Australian referendum, 1977 (Retirement of Judges)

The legislation "Constitution Alteration (Retirement of Judges) 1977" proposed to create a retirementage of 70 for judges in federal courts.The question was put to a referendum in the Australian referendum, 1977.


"It is proposed to alter the Constitution so as to provide for retiring ages for judges of federal courts."

"Do you approve the proposed law?"


In October 1976 the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs recommended a retiring age for all federal judges. This recommendation was based on

* a perceived need 'to maintain vigorous and dynamic courts'
* a need to open up avenues for 'able legal practitioners' to achieve judicial positions
* a growing community belief in a compulsory retiring age for judges
* avoiding 'the unfortunate necessity' of removing a judge made unfit for office by declining health.

The committee's view was accepted by the Australian Constitutional Convention soon after.

The amendment introduced in the following year sought to provide for a retiring age of seventy for all federal court judges, including those on the High Court — though not judges appointed before the approval of the referendum. The issue was not controversial, despite Sir Robert Menzies' description of the change as 'superficial and ill-considered'. Over 80 per cent of voters supported the amendment.

The amendment applied prospectively, meaning the tenure of those High Court judges appointed prior to the referendum was unaffected. Only Sir Garfield Barwick made use of his original tenure, retiring in 1981 at the age of 77. The remaining judges either retired, resigned, or died, with the exception of Sir Anthony Mason, who was appointed Chief Justice and thus lost his right to the original tenure as an Associate Justice.

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