Chief Justice of Australia presents at Bond University's Gerard Brennan Lecture

October 9, 2019

The Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia, the Honourable Susan Kiefel AC, has presented the 2019 Gerard Brennan Lecture at Bond University.

Chief Justice Kiefel's lecture was titled "Just how common is the common Law?  A historical and comparative perspective”.

She spoke about the divergence of the common law in former British Empire colonies away from that of England.

"In the early 20th century the Privy Council was the highest appellate court for a quarter of the world's population but now it fulfils that role for just 0.1 per cent of that population," the Chief Justice said.

In Australia, the move towards judicial independence occurred in the early 1960s and was emboldened by the Privy Council itself in the 1966 case of Uren v John Fairfax and Sons.

"The Privy Council's judgment made it clear that it would not now overrule High Court (of Australia) decisions merely because they differed from English decisions," the Chief Justice said. "It would do so only if it considered them to be wrong. Divergence was for the first time expressly sanctioned."

Appeals to the Privy Council from the High Court were abolished in 1975, and from any Australian court in 1986.

Executive Dean of the Faculty of Law, Professor Nick James, said Chief Justice Kiefel was an inspiration, having left school in Year 10 and risen to become the highest-ranking judicial officer in Australia.

Bond University’s Faculty of Law inaugurated the annual lecture in 1998 in honour of Sir Gerard Brennan AC KBE QC, the 10th Chief Justice of Australia. 

Chief Justice Kiefel said it was an honour to present the lecture as she had known Sir Gerard since her days as a law student and had been a beneficiary of his kindness.

"He has made a very significant contribution to the law as a judge and to its understanding in his extensive public speaking over the years."

Previous Brennan Lecture speakers have included Sir Gerard, retired Chief Justice of Queensland and current Governor of Queensland Paul de Jersey, retired Justice of the High Court of Australia Michael Kirby, and retired Chief Justice of NSW James Spigelman.

Retired Judge John Newton of the Queensland District Court, and Justice Robert Gotterson AO of the Queensland Court of Appeal were among an audience of legal professionals and students at the lecture.