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Kiefel J has received the highest accolade in the Order of Australia, the AC. Now only Bell J lacks an AC amongst the justices of the High Court. That isn’t too strange, given that there appears to be a timelag before Justices are awarded ACs.

Kiefel J’s honour is especially honourable as she is the only AC recipient this year. Which is odd that the SMH didn’t cover the story, whilst covering constitutional law academic George Williams’ AO.

  • French CJ appointed 2008, awarded AC 2010 [2 years]
  • Gummow J appointed 1995, awarded AC 1997 [2 years]
  • Hayne J appointed 1997, awarded AC 2002 [5 years]
    • Although this seems like a long time, it’s not as though Hayne ever wrote any separate judgments. Maybe the committee simply wasn’t aware he was appointed to the High Court.
  • Heydon J appointed 2003, awarded AC 2004 [1 year]
  • Crennan J appointed 2005, awarded AC 2008 [3 years]
  • Kiefel J appointed 2007, awarded AC 2011 [4 years]
  • Bell J appointed 2009, awarded AC ? [> 2 years]
Amongst recent former justices:
  • Gleeson CJ was an AC (1992) prior to becoming CJ of Australia (1998) possibly because he was CJ of NSW (1988)
  • Callinan J, appointed 1998, AC 2003 [5 years]
  • Kirby was an AC whilst he was President of the Court of Appeal
  • McHugh J, 1989; 1989 [0 years]
  • Gaudron J refused the award in 1988 when all the serving justices were offered the AC
At one point, it was customary for all justices to be knighted. Since it is no longer customary for Australians to be given knighthoods, it is no longer customary for High Court justices to be knighted either.
Obviously, the Order of Australia was set up to circumvent the British honours system, including knighthoods, but there is no reason in principle why an Australian knighthood cannot be granted. Indeed, Fraser created a new level of the Order of Australia – Knight (or Dame) of the Order of Australia (AK, AD) which was abolished by Hawke due to its controversial nature.
It would certainly be interesting to see what would happen if the Prime Minister advised the Governor-General to create an Australian knighthood, so one might be invested Sir Malcolm Fraser of Australia (instead of Sir Malcolm Fraser of the UK). The theory is long and complicated, but in my opinion there is no legal reason why it cannot be done. The Australia Acts intend that the Cth and States between them shall have every legislative power that Imperial Parliament once had (Port MacDonnell). It is well-recognised that the prerogative powers have followed the legislative powers in their distribution.

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