A significant day for women of the legal profession

For the first time since Federation, the majority of Judges on the High Court of Australia are women! Hurrah!

It was announced on 29 September 2022 that Justice Jayne Jagot would be appointed to the Bench of the top Court, taking retiring Justice Patrick Keane’s place. Yesterday, 17 October 2022, Justice Jagot was sworn in as the 56th justice of the High Court, the Court which deals with the country’s most complex and high-profile cases.

Justice Jagot, together with Chief Justice Susan Kiefel and Justices Michelle Gordon and Jacqueline Gleeson, will hold four of the seven places on the High Court Bench from yesterday and outrank their male counterparts.

Watched on by Mary Gaudron, the first woman appointed to the High Court, during the ceremonial sitting yesterday Justice Jagot shook hands with Chief Justice Kiefel, who is the first woman to take on the role of Australia’s High Court Chief Justice. She has held this role since 2017.

To put this in perspective, the highest and comparable courts of the United States of America and United Kingdom do not have majority female benches. Women hold four of the nine positions on the bench of the US Supreme Court, and only one of twelve positions on the bench of the UK Supreme Court is held by a woman.

This is a monumental occasion for the woman of the legal profession and women in general in Australia. Justice Jagot’s appointment has been widely celebrated as an important step to achieving a High Court Bench which more accurately reflects our community and in improving gender diversity within our judiciary.

Justice Jagot’s career and personality has been lauded in the media, and it has been pleasing to see qualities such as ‘empathetic’, ‘kind’ and ‘courteous’ used to describe Her Honour, alongside references to her competitive spirit and ‘no-nonsense’ approach. These ‘softer’ attributes are often associated with women and have in the past taken on negative connotations, when describing leaders and trailblazers. 

As the largest female-led family law firm in the Nation’s Capital, we are hopeful that descriptions of leaders with these qualities may become less remarked upon, and more commonplace, in our industry. We are especially delighted to have an even more stellar example of women in leadership to emulate with the formulation of a female majority in our High Court. With just a quick glance out our office windows across Lake Burley Griffin, we will be regularly reminded of the powerhouse quattro breaking barriers, while getting the job done.

While this important milestone is a key and important moment in achieving diversity in our justice system, the fact that it took us 121 years to get here is a sobering reminder that there is still more to be done. Australia should not become complacent. Women continue to experience pay disparity with their male colleagues and are underrepresented at the highest levels of government, business, law, management and many other industries. Beyond gender, apex courts across the world have begun to reflect the cultural diversity of their communities; but much work remains to be done in Australia to ensure that cultural and ethnic diversity is better reflected in our Courts.

The ‘girls run the world’ dominance of the High Court Bench may be short lived though, as the Chief Justice Susan Kiefel reaches mandatory retirement age in January 2024. All eyes will then be on the Albanese government, with another vacant High Court seat to fille within its first term, and another opportunity to promote diversity within the Nation’s highest judiciary.

Biography of Justice Jagot

With this appointment, Justice Jagot achieves a career pinnacle many lawyers can only dream of. Her Honour’s personal and professional background, including her experience as a leading Intellectual Property Judge in the Federal Court of Australia, represents an incredible story of success, determination, and hard work.

Justice Jagot’s family migrated to Australia from England when she was a small child, and she attended a public high school in North Western Sydney.

Formally, Jagot was a partner at Mallesons Stephen Jaques, a barrister, a judge of the NSW Land and Environment Court, Deputy President of the Copyright Tribunal and additional Judge of the ACT Supreme Court.

Since 2008, Justice Jagot served as a Judge of the Federal Court of Australia and during her time there issued around 75 judgments on the Patent, Trade Marks and Intellectual Property lists. This is significantly more output than any of the other justices she will join on the High Court.