Home World Business The woman asking the hard questions at the banking royal commission

The woman asking the hard questions at the banking royal commission


Gordon was appointed to the Federal Court in 2007 and replaced her husband on the High Court bench when he retired in 2015.

Orr and Hayne may also have crossed paths some years earlier in the corridors of the High Court.

In 1997, the year Hayne was appointed to the court, Orr was working as an associate for Hayne’s judicial colleague Michael McHugh, assisting with legal research and proof-reading judgments.

The University of Queensland and Cambridge-educated Orr has degrees in law and economics as well as a Masters of Philosophy in Criminology and was called to the bar in May 2002, after a five-year stint as a solicitor at the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.

By October 2006, she was being touted by The Australian Financial Review as a rising star in the legal profession.

The newspaper compiled a list of 37 “exceptionally gifted young barristers” after surveying “senior barristers, senior litigation partners at the law firms that instruct them, clerks and court insiders”.

Rowena Orr flanked by Mark Costello and Eloise Dais at the royal commission this week.

Rowena Orr flanked by Mark Costello and Eloise Dais at the royal commission this week.

Photo: Eddie Jim

Among them was Michelle Gordon, then a silk, along with Orr and a raft of senior barristers who have since been appointed to high office, including High Court justice Stephen Gageler, the NSW Court of Appeal’s Mark Leeming, NSW Supreme Court Justice Lucy McCallum and former Commonwealth Solicitor-General Justin Gleeson, SC.

Orr, who has appeared for and against the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission in a string of cases, is ranked as one of the country’s best competition lawyers by Doyle’s Guide, which provides an annual ranking of the country’s top lawyers and firms.

Like Michael Hodge, QC, her fellow senior counsel assisting the banking royal commission, she has experience acting in royal commissions and public inquiries.

In 2015, she was the senior counsel assisting the Victorian royal commission into family violence, heading a team of five junior barristers. Orr was also the junior counsel assisting the Victorian coroner in one of several inquests into the death of toddler Jaidyn Leskie, whose murder remains unsolved.

While most of the commission’s counsel assisting and Hayne himself are based in Melbourne, Hayne said on Monday he was “conscious of the fact that people affected by our work live in all the states and territories of the Commonwealth”.

One of the many challenges for the commission, he said, would be to “deal with that reality in ways that will further the utility of what we are required to do” but “no final decisions have yet been made about when the commission will hold hearings in places other than Melbourne”.

Michaela Whitbourn

Michaela Whitbourn is The Sydney Morning Herald’s Legal Affairs and Investigations reporter.

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