Ceremonial Sitting of the High Court of Australia to welcome Justice Jayne Margaret Jagot as a Justice of the High Court
Check against delivery
May it please the Court.
I begin by acknowledging the Ngunnawal and Ngambri peoples, the traditional custodians of the Canberra region on whose ancestral lands we are gathered today. I extend that respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples present today.
It is a great privilege, on behalf of the Australian Government and the Australian people, to welcome your Honour as a Justice of the High Court of Australia.
All appointments to this honourable Court are significant.
Your Honour is just the 56th person to be appointed.
But your Honour's appointment is of particular historical significance.
Today, for the first time since Federation, women make up a majority on the bench of our highest court.
Just seven women have been appointed to this Court.
The first, Justice Gaudron – who honours us with her presence today – was not appointed until 1987.
The intervening years have seen the appointment of more women, including your Honour Chief Justice Kiefel who has provided the Court with such able leadership since your appointment in 2017.
I respectfully submit a court that reflects the community it serves is a better court.
Diversity is a strength – on the bench, and in the law more generally.
Your Honour Justice Jagot's appointment follows an extensive consultation process with all state and territory Attorneys-General, the Shadow Attorney‑General, the heads of the federal courts and state and territory Supreme Courts, state and territory Bar associations and law societies, National Legal Aid, Australian Women Lawyers, the National Association of Community Legal Centres and deans of law schools.
May I offer your Honour the Government's warmest congratulations on your appointment and our gratitude for your Honour's willingness to serve the Australian community as a Justice of this Court.
Your Honour's elevation from the Federal Court of Australia to Australia's highest Court is another success in your distinguished and eminent career. It also reflects the respect you command and the high regard in which you are held by so many members of the judiciary and legal profession, including those here today.
I have already acknowledged former Justice Gaudron, but I would also like to acknowledge:
- the Honourable William Gummow AC KC, the Honourable Kenneth Hayne AC KC, the Honourable Geoffrey Nettle AC KC, the Honourable Virginia Bell AC SC, and the Honourable Patrick Keane AC KC.
I would also like to acknowledge:
- Chief Justice of the Federal Court, the Honourable James Allsop AO.
- Chief Justice of the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia, the Honourable William Alstergren AO.
- Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Tasmania, the Honourable Alan Blow AO.
- Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Victoria, the Honourable Anne Ferguson.
- Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Western Australia, the Honourable Peter Quinlan.
- Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, the Honourable Andrew Bell.
- President of the Law Council of Australia, Mr Tass Liveris.
- President of the Australian Bar Association, Dr Matt Collins AM KC.
- Other members of the legal profession and distinguished guests.
May I also acknowledge the presence of your Honour's husband, the Honourable Peter David McClellan AM KC, who proudly shares this occasion with you.
Your Honour's appointment to this Bench represents your dedication to justice and serving the community.
Highlighting a full catalogue of your Honour's accomplishments would occupy more time than permitted.
Therefore, I intend to speak to just a few of the qualities that have marked your career to date.
Formative years and early education
Your Honour was born in the United Kingdom but migrated to Australia with your family at an early age.
Your Honour wholeheartedly grasped the opportunities that Australia presented.
After graduating from Baulkham Hills High School, you completed an Arts Degree at Macquarie University and a Law Degree at Sydney University and graduated with First Class Honours in both.
Legal studies and early career
In 1991, your Honour was admitted as a solicitor. You commenced your legal career at what was then Mallesons Stephen Jacques.
Only six years later you became a partner in that firm, practising in environmental planning, local government, real property and administrative law.
Your Honour joined the Bar in 2002, quickly establishing yourself as a highly sought-after junior counsel.
At the bench
Indeed, so quickly did you distinguish yourself at the Bar that only four years later, in 2006, your Honour was sworn in as a judge of the Land and Environment Court of New South Wales.
On that court, your Honour heard and determined a variety of matters, including environmental and planning appeals, determinations of compensation for the compulsory acquisition of land, appeals against land valuations, claims to Crown lands by Aboriginal land councils and various appeals.
In 2008, your Honour was appointed to the Federal Court, where you served for some 14 years.
Colleagues have commented on your remarkable contribution to the Federal Court over those years. One colleague observed that your elevation to the High Court was equivalent to "losing a limb" for the Federal Court.
This is something of a theme through what has been described as your 'meteoric' rise through the legal profession and the judiciary. Colleagues in the solicitors' arm of the profession, the Bar, the Land and Environment Court and now the Federal Court have, in turn, regretted your Honour's loss as you moved into each new phase of your career.
The Federal Court's loss is, however, the High Court's gain.
After 16 years on two other courts, your Honour comes to this Court with an incredible breadth and depth of knowledge and expertise.
Your Honour has sat across the Federal Court's practice areas and often had to deal with the most difficult and challenging cases.
Your Honour has handed down numerous high-profile and acclaimed decisions, too many to list.
Of particular note was Bathurst Regional Council v Local Government Financial Services Pty Ltd. Arising out of the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, this was a landmark case in which your Honour considered the liability of rating agencies for the rating, sale and purchase of structured financial products. In addition to delivering a clear and straightforward decision, your Honour's judgment was widely lauded as one of the best explanations of the Global Financial Crisis itself.
In Gilead Sciences Pty Ltd v Idenix Pharmaceuticals LLC, your Honour handed down a clear and well-reasoned judgment in the complex field of patent law. All the more remarkable was that your Honour had not practised in this area previously.
Indeed, your Honour has an astonishing ability to rapidly synthesise large amounts of information and to reach the correct conclusion, all the while remembering the human side to legal matters.
Just last month, your Honour presided over an interlocutory decision in the matter of Widjabul Wia-bal v Attorney General of New South Wales, a native title case, in which your Honour wrote of the failure "of our country to reach a lasting and equitable agreement with Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders concerning the use of their lands". These proceedings demonstrate your Honour's valuable contribution to native title law and practice.
During your time on the Federal Court, you also served as an additional Judge on the Supreme Court of the Australian Capital Territory and as a Deputy President of the Australian Copyright Tribunal.
It is not just your Honour's experience and expertise, however, that makes you such a worthy appointment to this Court.
Your Honour is said to discharge your judicial duties with courtesy, kindness, and empathy, conscious of the human element of the law and of the legal process. Indeed, just this year your Honour delivered a speech on 'The Value of Compassion in the Law'.
Your Honour is known for the egalitarian manner in which you treat your colleagues and court staff – with compassion, humour and a sincere interest in other people's lives.
Colleagues have remarked that you are incredibly modest, despite your many achievements.
Professionally and personally much has been said of your kindness. This ranges from the empathy you extend to those appearing in your courtroom, to the generosity shown to those around you.
Your husband Peter regards you as incredibly kind and notes that you always have been. I am told that, during school, your Honour swam competitively and there was one competitor who simply could not beat you. This competitor was promised a new bike by their parents if they won a race. When your Honour heard about this, you lost the race so your rival could have the new bike they had their heart set on.
Despite your busy schedule, your Honour has worked tirelessly with a number of different organisations, including the Minds Count Foundation. This Foundation works hard to build greater awareness and provide help around depression, anxiety and mental health across the Australian legal community.
Notwithstanding the high position your Honour occupies, you have never sought the limelight and have been described as the "great quiet achiever."
When reflecting on your appointment, one of your colleagues recently remarked that many complex legal questions have two or more answers. However, the 'better answer' is the one that reconciles fundamental principles and the human context with the law.
It is clear your Honour is up to the task of finding the 'better answer'. As you take on this judicial office, your Honour brings your many positive attributes including your sharp legal intellect, strong work ethic and sense of empathy and compassion. I trust that these will serve you well on this Court and that you will continue to approach this role with the exceptional dedication that you have demonstrated throughout your career to date.
On behalf of the Australian Government and the Australian people, I extend to you my sincere congratulations and welcome you to the High Court of Australia.
May it please the Court.