Honorary doctorate to former High Court judge
Former Justice of the High Court of Australia Michael Kirby AC, CMG, has been recognised with an honorary doctorate from Monash University.
The honorary degree of Doctor of Laws honoris causa, was conferred on Dr Kirby at a ceremony at the University’s Clayton campus yesterday, recognising his many years of service to the Australian community, and his commitment to upholding international human rights law, health and civil society matters.
Before his retirement from the High Court of Australia in 2009, Dr Kirby was Australia's longest serving judge. He was the inaugural chairman of the Australian Law Reform Commission and has served with many Commonwealth, international and United Nations organisations. In 2010, he was awarded the Gruber Justice Prize.
Dr Kirby has retained strong links with the University since his first visit in 1965. Today, he serves as the patron of the Castan Centre for Human Rights Law at Monash where he is a supporter and advocate of the Centre’s work, staff and students.
In recognition of his judicial and extra-judicial contributions to cross-disciplinary research and discovery at the intersections of law, human rights, health and bioethics, the Michael Kirby Centre for Public Health and Human Rights was also established at Monash University in 2010.
Upon accepting the University’s highest honour, Dr Kirby addressed several hundred graduating students.
Chancellor Dr Alan Finkel AO said his distinguished and influential career made him a worthy recipient of the University’s highest honour.
“The Hon Michael Kirby has made outstanding contributions to public life nationally and internationally,” Dr Finkel said.
“Few Australians have contributed as much across as many endeavours in public service and civil society on state, national and international fronts.”
Michael Kirby was born in Sydney and educated at public schools in New South Wales. He took his University education at the University of Sydney where he graduated Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Economics and Master of Laws with First Class Honours. He was elected President of the Sydney Students’ Representative Council and in that capacity, in 1965, 50 years ago, he attended the first meeting of the National Union of Australian University Students held at Monash University. He has retained strong links with this University ever since in law, medicine, bioethics and other disciplines. The Centre for Bioethics and Public Health in the University is named after him.
After practising as a solicitor and barrister, Michael Kirby was in 1975 appointed a Deputy President of the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission and concurrently inaugural Chairman of the Australian Law Reform Commission. He later became a Judge of the Federal Court of Australia, President of the New South Wales Court of Appeal, President of the Court of Appeal of Solomon Islands and Justice of the High Court of Australia. When he retired from the High Court in 2009, he was Australia's longest serving judge.
Michael Kirby has been busier than ever since leaving the judiciary. He has served successively as a member of the Eminent Persons Group on the Future of the Commonwealth of Nations; as a commissioner of the UNDP Global Commission on HIV and the Law; as editor in chief of The Laws of Australia; as chair of the UN Commission of Enquiry on human rights in DPRK (North Korea); and most recently as a member of the WHO/Global Fund High-Level Panel on Equitable Access to Essential Healthcare.
Equality, non-discrimination and justice, with an international outlook, have been the passions of his life. He proudly serves as patron of the Castan Centre of Monash University named after Ron Castan, counsel for Eddie Mabo in the great native title case. He also acts as patron of the Kaleidoscope Foundation, housed in the Monash Law School, which works to remove discriminatory laws against sexual minorities in our region and the world. In 1991 he was awarded the Australian Human Rights Medal. In 2011, in Washington, he was named Laureate of the Gruber Justice Prize. In 2014 the Rotary Club of Melbourne awarded him the Monash Medal celebrating the qualities of John Monash: Leadership, Integrity, Service.