Lives and times of the judges

A podcast series 

Welcome to a series of podcasts that explore the lives and careers of former judges of the Federal Court of Australia.

In a series of conversations with journalist and broadcaster Fiona Gruber, each judge discusses his or her career, the influences and experiences that shaped them and their reflections on the evolution of the Court.

The project begins with the Honourable Michael Black AC KC, who was Chief Justice between 1991 and 2010. He discusses his career at the Bar and on the Bench, the early years of the Court, and his role in the philosophy and design of a new Commonwealth Law Courts building in his home town of Melbourne.

Fiona Gruber is a writer, radio producer and podcast documentary maker. She formerly worked for ABC Radio National and has written for the Guardian, the Age and Sydney Morning Herald, the Australian and The Times Literary Supplement. Her art monograph Light Field; the Art of Bruce Munro, was published by Lund Humphries UK, in 2023.


Robert French AC

Robert FrenchRobert French, Judge 1986-2008 
Robert French was born in Perth in 1947 and educated at St Louis School (now John XXIII College). He graduated from the  University of Western Australia with a degree in physics in 1968 and then  completed a Bachelor of Laws, graduating in 1971. In 1969 he unsuccessfully  contested the seat of Fremantle for the Liberal Party.

He was admitted as a barrister and solicitor in 1972 and was appointed to the Federal Court in 1986 aged 39. During that time,  Robert French was also chair and first president of the National Native Title Tribunal. In 2008 he became Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia, retiring in 2017. He has been an overseas non-permanent judge of the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal since 2017 and in that year was also appointed Chancellor of the University of Western Australia.

James Allsop AC SC

James AllsopJames Allsop
Chief Justice 2013-2023
Judge of the Federal Court 2001-2008
James Allsop was born in Sydney in 1953 and educated at Sydney Grammar School. He graduated from the University of Sydney with a Bachelor of Arts in 1974 and a Bachelor of Laws in 1980, winning the University Medal in law in that year.

James Allsop was admitted to the New South Wales Bar in 1981; he was appointed Senior Counsel in New South Wales in 1994 and as Queen’s Counsel in Western Australia from 1998.  

In 2001 he was appointed to the Federal Court and served on the bench until 2008, when he became President of the New South Wales Court of Appeal. In 2013 he was appointed as the Federal Court’s fourth Chief Justice, succeeding the Honourable Patrick Keane AC KC. He held this position until 2023, when he was succeeded by The Honourable Debra Mortimer.

Michael Black AC KC

Michael BlackMichael Black, Chief Justice 1991-2011
Michael Black was born in Egypt in 1940, where his father was serving in the RAF. He was educated in Egypt, England and at Wesley College, Melbourne. He graduated from the University of Melbourne with a Bachelor of Laws in 1963 and commenced practice at the Victorian Bar in 1964. He was appointed Queen’s Council for Victoria in 1980 and Tasmania in 1984. He was the Federal Court’s second Chief Justice, between 1991 and 2010, succeeding the court’s first Chief Justice, Sir Nigel Bowen AC KBE QC, who served between 1976 and 1990. 

William Gummow AC KC

William GummowWilliam Gummow, Judge 1986-1995
William Gummow was born in Sydney in 1942 and was educated at Sydney Grammar School. He graduated from the University of Sydney with a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Laws and spent ten years as a solicitor before being admitted to the New South Wales Bar in 1976. He was appointed Queen's Counsel in 1986 and in the same year was appointed to the Federal Court. In 1995 he was appointed to the High Court of Australia and after retirement, in 2012, he was appointed to the Court of Final Appeal of Hong Kong as a non-permanent judge from other common law jurisdictions. In parallel with his legal career, he taught law at the University of Sydney for 30 years and was the co-author, with RP Meagher and JRF Lehane, of the first three editions of Equity, Doctrines and Remedies (Butterworths).



  • Fiona Gruber, interviewer and producer.
  • Melissa May, sound engineer.