Popular constitutional law academic and media commentator George Williams has thrown his wig in the ring for one of two soon-to-be-vacant positions on the High Court, telling Crikey he's "very interested" in a prized position among Australia's top judges.
Popular constitutional law expert and media commentator George Williams has thrown his wig in the ring for one of two soon-to-be-vacant positions on the High Court, telling Crikey
he's "very interested" in a prized position among Australia's top judges.
The dual appointments to replace the imminently retiring William Gummow and Dyson Heydon -- and apparently known in beak circles as Roxon's Gift -- are set to be announced later in the year by the Attorney-General when her recommendation is ticked off by Federal Cabinet.
"I'd be very interested in the position ... any lawyer would be," the well-regarded University of NSW law professor told Crikey
this morning. "Especially given that I'm someone who has a long-standing interest in Constitutional Law ... and I'm very happy to put that on the record," he added.
Nominations for both vacancies -- following a written shout-out sent to the country's sharpest legal minds -- were submitted on April 11 and Roxon's office is currently mulling the response. They are a closely-guarded secret, with even the nominees not necessarily aware of whether their name has been put forward. Under the High Court's "senility rule", judges are required to stand aside from the bench when they reach the tender age of 70.
Gummow's term expires on October 9, while Heydon will be relieved of responsibilities on March 1 next year.
Williams, 43, is a constitutional law superstar, having written or edited 28 books including The Oxford Companion to the High Court of Australia
. He has also appeared before the court in two blockbuster cases including the Hindmarsh Island Bridge case in 1998. Last year, he was made an Order of Australia for "service to the law in fields of anti-terrorism, human rights and constitutional law."
However, well-placed sources suggest Roxon may move to make the 7-member High Court bench majority female following the 2009 Kevin Rudd appointment of Virginia Bell. Women said to be in the mix include WA Court of Appeal President Carmel McLure, 56, and Pamela Tate from the Victorian Court of Appeal. The move would make a nice change from the boring tradition of appointing commercial male lawyers from the Melbourne-Sydney axis of influence.
Williams has tried to convince the ALP of his suitability for high office before, having contested preselections in Fraser against Nick Martin and Andrew Leigh in 2010 and in Paul Keating's former federal seat of Blaxland in 2007. He was also reportedly once in contention for a NSW Senate vacancy.
A recent Williams Sydney Morning Herald
opinion piece commending
Attorney General Nicola Roxon under the headline 'Judge her on her merits: Roxon's proposed reforms well constructed', raised eyebrows among some eagles, who suggested it read like a job application. In March, Williams penned another op-ed for the SMH
mulling over the potential pre-requisites for a High Court gig, noting that while officially the Attorney-General fingers the candidates on the basis of ''merit'', other considerations can prove decisive.
"Past choices have been influenced by their politics, state of origin and friendships," he wrote.
Williams told Crikey
he would "prefer not to be judged on one opinion piece...one opinion piece is too narrow... My job is to write about what the Attorney does, sometimes it's good, sometimes it's bad."
One famous pre-appointment application was Heydon's 2002 Quadrant
dinner speech condemning judges for "judicial activism", which he equated to the "death of the rule of law".
Williams' name first popped up in relation to the Gummow appointment way back in 2007 when Crikey
reported that Williams was likely to lead a supposed Rudd Government Commission of Inquiry into Australian Governance to "end the blame game" between the states and the Commonwealth (it never eventuated). If his name pops up in Cabinet, a prominent dissenter could be Foreign Minister Bob Carr, who has previously crossed swords with Williams over a bill of rights and judicial activism.
Other names bandied about include Bret Walker SC, Commonwealth Solicitor-General Stephen Gageler and James Allsop from the NSW Court of Appeal. Walker, however, may have lost some skin with Roxon after he recently went into bat for Big Tobacco in its fight against the AG's crusading plain packaging legislation.
Appointments are made by Cabinet on the recommendation of the Attorney-General. However, sometimes a Prime Minister can take the decision quasi-unilaterally, as was the case when John Howard personally fingered "big C Conservative" Ian Callinan in 1997.