When he retired from the High Court of Australia on 2 February 2009, Michael Kirby was Australia’s longest-serving judge.
He was first appointed in 1975 as a Deputy President of the Australian Conciliation & Arbitration Commission. Soon after, he became the inaugural Chairman of the Australian Law Reform Commission (1975-84). Later, he was appointed a Judge of the Federal Court of Australia, then President of the New South Wales Court of Appeal (1984-96) and, concurrently, President of the Court of Appeal of Solomon Islands (1995-6). His appointment to the High Court of Australia followed in 1996 and he served thirteen years. In later years, he was Acting Chief Justice of Australia twice.
Following his judicial retirement, Michael Kirby was elected President of the Institute of Arbitrators & Mediators Australia from 2009-2010. He served as a Board Member of the Australian Centre for International Commercial Arbitration (2009-14). He has been appointed Honorary Visiting Professor by twelve universities. And he regularly participates in many local and international conferences and meetings. He has been awarded a number of honorary doctorates at home and abroad. He also serves as Editor-in-Chief of The Laws of Australia (2009 - ) and Chair of the Board of the Criminal Law Journal (1979-).
In addition to his judicial duties, Michael Kirby has served on three university governing bodies being elected Chancellor of Macquarie University in Sydney (1984-93). He also served on many national and international bodies. Amongst the latter have been service as a member of the World Health Organisation’s Global Commission on AIDS (1988-92); as President of the International Commission of Jurists, Geneva (1995-8); as UN Special Representative for Human Rights in Cambodia (1993-96); as a member of the UNESCO International Bioethics Committee (1995-05); as a member of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ Judicial Reference Group (2007- 09) and as a member of the UNAIDS Reference Group on HIV and Human Rights(2004- 2019).
He served 2011-12 as a member of the Eminent Persons Group on the future of the Commonwealth of Nations. He was a Commissioner of the UNDP Global Commission of HIV and the Law 2011-2012. He was appointed to the Advisory Council of Transparency International, based in Berlin in 2012. In 2013- 2014, he was appointed Chair of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights Violations in North Korea. He a Commissioner of the UNAIDS Lancet Commission on AIDS to the Right to Health (2013-2014); the Global Fund’s Equitable Access Panel (2015-16); the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Access to Essential Medicines (2015-16); and UNAIDS/OHCHR’s panel on overreach of criminal law (2017); and Co-Chair of the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (2018 - 2021). In 2022, the International Bar Association elected him an Honorary Life Member.
He was awarded the Australian Human Rights Medal in 1991, the Gruber Justice Prize in 2010 and has been Patron of the Kirby Institute on Blood Borne Diseases in UNSW Sydney, Australia since 2011. In May 2017, he was invested by Japan with the insignia of the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star in Tokyo, with an audience with the Emperor of Japan. In 2018 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of New South Wales (Est. 1866). He was also named for the 2018 United Nations Honour by the United Nations Association of Australia. In 2019 he was appointed a Distinguished Fellow of Australia and New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG). He was also named winner of the Global 100 Firm of the Year - Arbitration - Australia and Bali International Arbitration and Mediation Centre named him one of the 2019 BIAMC top 10 arbitrators in Asia/Pacific. In 2019 Macquarie University conferred on him the honorary title of Chancellor Emeritus “as a public recognition of [his] exceptional and distinguished service to the University, and in perpetuity”. In 2020 Trinity College Dublin presented Praeses Elit Award to him.
TEDxSydney - Michael Kirby - Asks Religious Leaders & God Botherers to Change their MessagesBefore his retirement from the High Court of Australia in February 2009, Michael Kirby was Australia's longest serving judge. Since then Citizen Kirby has been busier than ever doing important work across a number of fields all over the world. Here he addresses the thorny issue of Church & State.