Elizabeth Raper SC
On Friday 10th of June 2022, Elizabeth Raper SC was officially welcomed to the Federal Court of Australia in courtroom one of Queen’s Square by the Honourable Chief Justice James Allsop AO. This occurred after her swearing-in on Monday 2nd May 2022 in the presence of the judges which the Chief Justice remarked will be remembered because the occasion sparked the fire alarms in the building. The appointment of Justice Raper was much celebrated in the profession and by those who practise in the federal jurisdiction. In attendance were the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the President of the Court of Appeal, Justices Mitchelmore, Peden and Kirk and many other judges, a great number of her colleagues in chambers and a large representation from the wider Sydney Bar, in particular her friend and fellow academic Professor Joellen Riley, the Hon Justice Paul Munro (with whom she was associate) and Justice Suzanne Christie (of the Federal Circuit and Family Court) and her family.
Her Honour described herself as the contrary, precocious second child of an asymmetrical match. [Her] mother, a Greek- born, Sorbonne-educated linguist, one of the many feminists of her time. [Her] father, a 10 pound Pom, a gentlemen, a racket sport man, a conservative red Tory.
Her future could be foretold, not from coming from a legal family (which she does not), but raised in a family that ‘argued’ in intergenerational dinner time battles about politics, social issues and literature, often expressing deeply held opposing views – a forum where differing views were ordinary, accepted and respected.
Her Honour graduated from the University of Sydney with a Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Laws in 1998. Her legal career started as associate to the Honourable Justice Paul Munro, a senior deputy president of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission. Shortly thereafter she was admitted as a solicitor of the Supreme Court of NSW in April 1998 and worked at the international firm Baker & McKenzie and practised in the sphere of employment law, discrimination and some commercial litigation. Her Honour spent some time in 2001 at the firm’s London office and became a senior associate in the Sydney office in 2004.
From 2003, her Honour has lectured at the Sydney Law School (both at an undergraduate and postgraduate level) and has co-authored with Chris Ronalds AO SC two editions of Discrimination Law and Practice.
Her Honour was called to the bar in 2005. She read with Kate Eastman SC and Trish McDonald SC and in her first case, on her first day at the bar, acted for the ABC defending a freedom of information application brought by the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism over its coverage of the Iraq War. Her Honour practised at the bar primarily in the sphere of employment, discrimination and administrative law. She has also appeared in inquests and commissions of inquiry.
Her Honour has appeared in many significant employment and industrial cases, employment class actions and high-profile discrimination and harassment cases notably in Richardson v Oracle Corporation Australia – a high-profile sexual harassment case before the full Federal Court which contemplated the nature of damages to be awarded for victims of such harassment and discrimination.
Her Honour appeared for the Fair Work Ombudsman in a number of cases where workers were egregiously treated at the hands of unscrupulous employers.
Since 2008 her Honour was a member of the Fifth Floor of Wentworth Chambers. Throughout her time there, she was known as an extremely learned member of the Floor who offered unwavering support to her colleagues by whom she will be greatly missed. Her Honour was much-loved at the bar and known to be a friendly, joyous, sensitive and very loyal friend and mentor to many.
In 2018 her Honour was elected to sit on the Bar Council. During that period her Honour’s calm, courteous and thoughtful demeanour was appreciated, as was her assistance on the working party updating the best practice guidelines which commenced under the presidency of Tim Game SC and continued under Michael McHugh SC’s erstwhile supervision. Her expertise on that working party was formidable in drafting changes that incorporated changes to the Sex Discrimination Act and fair work legislation culminating in updated guidelines circulated some few weeks ago.
Uniformly, her Honour is remembered as a dedicated, hardworking and highly respected member of the bar.
At her Honour’s swearing-in it was observed by the President of the Bar, Ms Gabrielle Bashir SC, that the path to her Honour’s swearing-in was permitted by fate. On the morning of 26th of December 2004 while her Honour and her husband Sean were travelling in Sri Lanka, they decided to attend a church on a hill. That happy decision meant they were not struck by the tsunami that smashed into their resort and swept away whole villages on the coastal plain near to the area they were visiting.
Ms Bashir observed that her Honour possessed the requisite skill, training and experience that made her an eminent candidate to be a judge of the Federal Court of Australia, and an appointment that properly reflects the Federal Court’s reputation here and abroad as a modern, dynamic and diverse jurisdiction.
Raper J concluded her speech by referring to the recent tremendous loss experienced by the profession with the passing of Sir Gerard Brennan and reflected on how he had described the role of the judge as standing in the lonely, no man or woman’s land between government and the governed, between the wealthy and the poor, the strong and the weak. She or he can identify with neither, for partisanship robs the judge of the authority essential to the discharge of judicial office.
Her Honour looks forward with enthusiasm and anticipation towards her new role as a judge of the Federal Court after many years of service at the Sydney Bar. BN