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Justice Debra Mortimer will become the first female Chief Justice of the Federal Court of Australia, following the mandatory retirement of Chief Justice James Allsop when he turns 70 in April.

Justice Mortimer’s appointment follows the elevation of Federal Court Judge Jayne Jagot to the High Court in October 2022, sparking hope for gender parity in the top ranks of the legal profession for the first time in history.

Federal Attorney General Mark Dreyfus announced the historic appointment on Friday 31 March, after “extensive consultation” with all state and territory Attorneys General, courts, the Law Council of Australia and the Australian Bar Association.

Justice Mortimer is only the fifth Chief Justice of the Federal Court and the first female Chief Justice appointed since the Court was established in 1976.

“Today I was pleased to announce the Governor-General has accepted the advice of the Government to appoint the Honourable Justice Debra Mortimer as the new Chief Justice of the Federal Court of Australia,” Dreyfus said.

“With a decade of service to the court, she is widely recognised for her legal acumen, intellectual capacity and leadership.”

The appointment came hours before the Federal Court held a farewell ceremony for Chief Justice Allsop, who will step down on April 6 when he turns 70 – the mandatory retirement age for federal judges in Australia.

Justice Mortimer was appointed to the Federal Court in July 2013, based in Melbourne. Prior to her appointment, she was a member of the Victorian Bar and was appointed Senior Counsel in 2003. She remains a Senior Fellow at Melbourne Law School and a member of the Advisory Board of the Centre for Comparative Constitutional Studies at Melbourne Law School.

Justice Mortimer has had a substantial public interest practice, particularly in migration law, environmental law and anti-discrimination law, and was involved in many ground-breaking cases over the last 20 years.

In 2016, Justice Mortimer ruled the Queensland Police Service unlawfully discriminated in relation to the 2004 death of an Aboriginal Palm Island resident in custody. Her Honour was also the trial judge for the case by Consumer Affairs Victoria against wellness blogger Belle Gibson for misleading vulnerable cancer patients in 2017.

The Law Council of Australia congratulated Justice Mortimer on her appointment, while also wishing Chief Justice Alsop the best for his future.

“The Law Council is delighted with Justice Mortimer’s appointment, the first female Chief Justice since the Federal Court was established in 1976,” said Law Council of Australia President Luke Murphy.

“Justice Mortimer is well known and highly respected in the legal community. In 2011, when Her Honour was at the Victorian Bar, she was awarded the Law Council of Australia President’s Medal for her outstanding work that embodied the very best traits of the legal profession.”

Dreyfus also paid tribute to the outgoing Chief Justice Allsop for his outstanding judicial service.

Chief Justice Allsop’s affiliation with the Federal Court first began in 1980 when he commenced his distinguished legal career as an associate to the inaugural Chief Justice, Sir Nigel Bowen.

“On behalf of the Australian Government we thank Chief Justice Allsop for his dedicated service to the Federal Court and broader contribution to the Australian legal system, and wish him all the very best for the future,” Dreyfus said.

Her Honour’s appointment as Chief Justice will commence on 7 April 2023.