Virginia Bell
Justice of the High Court of Australia
In office
3 February 2009 – 28 February 2021
Nominated byKevin Rudd
Appointed byQuentin Bryce
Preceded byMichael Kirby
Succeeded byJacqueline Gleeson
Justice of the Supreme Court of New South Wales
In office
25 March 1999 (1999-03-25) – 19 December 2008 (2008-12-19)
Justice of the New South Wales Court of Appeal
In office
2008 (2008) – 19 December 2008 (2008-12-19)
Personal details
Born (1951-03-07) 7 March 1951 (age 70)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia[1]
EducationSCEGGS Darlinghurst
Alma materThe University of Sydney

Virginia Margaret Bell AC (born 7 March 1951) is a former senior puisne Justice of the High Court of Australia, the highest court in the Australian court hierarchy. She was sworn in on 3 February 2009, and retired on 28 February 2021.[2][3]

Early life and education

Bell was educated at SCEGGS Darlinghurst before attending the University of Sydney, where she graduated in law in 1976.[4]


Bell was admitted as a solicitor of New South Wales in 1977. She was a solicitor at the Redfern Legal Centre from 1978 to 1984. Between 1982 and 1984, she was a member of the Board of Governors of the Law Foundation.[2] In 1984, Bell was called to the NSW bar, joining Frederick Jordan Chambers. Bell was appointed a public defender in 1986, returning to private practice in late 1989. She was one of the counsel assisting the Wood Royal Commission into the New South Wales Police Service between 1994 and 1997. In November 1997, she was appointed Senior Counsel.[2]

Bell was sworn in as a judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales on 25 March 1999. She was appointed to the Court of Appeal of that court in early 2008, resigning on 19 December 2008 in order to be appointed to the High Court.[2] During her time on the Supreme Court, she presided over a defamation case brought by Rene Rivkin, holding that allegations of homosexuality were no longer defamatory at common law.[5]

Bell was President of the Australasian Institute of Judicial Administration from 2007 to 2008. She was Chair of the University of Wollongong Law Faculty Advisory Committee from 2007 to 2008. From 1998 to 1999, she served as a part-time Commissioner of the Law Reform Commission of New South Wales.[2] She is a former host of the ABC Radio National program Late Night Live.[6]

High Court

In December 2008, Attorney-General Robert McClelland announced that Bell would succeed Michael Kirby on the High Court.[7] She was sworn in on 3 February 2009.[8] According to Kate Hannon in The Sydney Morning Herald, her appointment was "welcomed as redressing a lack of criminal law expertise on the bench of Australia's superior court, and as going some way towards correcting the gender imbalance".[7] Commentator Natasha Stojanovich noted the "disproportionate media focus on Justice Bell's gender and commitment to social justice".[5]

According to Jeremy Gans, a Melbourne Law School professor, Bell's partnership with Susan Kiefel and Patrick Keane is "the most powerful bloc of judges in the court's history". Gans found that, as of 2018, the three justices had been in agreeance in 88 percent of the 116 cases where they had sat together.[9]


On 26 January 2012, Bell was appointed a Companion of the Order of Australia for "eminent service to the judiciary and to the law through leadership in criminal law reform and public policy development, to judicial administration, and as an advocate for the economically and socially disadvantaged".[10]

Personal life

Bell lives in inner Sydney with her partner, a barrister.[11][12] She has long been involved in the LGBT and human rights issues, participating in the first Mardi Gras LGBT rights rally in Sydney in 1978, which was broken up by police.[13] She is the first lesbian to serve on the High Court, and the second openly LGBT person after Michael Kirby, whom she replaced upon his retirement on 3 February 2009.

On her appointment, Australian Law Reform Commission president David Weisbrot opined that Bell will be a "progressive" jurist in the tradition of Michael Kirby.[14]


  1. ^ "Virginia Margaret Bell". Australian Women's Register. Retrieved 3 March 2021.
  2. ^ a b c d e McClelland, Robert (15 December 2008). "New Justice of the High Court" (Press release). Attorney General for Australia. Archived from the original on 1 June 2009. Retrieved 15 December 2008.
  3. ^ "High Court gets fourth woman". The Sydney Morning Herald. Australian Associated Press. 15 December 2008. Retrieved 15 December 2008.
  4. ^ Hole, Margaret (25 March 1999). "Swearing in Ceremony of The Honourable Virginia Margaret Bell, SC as a Judge of the Supreme Court of NSW". Supreme Court of New South Wales. Retrieved 25 February 2012.
  5. ^ a b Stojanovich, Natasha (10 February 2009). "Virginia Bell: bringing more to the bench than gender". Retrieved 27 June 2020.
  6. ^ "A late-night spot of mental stimulation". The Canberra Times. 64 (20, 029). Australian Capital Territory, Australia. 12 February 1990. p. 39. Retrieved 2 March 2021 – via National Library of Australia.
  7. ^ a b Hannon, Kate (15 December 2008). "Virginia Bell to be High Court judge". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 27 June 2020.
  8. ^ "Justice Bell to be sworn in as High Court judgeJustice Bell to be sworn in as High Court judge". ABC News. 3 February 2009. Retrieved 27 June 2020.
  9. ^ Pelly, Michael (31 July 2018). "High Court troika 'the most powerful bloc of judges in history'". The Australian Financial Review. Retrieved 27 June 2020.
  10. ^ "Bell honoured for life of social justice". The Sydney Morning Herald. Australian Associated Press. 26 January 2012. Retrieved 26 January 2012.
  11. ^ "NSW Supreme Court farewells High Court appointee Virginia Bell". The Australian. 20 December 2008.
  12. ^ Marsden, John (c. 2004). "From Belanglo to Bangkok". I am what I am: my life and curious times. Camberwell, Victoria, Australia: Penguin. p. 71. ISBN 0-670-04052-5.
  13. ^ "New justice a '78er". Sydney Star Observer. 17 December 2008.
  14. ^ "Virginia Bell rings in new era for High Court". The Australian. 16 December 2008.