Next High Court Justice – A Good or Bad Choice?

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Current Federal Court Judge Michelle Gordon was recently announced as the next High Court Justice.

Judge Gordon will be sworn in as the 52nd High Court Justice on the 9th of June this year.

The announcement was made on April 14 by Attorney-General George Brandis, who applauded Judge Gordon for her considerable experience in the area of commercial law.

Brandis’ decision to appoint Gordon to the highest court in the country has been welcomed by President of the Law Council of Australia, Duncan McConnel, who described Gordon as an ‘excellent appointment.’

Judge Gordon’s Accomplished Life

Born and raised in Perth, Michelle Gordon studied at the University of Western Australia where she completed a Bachelor of Jurisprudence in 1986 and a Bachelor of Laws in 1987.

She began her legal career in 1987, working as a lawyer at well-known corporate law firm Robinson Cox (now known as Clayton Utz). The following year, she moved to Melbourne to work for Arthur Robinson & Hedderwicks (now known as Allens), specialising in commercial law, trade practices and taxation. After five years in practice, she became a barrister in November 1992, before being appointed as a senior counsel in 2003.

Since 2007, she has served as a judge of the Federal Court of Australia, overseeing numerous commercial disputes.

In a surprising twist of fate, Judge Gordon will replace her husband, Justice Kenneth Hayne on the bench of the High Court, leading some media outlets to dub them a ‘law power couple.’ Justice Hayne will stand down from his current role once he turns 70 on the 5th of June this year.

As mentioned in some of our previous blog posts, the Australian Constitution requires all federal judges, including High Court justices, to step down once they turn 70. This requirement was introduced in 1977 to ‘maintain vigorous and dynamic courts,’ to allow accomplished legal professionals to rise to judicial positions, and to avoid the necessity to remove unfit judges from office because of ill health.

Appointment Marred by Controversy

But while many approve of Brandis’ decision to appoint a woman to the esteemed position, the current CEO of prominent law firm Slater and Gordon, Andrew Grech, has heavily criticised the appointment.

The basis for Mr Grech’s criticism is a 2012 Federal Court judgment in a class action brought against manufacturers of the now-discontinued anti-inflammatory drug Vioxx. Slater and Gordon represented members of the public who had been adversely affected by the drug.

Vioxx was withdrawn from shelves worldwide in 2004 after concerns that long-term use increased the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

A class action was brought against the pharmaceutical company, and Melbourne man Graeme Peterson was awarded $287,000 in compensation after suffering a serious heart attack. That decision paved the way for other people who had taken the drug to receive compensation from the pharmaceutical company.

However, the decision was overturned on appeal to the Federal Court, meaning that Australians who had allegedly suffered health problems after using Vioxx were barred from receiving any compensation.

Judge Gordon was one of three judges who sat on the Federal Court appeal bench. Andrew Grech says that the decision left thousands of sick Australians without any legal recourse against the pharmaceutical giant.

In the United States, the manufacturers of Vioxx have paid out a total of $4.85 billion in compensation thus far.

But despite Mr Grech’s concerns that Gordon may side with big business, most legal professionals remain hopeful that Judge Gordon will rise admirably to her new role, and look forward to her serving many years on the bench.

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About Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim is an Accredited Specialist Criminal Lawyer and Principal at Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, Sydney’s Leading Firm of Criminal & Traffic Defence Lawyers.

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