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Court in the Act
10 November, 2005  
Fresh blood and living instruments

Susan Crennan’s swearing in as a judge of the High Court reflected the sobriety of the times. There were precious few sparkling moments, according to judges’ associate Miss Ginger Snatch

imageThe amusing anecdotes about the new justice were modest enough. Sober mirth was more the tone of Tuesday’s, (Nov 8) swearing-in of Justice Crennan at the High Court.

The insights into character, beyond the usual gilded encomiums, were even thinner.

I suppose that’s the outcome of a life that has been carefully trod in the great, grey service of the law. It’s one that is entirely comfortable with the chilly Gleeson court.

Being subjected to peachy remarks by the chalky master of terror, Philip Ruddock, would be enough to make you cringe. The attorney general delved into backcopies of the school magazine for his St Trinian’s naughty schoolgirl story.

“Your honour also revealed a wry sense of humour.

In 1962, in your last year at the school, tired of the very steep climb up Cape Street [Heidelberg] to the main gates, Your Honour and another friend placed an advertisement in one of the school magazines.

The advertisement read: ‘Wanted. One old bomb and driver to transport two travel-weary matrics to school.’

Failing that, you asked if ‘some generous person’ could install a ski-lift.”

The attorney then mumbled something about the lifts in the High Court being refurbished and so the new judge could “travel express” from the basement to the ninth floor.

It was that sort of day and it didn’t get any more rib-tickling. There was a strained reference that likened being cross-examined by Crennan to being picked for fullback against Gary Ablett. The Age could not resist leading with that one – Victorian gets High Court guernsey.

imageThere was also this rather peculiar line from Fabulous Phil:

“You were regularly briefed by the Commonwealth, and a number of instrumentalities as well as appearing for numerous other parties of different persuasions.”

Glenn Martin SC representing the Australian Bar n’Grill trotted out an Irish story, would you believe?

“Like Justice Callinan you were also admitted to practice in the Republic of Ireland. I have been asked by the chairman of the Irish bar to inform the court that the Irish bar is delighted to see another of its members appointed to this court and to convey the bar’s congratulations.

The celebration of Justice Callinan’s appointment concluded only two weeks ago. No doubt the party will now continue.”

Groan, groan.

Martin went on to recite the incredible reforms instituted at the ABA during the period of Crennan’s presidency: election of the president rather than appointment by rotation, uniform recognition of QCs and SCs and advocacy training in Bangladesh.

It was left to Kate McMillan SC from the Melbourne Grill to inject the only small glow of warmth into the occasion.

“Our collective Victorian hearts are bursting with pride on your elevation to this court…

The Age newspaper described you as a Renaissance woman. Your local newspaper, The Progress Leader, community newspaper of the year, reported: ‘Susan Brennan, local grandmother, appointed to the High Court.”

imageMcMillan also revealed possibly the most important fact of the day, that the newest member of the High Court has a garden designed by Edna Walling (seen here).

John North from the Law Council didn’t muck about. He got stuck straight into the perils of the time and rubbed-in Smiler Gleeson’s remarks at the Commonwealth lawyers knees-up about the importance of an independent judiciary. North included this reminder of the current climate:

“While there have been many fractious times in the recorded history of this incredibly aged continent – and many worse times – there can be no doubt that the Australia of today faces a character test of the kind many Australians have not had to confront before.”

In keeping with a woman who gives nothing away, Crennan’s remarks were minimalist. She paid tribute to, “teachers in the different disciplines which shaped my life and mind and to professional colleagues, including great preceptors of the law…”

Luminaries of the Melbourne Grill got a mention: John Barnard, John Hedigan, S.E.K. Hulme, Neil McPhee and John Winnecke.

Michael Black was singled out for his many kindnesses and Alfred Deakin made an appearance in an interesting context:

“This court is an integral part of the life of the nation, with the responsibility of maintaining the constitution and interpreting it with what Alfred Deakin called ‘the needs of the time’.”

Nino Scalia and local originalists must be squirming with dismay. Further there was this flourish from the new justice:

“But the images to which I have referred of a judiciary which transfuses ‘fresh blood’ into our polity and of ‘the law as a living instrument’ conjure up the human qualities needed for the impartial dispensation of justice according to law.”

Wow. Fresh blood, living instruments! You’d hardly know it from the starchy little ceremony on Tuesday.

Just take a look at the order of proceedings to get an idea of the spontaneous loucheness of the Gleeson court. Here’s the official 29-step choreography of the proceedings, included for your uplift:


1. The Court Crier directs: Silence – all stand

2. The Chief Justice and five Justices of the Court enter the courtroom and take their places at the Bench leaving a vacant chair on the far left at the top of the steps. The Chief Justice and Justices remain standing.

3. Associate Greg O’Mahoney will lead to their seats retired Chief Justices of Australia, Sir Anthony Mason and Sir Gerard Brennan; retired Justices of the High Court, Sir Daryl Dawson and the Honourable Michael McHugh; the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Western Australia (Malcolm CJ), the Chief Justice of the Federal Court of Australia (Black CJ); the Chief Justices of the Supreme Courts of South Australia (Doyle CJ), Queensland (de Jersey CJ), New South Wales (Spigelman CJ); the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Australian Capital Territory (Higgins CJ); the Chief Justice of Victoria (Warren CJ); the Chief Justice of the Northern Territory (Martin CJ); the Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia (Bryant CJ) and the Chief Justice of Tasmania (Underwood CJ). He will then return to his place behind the Chief Justice. All remain standing. The order of entry will be:

Sir Anthony Mason
Sir Gerard Brennan
Sir Daryl Dawson
The Hon Michael McHugh
Bryant CJ
Warren CJ
Spigelman CJ
Doyle CJ
Malcolm CJ
Black CJ
De Jersey CJ
Higgins CJ
Martin CJ
Underwood CJ

4. Crennan J enters the ante-room doorway and remains standing.

5. The Chief Justice, all Justices, retired Chief Justices and retired Justices of the High Court, the Chief Justices of the Federal Court, the Family Court and of the Supreme Courts of the States and the Territories will be seated.

6. The Court Crier (Mr Fred Slater) proclaims: The High Court of Australia is now in session. Please be seated.

7. The Court Crier announces: The swearing in of the Honourable Susan Maree Crennan as a Justice of the High Court of Australia.

8. The Chief Justice stands. This signals Crennan J to stand and walk to the left of the Chief Justice.

9. Crennan J announces her Commission to the Chief Justice:

Your Honour the Chief Justice. I have the honour to announce that I have received a Commission from his Excellency the Governor-General appointing me a Justice of the High Court of Australia. I now present the Commission to your Honour.


10. The Chief Justice peruses the Commission.

11. The Chief Justice hands it to the Chief Executive and Principal Registrar and asks him to read aloud the Commission:

“Mr Principal Registrar, please read aloud the Commission.”

12. The Chief Executive and Principal Registrar reads the Commission, and then hands it back to the Chief Justice.

13. The Chief Justice hands a Bible to Crennan J (who takes the Bible in her right hand) and says to her:

“Justice Crennan, I invite you to take the Oath of Allegiance and of Office.”

14. The Chief Justice hands the form of Oath to Crennan J who reads aloud the words thereon.

15. The Chief Justice receives back the Bible from Justice Crennan and says to her:

“Justice Crennan, I now invite you to subscribe the Oath of Allegiance and of Office.”

16. Crennan J sits in the Chief Justice’s chair to do so, then stands. The Chief Justice then sits to attest the Oath, then stands.

17. The Chief Justice directs the Chief Executive and Principal Registrar to place the documents in the records of the Court and hands them to him. He says:

“Mr Principal Registrar, please place these documents in the records of the Court”.

18. The Chief Justice shakes the hand of Crennan J and says:

“Justice Crennan, I invite you to take your seat at the Bench and to proceed to the discharge of the duties of the office of a Justice of the High Court of Australia”.

19. The Chief Justice resumes his seat. Crennan J takes her seat at the Bench.

20. The Chief Justice invites the Hon. Philip Ruddock MP, Attorney-General, to speak.

21. The Chief Justice invites Mr John North, President of the Law Council of Australia, to speak.

22. The Chief Justice invites Mr Glenn Martin SC, Deputy President of the Australian Bar Association (representing the President of the Australian Bar Association), to speak.

23. The Chief Justice invites Ms Kate McMillan SC, President of The Victorian Bar, to speak.

24. The Chief Justice invites Crennan J to speak.

25. The Chief Justice announces that the Court will adjourn to resume sitting at 12.00 noon.

26. The Court Crier announces:

All stand. The High Court of Australia is now adjourned and will resume sitting at 12.00 noon today.

27. The Chief Justice and Justices retire from the Bench.

28. The retired Chief Justices and Justices of the High Court will then leave the Court.

29. The Chief Justices of the Federal Court, the Family Court and of the Supreme Courts of the States and the Territories will then leave the Court.

Associate Greg O’Mahoney escorts dignitaries to the Great Hall from the ante-room.