The Honourable Michael Kirby AC CMG

Australia's longest serving judicial officer

The Hon. Michael Kirby was one of the seven Justices of Australia's highest constitutional and appellate court, the High Court of Australia, until his retirement in February 2009. One of the country's greatest intellects, he is a much sought after speaker and lecturer on law and justice, in both the broad and practical senses of these ideals.

In 2010, he was named as the co-winner of the Gruber Justice Prize. The announcement was made in New York by the Gruber Foundation, a philanthropic organisation that awards the Gruber Prizes annually. Michael Kirby is the first Australian to win the Gruber Justice Prize.

On 7 May 2013 the President of the Human Rights Council announced the appointment of the Hon. Michael Kirby to serve as Chair of the commission inquiry to investigate human rights violations in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

More about the Hon. Michael Kirby:

The Hon. Michael Kirby was the youngest man to be appointed to the federal judicial office. He served as the first Chair of the Australian Law Commission, and became a High Court judge in 1996. A year later, he was identified as one of the ten most creative minds in Australia.

Michael Kirby chaired a UNESCO Committee that led to the new Universal Declaration on Bioethics agreed in Paris in October 2005. He also advised UNAIDS, Geneva, on human rights aspects of the HIV epidemic. In Australia, he chaired an initiative that brought together the National Museum of Australia and the National Capital Authority to create a new museum facility in Commonwealth Place, Canberra, which has been celebrated as one of the Defining Moments in Australian History.

At the end of Michael Kirby's service as a High Court Judge, he was Australia's longest serving judicial officer having been:

  • A deputy president of the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission 1975-1983
  • Inaugural chairman of the Australian Law Reform Commission 1975-1984 
  • A judge of the Federal Court of Australia 1983-1984
  • President of the New South Wales Court of Appeal 1984-1996 
  • President of the Court of Appeal of Solomon Islands 1995-1996
  • A justice of the High Court of Australia 1996-2009. 

In addition, Michael Kirby has served in many international and United Nations positions including two expert groups of the OECD, Paris, many bodies of the Commonwealth Secretariat, London and positions in the ILO, UNDP, UNESCO, UNODC, WHO Global Commission on AIDS, and UNAIDS. He was President of the International Commission of Jurists 1995-1998 and served as Special Representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations for Human Rights in Cambodia 1993-1996. In 2006 Michael Kirby received the Australian of the Year Award.

Michael Kirby has been a member of the governing body of three Australian universities, and was Chancellor of Macquarie University, Sydney, from 1984-1993. He holds honorary degrees of Doctor of Letters, Doctor of Laws and Doctor of the University from twelve Australian and foreign universities and various other appointments.

Michael is a complicated man and difficult to characterise in simple terms. He has been described as a monarchist; too radical, too conservative; a parliamentary supremist, a populist; a nationalist, an internationalist; religious, a secularist; and a humanist. And although apparently contradictory he is all at once all these things. Above all, Michael Kirby is respected and experienced as a judge and lawyer. He is well known for his insight, warmth, intelligence, courage, and passion for human rights.

A film detailing the Hon. Michael Kirby's personal and professional life, entitled Michael Kirby: Don't Forget the Justice Bit was released by Film Art Media in 2010.

Client testimonials

Justice Kirby discussed the lessons he had learned from a life in the High Court – from the reasons behind interpretations of the Constitution, to the importance of having people understand why judges make certain decisions. This was a fascinating talk, and a wonderful end to the year’s Breakfast Series.

National Trust of Australia

Michael was the highest rated speaker with 86% of delegates saying he was excellent. There were many delegates that came out of the session commenting how great he was and they would also like to see more speakers like Michael in the future. One person commented Michael was the grand finale!

Aged Care Standards & Accreditation Agency Ltd

Michael was engaging and inspiring, skilfully aligning the wealth of his experience and his views with the theme of the conference. The majority of staff and members (over 80%) participating in the conference rated the keynote presentation by Michael excellent or very good.

Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT)