Murray Gleeson

Anthony Murray Gleeson AC GBS QC (born 30 August 1938) is an Australian former judge who served as the 11th Chief Justice of Australia, in office from 1998 to 2008.

Murray Gleeson

Gleeson photo.jpg
Gleeson in 2006
11th Chief Justice of Australia
In office
22 May 1998 – 29 August 2008
Nominated byJohn Howard
Appointed bySir William Deane
Preceded bySir Gerard Brennan
Succeeded byRobert French
15th Chief Justice of New South Wales
In office
2 November 1988 – 21 May 1998
Nominated byNick Greiner
Appointed bySir James Rowland
Preceded bySir Laurence Street
Succeeded byJames Spigelman
Non-Permanent Judge of the Court of Final Appeal of Hong Kong
Assumed office
1 March 2009
Appointed byDonald Tsang
Personal details
Born (1938-08-30) 30 August 1938 (age 83)
Wingham, New South Wales, Australia
Nationality Australia
Alma materUniversity of Sydney
Chinese name

Gleeson was born in Wingham, New South Wales, and studied law at the University of Sydney. He was admitted to the New South Wales Bar in 1963 and appointed Queen's Counsel in 1974, becoming one of the state's leading barristers. Gleeson was appointed Chief Justice of New South Wales in 1988, serving until his elevation to the High Court in 1998. He and Samuel Griffith (appointed 1903) are the only people to have been elevated directly from the chief justiceship of a state to the chief justiceship of the High Court. As required by the constitution, he retired from the court when he reached his 70th birthday.

In October 2020, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that Gleeson's daughter, Jacqueline Gleeson, will be elevated to the High Court following the retirement of Justice Virginia Bell.[1]

Early lifeEdit

Gleeson was born in Wingham, New South Wales, the eldest of four children. He was educated at St. Joseph's College in Hunters Hill, where he won the Lawrence Campbell Oratory Competition in both 1953 and 1955, before matriculating to receive first class honours degrees in Arts and Law from the University of Sydney. Among his graduating class of 1962 were John Howard, later to become Prime Minister; and Michael Kirby, who later served alongside him as a judge on the High Court.[2]

Legal careerEdit

After graduation, Gleeson spent one year as a solicitor at Messrs Murphy & Moloney. Gleeson was admitted to the New South Wales Bar in 1963, where he read with Laurence Street and Anthony Mason - his future predecessors as Chief Justice of New South Wales and Chief Justice of Australia respectively.

His appearances as junior counsel focussed mainly on matters of taxation and commercial law, as well as important constitutional cases including Strickland v Rocla Concrete Pipes Ltd, which concerned the scope of the corporations power.

Upon his appointment as Queen's Counsel (QC) in 1974, Gleeson's career as senior counsel continued to focus on commercial and constitutional matters. However he also appeared in some high-profile criminal cases, including his successful defence before a jury of National Party MP Ian Sinclair in 1980.[3] In the same year he appeared for the appellants in Port Jackson Stevedoring v Salmond & Spraggon, the last case granted leave to appeal to the Privy Council from the High Court.[3] In 1981 he appeared for former Prime Minister Sir William McMahon in Evans v Crichton-Browne, excluding the rhetoric of electoral advertising from judicial scrutiny under the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918.[3] Gleeson was President of the New South Wales Bar Association 1984–1985.

He was a methodical counsel, who prepared his cases and even his cross examinations in minute detail. Retired Justice of Appeal Roderick Meagher said jokingly of Gleeson: "He has written nothing outside his professional work. He takes no interest in either music or art. He does, however, like flowers. He stares at them to make them wilt."[4]

Judicial careerEdit

Chief Justice of New South WalesEdit

Gleeson was appointed Chief Justice of New South Wales in 1988, the first barrister to be directly elevated to the Chief Justiceship since Frederick Jordan in 1934.[3] According to convention, he was also made Lieutenant Governor of New South Wales in 1989. During Gleeson's decade as Chief Justice of New South Wales, the court system dealt with considerable change including fast growing demand, cost constraints and delays. He sought to delineate appropriate boundaries for the political debate surrounding litigation, and was adamant that the proper administration of justice was a part of civilised government and not a free market privilege.[3]

The tradition of the Chief Justice frequently appearing in the Court of Criminal Appeal was continued under Gleeson's tenure. In this role, he appeared as a judge in R v Birks, where it was found a trial counsel's proved incompetence was a ground of appeal, and Attorney-General (NSW) v Milat, where an indigent accused was found to be entitled to legal representation as a basic requirement of fairness in a serious legal trial.[3]

Gleeson also frequently presided in the Court of Appeal, a forum more suited to his expertise in administrative, commercial, and constitutional law. In 1992, he presided over Greiner v Independent Commission Against Corruption, which exonerated Nick Greiner from charges of corruption, although Greiner was forced to resign as Premier months earlier by independents who controlled the balance of power in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly. Other notable cases include Ballina Shire Council v Ringland, where he endorsed the constitutionally implied right to freedom of political communication and concluded that councillors could not sue for defamation on statements about their performance, and Egan v Willis where the New South Wales Legislative Council was found to be empowered to compel the treasurer Michael Egan (then a member of the Legislative Council) to produce documents and to suspend him for non-compliance. In Egan v Chadwick, this power was found to be not limited by legal professional privilege.

Chief Justice of AustraliaEdit

In May 1998, Gleeson was appointed Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia, replacing Sir Gerard Brennan. He was the first Chief Justice of a state supreme court to be appointed Chief Justice of the High Court since Samuel Griffith, whose own state Chief Justiceship preceded the formation of the High Court.[3] He is also the first Chief Justice not to have been made a knight (however, Australia had ceased the practice of awarding knighthoods some years previously). During his tenure as Chief Justice, Gleeson actively maintained the importance of judicial independence in the face of increasing executive government power and public anger with court decisions. He also spoke out against the use of torture, forced confessions and detention without trial.[5][6]

His tenure as Chief Justice was also characterised by a large number of joint judgments, and a relatively frequent number of judgments that clearly and plainly provide the Court's ratio decidendi.[3] In 2020, at least six former associates of Dyson Heydon, another member of the bench led by Murray Gleeson, accused Heydon of sexual harassment, and one alleged that another judge, Michael McHugh had told Murray Gleeson about one of alleged acts.[7]

On 30 July 2008, it was announced that Federal Court justice Robert French would succeed Gleeson as Chief Justice. In accordance with the Australian Constitution, he retired from the High Court on 29 August 2008, the day before his 70th birthday. The occasion was marked by a ceremonial sitting of the High Court in Canberra.

Court of Final Appeal of Hong KongEdit

On 7 November 2008, Gleeson was appointed a non-permanent judge of the Court of Final Appeal of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. He is given a Chinese name "紀立信" (Jyutping: gei2lap6seon3) by the Hong Kong Judiciary.[8]


Personal lifeEdit

He married Robyn Paterson in 1965, and the couple have four children. Their eldest daughter, Jacqueline, was appointed a judge of the Federal Court of Australia in 2014, after practising law as a barrister at the Sydney Bar and as general counsel of the Australian Broadcasting Authority.[13] In October 2020, she was appointed to the High Court of Australia by Prime Minister Scott Morrison.[14] Another daughter, Rebecca, is married to actor Eric Bana.[15]

In September 2006, The Australian Financial Review magazine named Gleeson Australia's seventh most overtly powerful person.[16]


  1. ^ "Prime Minister announces new High Court justices ahead of dual retirement". ABC News. Retrieved 28 October 2020.
  2. ^ Kirby, Michael (16 July 1998). "Murray Gleeson - Law Student". High Court of Australia.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Walker, Bret (2001). "Gleeson, (Anthony) Murray". In Blackshield, Tony; Coper, Michael; Williams, George (eds.). The Oxford Companion to the High Court of Australia. Melbourne: Oxford University Press. pp. 305–307.
  4. ^ Ackland, Richard (12 March 2004). "Stand by as Roddy comes off the bench". The Sydney Morning Herald.
  5. ^ Wilkinson, Marian (7 October 2006). "Torture debate: Chief Justice lays down law". The Sydney Morning Herald.
  6. ^ "A Core Value, Annual Colloquium, Judicial Conference of Australia" (PDF). High Court of Australia. 6 October 2006. Archived from the original (PDF) on 4 July 2007. Retrieved 11 October 2006.
  7. ^ "Murray Gleeson: What Did He Know About Dyson Heydon?". A Rich Life. 8 July 2020. Retrieved 8 July 2020.
  8. ^ "Senior Judicial Appointment". Retrieved 29 January 2018.
  9. ^ It's an Honour - Officer of the Order of Australia
  10. ^ It's an Honour - Companion of the Order of Australia
  11. ^ It's an Honour - Centenary Medal
  12. ^ "Australian Academy of Law - Member public profile". Australian Academy of Law. Retrieved 31 July 2020.
  13. ^ Gleeson, Justice (22 April 2014). "Ceremonial sitting of the Full Court for the swearing in and welcome of the Honourable Justice Gleeson". Retrieved 29 January 2018.
  14. ^ "Prime Minister announces new High Court justices ahead of dual retirement". ABC News. Retrieved 28 October 2020.
  15. ^ Kate Halfpenny. "Under the Gun". Who Magazine. 8 August 2000.
  16. ^ "Howard most powerful". The Sydney Morning Herald. 28 September 2006.

External linksEdit

  • Interview - The Law Report ABC Radio National talks to Murray Gleeson about his 20 years on the bench. (audio and transcript available)
Legal offices
Preceded by
Sir Laurence Street
Chief Justice of New South Wales
1988 - 1998
Succeeded by
James Spigelman
Preceded by
Sir Gerard Brennan
Chief Justice of Australia
1998 - 2008
Succeeded by
Robert French
Preceded by
Non-Permanent Judge of the Court of Final Appeal of Hong Kong
Government offices
Preceded by
Sir Laurence Street
Lieutenant-Governor of New South Wales
1989 - 1998
Succeeded by
James Spigelman
Order of precedence
Preceded by
Lord Millett
Non-Permanent Judge of the Court of Final Appeal
Hong Kong order of precedence
Non-Permanent Judge of the Court of Final Appeal
Succeeded by
Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury
Non-Permanent Judge of the Court of Final Appeal