New Justice Nettle stirs judicial gender balance debate

The High Court held a ceremonial sitting in Canberra yesterday to mark the appointment of Justice Geoffrey Nettle to the bench. He had formerly been a Justice of the Victorian Court of Appeal. The appointment was made after Justice Susan Crennan chose to retire five months ahead of the Constitutional age limit. While Justice Nettle is regarded as “one of the intellectual leaders of the profession” and “a non-political choice”, the shift in gender balance on the court has been questioned.  Writing in the Canberra Times, Professor Kim Rubenstein called for a review of how judicial appointments are made. Rubenstein argues the “backdoor system of affirming men in the top posts” undermines the High Court because we should “ensure that the diversity of our community is reflected in the High Court of Australia and gender is one of the meritorious matters that must be considered in the appointment process”. However, Attorney-General George Brandis wound back reforms that made the judicial appointment process more transparent, and would not commit to promoting diversity in the judiciary. There are now five men and two women on the High Court. Justice Kenneth Hayne will retire later this year.