Associate Professor Heather Roberts, Australian National University Law School
This paper explores the varied ways in which the identities and stories of Australian women judges have been framed by the speeches made at judicial swearing-in ceremonies. Drawing on my original archival research from the first national study of judges’ swearing-in ceremonies, the paper demonstrates how these stories tell a history of women in the legal profession in Australia. The paper draws on a series of case studies to explore key recurring themes, including: ‘First women’, and narratives of difference; the judges’ relationships with ‘helpful men’ and questions of gender-based discrimination; and, feminist identities in the era of #metoo. It argues that the ceremonies tell a story that both responds to and reinscribes the prevailing assumptions regarding gender and judging in Australia, and one which resonates with histories of women in the law in other common law jurisdictions.
Professor Roberts’ current research project interrogates the changing expectations of judges and judging in Australia, through the lens of judicial swearing-in ceremonies in Australia. Drawing on original archival research, the project examining over 900 ceremonies from across Australia’s federally divided State and Territory Supreme Courts, examining over 900 ceremonies from across Australia’s federally divided State and Territory Supreme Courts, going back to federation in 1901. It explores the geographic, historical, and gender-based differences across this archive, as well as differences in stakeholder expectations of judges and judging (that is, the expectations of the executive, the legal profession, and the judiciary itself) as recorded in these ceremonial proceedings. The project is funded by an Australian Research Council Fellowship. Some of her other work has included a discourse and narrative analysis of Australian High Court judgments, particularly in the context of implied constitutional rights and national identities, and intellectual history/biography and Australian High Court judges (particularly focusing on constitutional law). She also hosts the ANU Law visiting Judges program, and integrates judicial visitors into the teaching of core courses.