeth, ed. (1991). A Guide to family law: questions and answers to help you make the right decisions. Sydney: Bay Books. p. 176. ISBN 1-86378-040-8.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Elizabeth Evatt" (PDF). UNIFEM Australia: Powerful Women, Exhibition Images. Hawke Centre, University of South Australia. 2007–2009. Archived from the original (PDF) on 28 September 2012. Retrieved 25 July 2011.
  2. ^ Evatt, Elizabeth (3 December 2004). "Falling short on women's rights: mis-matches between SDA and the international regime" (PDF). Proceedings of the Human Rights 2004: The Year in Review Conference. Melbourne: Castan Centre for Human Rights Law, Monash University. Archived from the original (PDF) on 19 August 2006. Retrieved 11 August 2006.
  3. ^ Pelly, Michael; Stephens, Tony; Wilkinson, Marian (25 October 2005). "Former leaders call for debate". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 11 August 2006.
  4. ^ "It's an Honour". Search result: Elizabeth Evatt. Australian Government. Retrieved 29 April 2011.
  5. ^ "It's an Honour". Search result: Elizabeth Evatt. Australian Government. Retrieved 29 April 2011.
  6. ^ "Honorary awards: Justice Elizabeth Andreas Evatt". From 'The University of Sydney News'. The University of Sydney. 30 April 1985. Retrieved 25 July 2011.
  7. ^ "Honorary degree recipients: Doctor of Laws (LLD)". Governance. Flinders University of South Australia. 9 June 2010. Retrieved 25 July 2011.
  8. ^ Evatt Foundation (2006). "History of the Evatt Foundation". About us. Archived from the original on 27 September 2011. Retrieved 25 July 2011.
  9. ^ Lemon, Barbara (2010). "Evatt, Elizabeth Andreas (1933-)". The Australian Women's Register. National Foundation for Women and The University of Melbourne. Retrieved 25 July 2011.

External links[edit]

Legal offices
New title Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia
Succeeded by
Alastair Nicholson
Academic offices
Preceded by
Sir Bede Callaghan
Chancellor of the University of Newcastle
Succeeded by
Ric Charlton