News: Agreement in the High Court

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Last week, the High Court published two unanimous judgments and announced a third, bringing its total of unanimous decisions so far this year to 15, out of 17 to date. At this early stage, the Court is tracking ahead of its past rates of unanimous assent in orders.* On my count of the last five years (since Gummow and Heydon JJ left the bench and Gageler and Keane JJ joined), the Court’s judges unanimously asesnted to the court’s orders in 75% (2013), 76% (2014), 81% (2015), 76% (2016) and 67% (2017) of three-or-more judge cases.This average unanimity rate of 76% over the past five years is – according to data compiled and generously supplied to me by regular blog commenter Matan Goldblatt – well ahead of earlier multi-year periods where unanimous orders made up 67% (2007-2012),  54% (2003-2007) and 61% (1998-2003) of High Court decisions. The backdrop (and possible explanation) of the current institutional unanimity rate is each judge’s personal rate of assenting to the Court’s order. From 2013, my count of those rates is: French CJ: 95.5%; Hayne J: 91.9%; Crennan J: 94.8%; Kiefel J/CJ: 97.7%; Bell J: 96.7%; Gageler J: 87.0%; Keane J: 97.1%; Nettle J: 91.1%; Gordon J: 90.0%; and Edelman J: 88.9%.

These figures show that the current court is characterised, not just by its lack of ‘Great Dissenters’ – Gageler J’s outlier of 87% is barely comparable to the likes of Kirby J (around 60%, dropping to 52% in 2006) and Heydon J (55% in his final year) – but perhaps especially by its run of ‘Great Assenters’ Continue reading

News: Leave granted in three criminal cases

The April sittings saw the High Court rejecting all of the special leave matters heard on the papers, including Valve’s high profile argument that its Steam gaming platform is not subject to the Australian Consumer Law. But the Court granted half of the (six) matters it heard orally on Friday, all criminal appeals, including one on the topical question of how to establish whether or not cannabis found at someone’s home was harvested from two plants.

The three cases that the Court will visit on appeal are: Continue reading

Burns v Corbett; Burns v Gaynor; A-G (NSW) v Burns; A-G (NSW) v Burns [No 2]; NSW v Burns

The High Court has dismissed five appeals stemming from to a decision of the NSW Court of Appeal on anti-discrimination complaints made across State borders. Burns, a resident of NSW and an anti-discrimination campaigner, made complaints to the Anti-Discrimination Board of the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal about statements made by Corbett and Gaynor, who were, respectively, residents of Victoria and Queensland. At issue there was whether ss 28(2)(a) and (c), 29(1) and 32 of the Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act (NSW) (the NCAT Act), which lay out the general and appellate jurisdiction of NCAT, gave NCAT jurisdiction to hear cases between residents of different states (known as ‘diversity matters’). Hearing the various appeals stemming from these matters together, the NSWCA held that the NCAT had no diversity jurisdiction, and that only State courts, and not Tribunals, could hear such complaints under the High Court’s diversity jurisdiction.

The High Court unanimously dismissed the appeals. Four judges (Kiefel CJ, Bell and Keane JJ and Gageler J) held that the Constitution contains an implied limitation that prevents State parliaments from conferring diversity jurisdiction on State tribunals.

The Joint Judges (Kiefel CJ, Bell and Keane JJ)

Kiefel CJ, Bell and Keane JJ began by laying out the appeal as raising two issues: whether the Commonwealth Constitution precludes State parliaments from conferring jurisdiction in diversity matters on a tribunal that is not one of the ‘courts of the States’ referred to in s 77 (the ‘implication’ issue); and, if it does not, whether a State law purporting to do so is inoperative by virtue of s 109 of the Constitution, as inconsistent with a federal law covering the same issue, here, s 39 of the Judiciary Act 1903 (Cth) (the ‘inconsistency’ issue). The joint judges held held that the implication issue should be resolved affirmatively, and thus it was unnecessary to resolve the inconsistency issue (at [5], and see [4] on the distinctness of the issues). For the joint judges, the text, Continue reading

WET044 v Republic of Nauru

The High Court has dismissed an appeal from a decision of the Supreme Court of Nauru on the denial of procedural fairness and the consideration of country information in a refugee status determination. The appellant, an Iranian of Faili Kurdish ethnicity, arrived on Christmas Island in 2013 and was transferred to Nauru, where he applied for refugee status under Nauru’s Refugees Convention Act 2012 (Nr). The Secretary of the Department of Justice and Border Control refused that application: that decision was affirmed by the Refugee Status Review Tribunal. Before the High Court, the appellant contended that the Tribunal erred in failing to deal with the country information he provided, specifically, that if returned to Iran as a failed asylum seeker, he risked being imputed with political opinions for which he would be persecuted. The appellant also sough to amend his notice of appeal to include a second ground of denial of procedural unfairness in not putting to him the nature of the country information it did rely upon in considering whether he might suffer persecution on the grounds of ethnicity (at [7]: neither ground was raised before the NRSC).

The High Court rejected both grounds as being without merit and dismissed the appeal. Regarding the first ground, the Court noted that the Tribunal had received and considered the appellant’s information (at [10]), that it did not seem to have ignored it, but that, in any case, much of that information did not require the Tribunal’s comment: Continue reading

News: High Court’s Nauru jurisdiction silently disappears

Nearly four weeks ago, on Tuesday 13th March, the High Court’s jurisdiction apparently shrank. We know this because the media has reported that the High Court registry informed parties to a criminal matter in Nauru (which had previously reached the High Court last October) that:

The agreement between Australia and Nauru that gave the High Court of Australia jurisdiction was terminated as at 13/3/18.

The agreement in question is a treaty between the governments of Australia and Nauru signed in 1976, around six years after Nauru’s independence from Australia. Article 1  of the treaty states that ‘appeals are to lie to the High Court of Australia from the Supreme Court of Nauru’ in some cases. Article 6.1 provides that ‘this Agreement shall continue in force until the expiration of the ninetieth day after the day on which either Government has given to the other Government notice in writing of its desire to terminate this Agreement’. So, presumably, one government gave the other notice on or about Wednesday 13th December 2017, which happens to be the date of the High Court’s most recent judgment on Nauru law (ruling that Nauru’s immigration authorities denied procedural fairness to an asylum seeker transferred to Nauru in 2013.) Continue reading

Drug Law is Bad, M’Kay?: Kalbasi v Western Australia

So, first of all, smokin’s bad. You shouldn’t smoke. And uh, alcohol is bad, you shouldn’t drink alcohol. And as for drugs, well, drugs are bad, you shouldn’t do drugs. M’kay, that about wraps up my introduction, now are there any questions? Yes, Stan?

The many problems of drugs — and of the ‘war on drugs’ — are well known. This post concerns a less discussed drug problem: the criminal law of drugs. No-one has adequately solved the legal puzzle of how to prohibit the market in bags of powder — in particular, how to reliably and fairly connect identifiable people to those bags of powder,

The criminal law of drugs is bad. Even the simplest drug situations routinely raise vast problems for police, lawyers and judges. The common scenario of someone flying into an airport with a suitcase lined with drugs prompted Australia’s most important — and its most difficult — High Court case on the criminal law. A person’s criminal responsibility (or lack of responsibility) for what is in her luggage continues to be fine-tuned three decades later, including in two High Court cases last year.

Last month, the High Court’s judges split four to three on another, recurrent drug law puzzle: proving who is responsible for drugs sent unaccompanied in the mail. The complex appeal in Kalbasi v Western Australia [2018] HCA 7 is an object lesson, not only in how very difficult it is for police to net the biggest players, but also how Australian courts can punish someone for being a Mr Big without ever affording him a fair trial before a jury.
Continue reading

News: Three special leave grants, two on papers, one oral

This morning, the High Court ended Eddie Obeid’s formal challenge to his conviction for misconduct in public office, refusing the former MP special leave to appeal to the nation’s apex court. He wasn’t alone in being disappointed. There were just six matters listed for oral hearing today (compared to thirteen a month ago) and only one application was granted) compared to six a month ago. On the other hand, the Court had already granted special leave in two matters on the papers this Wednesday, albeit out of around fifty dealt with without a hearing.)

The three cases where the Court will hear appeals some time this year are: Continue reading

Clone Pty Ltd v Players Pty Ltd (in liq, recs and mgrs apptd)

The High Court unanimously allowed an appeal from a decision of the Full Court of the South Australian Supreme Court regarding the power of a court to set aside one of its own perfected judgments on the basis of misconduct falling short of fraud. It was held that for the equitable power to set aside a judgment required actual fraud by the party who succeeded at trial, and such fraud had not been adequately proven or pleaded in this case. However, it was not necessary for the party seeking to set aside the judgment to exercise reasonable diligence to discover the fraud. Continue reading

Alley v Gillespie

The High Court has answered questions in a stated case brought by a common informer challenge to the capacity of a member of the House of Representatives elected at the July 2016 federal election. Section 3 of the Common Informers (Parliamentary Disqualifications) Act 1975 (Cth) provides that any person who has sat in Parliament ‘while he or she was a person declared by the Constitution to be incapable of so sitting’ is liable to pay ‘any person who sues for it in the High Court’ a sum of money. The defendant was declared elected as a member of the House of Representatives on 20 July 2016. On 7 July 2017, the plaintiff commenced proceedings under the Common Informers Act, contending that the defendant was incapable of sitting as an MP because he holds shares in a company that leased premises to Australia Post, contrary to s 44(v) of the Constitution. After a query about whether the High Court has jurisdiction to decide the anterior question of the defendant’s eligibility to sit as an MP, Bell J formulated the questions for the Full Court as follows:

(1) Can and should the High Court decide [in this proceeding] whether the defendant was a person declared by the Constitution to be incapable of sitting as a Member of the House of Representatives for the purposes of section 3 of the [Common Informers Act]?

(2) If the answer to question (1) is yes, is it the policy of the law that the High Court should not issue subpoenas in this proceeding directed to a forensic purpose of assisting the plaintiff in his attempt to demonstrate that the defendant was a person declared by the Constitution to be incapable of sitting as a Member of the House of Representatives for the purposes of section 3 of the Common Informers Act?

The Court unanimously answered Question 1 ‘no’, and consequently it was not necessary to answer Question 2.

The joint judges (Kiefel CJ, Bell, Keane and Edelman JJ) held that whether the defendant is incapable of sitting as an MP is a question to be determined by the House of Representatives, unless it resolves to refer the matter to the Court of Disputed Returns. This answer to Question 1 is determined by ss 46 and 47, and their relation to s 44, of the Constitution. Section 46 Continue reading

Re Kakoschke-Moore

The High Court, sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns, has decided a matter referred to it by the Senate over the eligibility of two South Australian senate nominees. Skye Kakoschke-Moore and Timothy Storer who were third and fourth in the Nick Xenophon Team order of senate candidates for the 2016 federal election. Following that election, on 4 August, Kakoschke-Moore was returned as a senator for South Australia. On 3 November 2017, NXT resolved to expel Storer from the party, and by 6 November he purported to resign from the party. On 22 November, Kakoschke-Moore resigned as a senator after receiving confirmation from the United Kingdom Home Office that she was a British citizen. The Senate then resolved on 27 November to refer to the High Court the question of whether, by reason of s 44(i) of the Constitution, which provides that any person who is a subject or citizen of a foreign power shall be incapable of being chosen as a senator, there was a vacancy in the Senate for the place for which Kakoschke-Moore was returned. On 30 November, Kakoschke-Moore submitted the form to renounce her UK citizenship, and received confirmation on 6 December from the Home Office that her renunciation was effective on that date.

On 24 January 2018, Nettle J declared that Kakoschke-Moore was incapable of being chosen or sitting by reason of s 44(i). Nettle J also reserved three further questions for the Full Court’s determination, which the Court answered on 13 February (see order below), delivering its reasons on 21 March.

The Court unanimously held that the vacancy left by Kakoshcke-Moore should be filled by a special count of the votes cast on 2 July 2016; that Kakoschke-Moore’s renunciation of her British citizenship in December 2017 does not render her capable of now being chosen to fill the vacancy; and that Storer should not be excluded from the special count.

On questions one and two, the Court rejected Kakoschke-Moore’s contentions that the Court should declare her elected because she has now renounced her Continue reading

Craig v The Queen

The High Court has unanimously dismissed appeal against a decision of the Queensland Court of Appeal on a defendant’s decision not to testify in the context of a domestic violence murder conviction. Although he told his solicitors that the killing was an accident that occurred after the victim attacked him, his defence at trial instead relied on his police interview that described the killing as a deliberate attack that occurred in the heat of the moment. The defendant’s reasons for not testifying were evidenced in the following signed instructions he gave to his solicitor before the trial:

I am not relying on self defence or provocation as defence for tactical or legal reasons. Firstly, I did not raise these defences in my interview to police and secondly it would require me to give further evidence if such defences were to be raised. I have already given my preliminary view that I do not wish to give evidence as I do not want to be cross-examined about my previous criminal history.

On appeal, the defendant’s trial counsel explained that the advice was based on a number of contingencies that might arise during the defendant’s testimony – imputations against the police or the victim, assertions of his good character or the substance of his defence that the killing was an accident – which might allow the introduction of his earlier conviction for a home invasion where a person was fatally stabbed, but admitted that he had not told the defendant that the trial judge would have to give leave for that to occur. The QCA held that the trial counsel’s advice was incorrect, but dismissed the defendant’s appeal because the decision not to testify was a sound, forensic decision where the wrong advice was merely ‘an additional, but inaccurately expressed, reason’.

A unanimous High Court consisting of all seven judges rejected the defendant’s argument that he could not be held to a forensic decision that was informed by incorrect legal advice. Continue reading

Re Lambie

The High Court, sitting as the Court of Dispute Returns, has answered a question referred to it by the Senate on eligibility of being chosen under s 44 of the Constitution. The reference originally concerned then-Senator Jacqui Lambie’s eligibility under s 44(i), but following her resignation it focused on the eligibility of Steven Martin, another Senate candidate who, following a special count, was chosen to fill Lambie’s vacancy. The matter then focused on s 44(iv), which provides that ‘[a]ny person who … holds any office of profit under the Crown … shall be incapable of being chosen or of sitting as a senator’. Martin holds the office of mayor and councillor of Devonport City Council, a local government corporation established under the Local Government Act 1993 (Tas).

On 6 February 2018, the Court held that Martin was not incapable of being chosen or of sitting as a senator by reason of s 44(iv), and delivered its reasons for that answer on 14 March. The joint judges (Kiefel CJ, Bell, Gageler, Keane, Nettle and Gordon JJ) first emphasised the importance of s 45(i), which provides that if a senator becomes subject to any of the disabilities in s 44, that senator’s place ‘shall thereupon become vacant’ (at [6]). The temporal relationship between ss 44 and 45 is the process of ‘being chosen’ in s 44 remains incomplete until a person not subject to a s 44 disability is validly returned as elected, whereas s 45 operates to vacate the place of a person validly returned who later becomes subject to a s 44 disability (see [7]). In this matter, there was no dispute that ‘the Crown’ refers to the executive government of a State, and no dispute that the offices of mayor and councillor in Tasmania are each an ‘office of profit’ (at [9]). The sole issue was whether those offices are ‘under’ the executive government of Tasmania (at [10]–[12]).

The joint judges then turned to the pre-Federation history of s 44(iv), noting that nothing in that history suggests it had a technical meaning at Federation, and that nothing in the drafting history suggests there was any significance for that choice of words (at [17]). Consequently, the joint judges saw pre-Federation history as ‘more enlightening as to the purpose of the disqualification’, Continue reading

Pike v Tighe

The High Court has allowed an appeal against a decision of the Queensland Court of Appeal on whether a local council can enforce planning conditions that were agreed by a previous land owner when the land was subdivided. Section 245 of the Sustainable Planning Act 2009 (Qld) provides that

(1) A development approval (a) attaches to the land the subject of the application to which the approval relates; and (b) binds the owner, the owner’s successors in title and any occupier of the land.

(2) To remove any doubt, it is declared that subsection (1) applies even if later development, including reconfiguring a lot, is approved for the land or the land as reconfigured

In 2009, the Townsville City Council approved a subdivision on the condition that the then-owner register an easement to allow pedestrian, vehicle and utilities access to the back-lot, which the owner never did. That decision was made under the Integrated Planning Act 1997 (Qld), s 3.5.28 of which is substantially reproduced in s 245. When the subdivision was registered and both lots later sold, the Queensland Planning and Environment Court granted the new back-lot owner an ‘enforcement order’ to prevent the new front-lot owner from committing a ‘development offence’ by not registering the utilities easement. The QCA unanimously quashed the order on the basis that the Council’s subdivision conditions did not attach to the land following the subdivision.

The High Court (Kiefel CJ, Bell, Keane, Gordon and Edelman JJ) unanimously allowed the appeal, holding that s 245 obliges a successor to title after a reconfiguartion to comply with the condition of the approval of that recondition even if it was not satisfied by the original owner, and that QPEC may make an enforcement order requiring the successor to fulfil that condition.

After reviewing the facts (at [3]ff), the statutory provisions (at [8]ff), and the decisions of the lower courts (at [15]ff), and the submissions of the parties (at [28]ff), the Court ruled that the appellants’ second submission — that even if the respondents were not a party to the development approval, that does not preclude an enforcement order from being made against them — Continue reading

Kalbasi v Western Australia

The High Court dismissed, by majority, an appeal against a decision of the Western Australian Court of Appeal on a conviction and sentencing for drug importation. The appellant was convicted for attempted possession of 5kg of methylamphetamine with intent to sell or supply them to another, after police intercepted the drug shipment in two tool cases, substituted salt for the drugs, and then surveilled a Perth man take the cases home and unpack them in front of the appellant. The trial judge directed:

I’m now going to deal with the fourth element upon the jury aid, that the accused intended to sell or supply the prohibited drug or any part of it to another. Members of the jury, you can give that element a tick. It is not an issue for you in this trial.

The WASCA dismissed the appeal, holding that, although this direction was incorrect (as a statutory presumption of intent to sell or supply did not apply to the offence of attempted possession), the so-called ‘proviso’ to Western Australia’s criminal appeal statute (that the Court ‘may dismiss the appeal if it considers that no substantial miscarriage of justice has occurred’) applied.

The High Court formed a bench of seven judges to address the meaning of its 2005 precedent on the ‘proviso’, Weiss v The Queen, which held:

No single universally applicable description of what constitutes “no substantial miscarriage of justice” can be given. But one negative proposition may safely be offered. It cannot be said that no substantial miscarriage of justice has actually occurred unless the appellate court is persuaded that the evidence properly admitted at trial proved, beyond reasonable doubt, the accused’s guilt of the offence on which the jury returned its verdict of guilty.

The appellant argued that the WASCA’s approach that regards the ‘negative proposition’ as determining the application of the proviso unless there was a ‘fundamental’ error of ‘process’ either ‘misapplies the principles explained in Weiss or, if it does not, Weiss should be qualified or overruled.’ The Court unanimously declined to overrule Weiss, but divided on whether the ruling was correctly applied in this case. Continue reading

Irwin v The Queen

The High Court unanimously dismissed an appeal against a decision of the Queensland Court of Appeal on the defence of accident to a grievous bodily harm conviction. The appellant and his former business partner fell out over business dealings and an adultery claim, leading to a fight in a Gold Coast shopping mall. The jury convicted the appellant of grievous bodily harm for breaking the victim’s hip after shoving him over, but acquitted him of another charge that he kicked the victim while he was on the ground. The defence of accident in s23 of Queensland’s Crimninal Code states (emphasis added):

(1) Subject to the express provisions of this Code relating to negligent acts and omissions, a person is not criminally responsible for—

(b) an event that— (i) the person does not intend or foresee as a possible consequence; and (ii) an ordinary person would not reasonably foresee as a possible consequence.
Example: Parliament, in amending subsection (1) (b) by the Criminal Code and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2011 , did not intend to change the circumstances in which a person is criminally responsible.
(1A) However, under subsection (1) (b), the person is not excused from criminal responsibility for death or grievous bodily harm that results to a victim because of a defect, weakness, or abnormality.

The QCA rejected the appellant’s claim that the hip fracture fell within s23(1)(b) in the following terms (emphasis added):

A jury may well have considered that an ordinary person in the position of the appellant could not have reasonably foreseen the complainant would in those circumstances suffer a fractured hip. That, it seems, was the trial judge’s view. But that is not the test for this Court. It was equally open to the jury on the evidence to reach the contrary conclusion, that an ordinary person in the position of the appellant could have foreseen that the complainant might suffer a serious injury such as a fractured hip from such a forceful push. The resolution of the issue was a matter for the jury. They had the advantage of seeing the height and build of the 55 year old complainant and appellant. Assuming they were of average build and height, the appellant’s push of the complainant, necessarily on the medical evidence forceful, on a slight downward sloped tiled ramp, could foreseeably result in the complainant falling badly and seriously injuring himself, even breaking his hip. Such a result was not theoretical or remote.

After reviewing the whole of the evidence, I am satisfied that the jury verdict of guilty of grievous bodily harm was not unreasonable and against the weight of the evidence. It was open to the jury to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt of the appellant’s guilt. It follows that I would dismiss the appeal against conviction.

The High Court (Kiefel CJ, Bell, Gageler, Nettle & Gordon JJ) held (at [44]) that s23(1)(b)’s reference to ‘would’ ‘involves a degree of probability, albeit that it need not be more likely than not, whereas’ the QCA’s referrence to ‘could’ ‘is a matter more akin to mere possibility’ and hence was ‘prone to lead to error in the application of s 23(1)(b)(ii)’ and ‘the practice should not be repeated’.However, the Court noted (at [45]) that the trial judge directed the jury in the correct terms and ‘there is no reason to doubt that the jury adhered to those directions, or cause to doubt the reasonableness of the verdict on that basis.’

The Court then turned to the particular reasoning of the QCA, Continue reading

Construction contractors beware – common clauses may now be unenforceable after Maxcon Constructions v Vadasz

By Owen Hayford and Hannah Stewart-Weeks
Senior Fellow in the Melbourne Law Masters and Partner, PwC Legal and Senior Associate, PwC Legal

Probuild and Maxcon Case Page

If you’re a construction lawyer or construction industry professional, by now you’ve probably heard about the recent High Court decision in Maxcon Constructions Pty Ltd v Vadasz [2018] HCA 5 (‘Maxcon’) (handed down at the same time as the decision in Probuild Constructions (Aust) Pty Ltd v Shade Systems Pty Ltd [2018] HCA 4). Most commentators have focused on the judicial review issue which arose in both of those cases. However, the High Court in Maxcon also determined that a provision in a construction agreement which allowed a head contractor to withhold retention moneys under a subcontract until certain events had occurred under the head contract was a ‘pay when paid’ provision, and was therefore not legally enforceable under the security of payment (SOP) legislation. (See Kiefel CJ, Bell, Keane, Nettle and Gordon JJ at [16]–[29]. Gageler J at [32] and Edelman J at [41] agreed with the conclusions of the plurality regarding the operation of the SOP legislation, but did not consider the issue determinative of the appeal).

In this instance, the relevant SOP legislation was the Building and Construction Industry Security of Payment Act 2009 (SA) (‘SA SOP Act’), but most other States apart from Western Australia and the Northern Territory have similar provisions to the SA SOP Act. Thus, the decision has potentially broad implications for head contractors, not only in relation to retention provisions, but also in relation to other provisions which attempt to make a payment under a subcontract contingent upon an event occurring under the head contract. Head contractors may need to review their subcontracts to ensure that they don’t inadvertently contain ‘pay when paid’ provisions as a result of this decision. Continue reading

Back to the past for dodgy construction payment adjudications: Probuild and Maxcon

By Owen Hayford
Senior Fellow in the Melbourne Law Masters and Partner, PwC Legal

Probuild and Maxcon Case Page

Construction lawyers were very excited last week, when Australia’s highest court handed down two decisions on the rights of principals to construction contracts to seek judicial review of adjudications made under security of payment legislation — Probuild Constructions (Aust) Pty Ltd v Shade Systems Pty Ltd [2018] HCA 4, and Maxcon Constructions Pty Ltd v Vadasz [2018] HCA 5.

Security of payment legislation has been enacted in every Australian state and territory to ensure that that construction contractors and sub-contractors are promptly paid for the work that they have performed. Although different in each state and territory, the legislation establishes a fast-track process for the interim resolution of progress payment disputes under construction contracts by an adjudicator. The two cases arose when decisions by adjudicators in relation to progress payments were sought to be challenged by principals for alleged errors of law.

The High Court answered the question of when an error by an adjudicator will entitle the principal to apply to the court to have the adjudication declared void and set aside. Numerous judges have provided different answers to this question since it was first considered in detail in the 2003 decision of Musico v Davenport [2003] NSWSC 977. The sad news, for those who have funded the intervening litigation, is that the High Court has basically taken us back to the position that was espoused in Musico almost 15 years ago.

Sadder still, the High Court hasn’t exhaustively determined when a court will be allowed to set aside a determination because the requirements of the security of payment legislation have not been satisfied. As such, further litigation on the grey areas can be expected. Continue reading

News: Secret men’s evidence in the High Court

At the start of Friday’s hearing of an application for leave to appeal Australia’s first contested determination of compensation for loss of native title, Nettle J made it clear that he and Gordon J saw the topic as clearly deserving attention from the High Court:

Ladies and gentlemen, our present inclination, which is plainly tentative, is to think that the matter raises questions of principles of general importance which would warrant the grant of special leave.

Not only did Western Australia’s Solicitor-General Peter Quinlan fail to convince the Court that the case was a poor one for testing those principles (because the Northern Territory didn’t rely on a statutory rule limiting compensation), but he seemingly opened up a major new issue for the Court to consider: whether extinguishing native title is a deprivation of property for the purposes of the Constitution’s requirement of just terms compensation. The Commonwealth’s counsel Stephen Lloyd cited that issue (which he said would likely attract interventions from every state and territory) as well as the twenty regular appeal grounds now before the Court as reasons why the usual limit of twenty pages per party for submissions on appeal should be lifted to eighty or more, and why the full court hearing would take some four or five days. Calling the latter estimate ‘a little alarming’, Nettle J raised the page limit to fifty and told the parties to find a way to limit the hearing to three days.

Buried in the transcript is a further, relatively minor, but quite unusual issue the High Court will now encounter. Lloyd drew the Court’s attention to:

some secret men’s evidence that was confidential before Justice Mansfield. Different orders were made in relation to that to go to the Full Court which only allowed female judicial officers to see it – no other females have been allowed to see it so, no other court staff or the like.

Continue reading

News: Court may lose Nauru appellate role

Last Wednesday, the High Court conducted an unusual sitting, where two ‘full court’ (two or more judge) benches heard final appeals simultaneously in separate Canberra courtrooms. This joint sitting is the product of two oddities: first, the High Court’s rare role hearing appeals from a single judge court, the Supreme Court of Nauru (allowing the Court to sit unusual three judge benches); and second, a recent uptick in such appeals. However, these may be amongst the last such sittings. Three weeks ago, at Nauru’s 50th anniversary of its independence in 1968, Nauru’s President Baron Waqa reportedly told the national parliament of a plan to terminate the High Court’s role:

Severance of ties to Australia’s highest court is a logical step towards full nationhood and an expression of confidence in Nauru’s ability to determine its own destiny.

Continue reading

Maxcon Constructions Pty Ltd v Vadasz; Probuild Constructions (Aust) Pty Ltd v Shade Systems Pty Ltd

Owen Hayford, ‘Back to the past for dodgy construction payment adjudications: Probuild and Maxcon‘ (23 February 2018)

Owen Hayford and Hannah Stewart-Weeks, ‘Construction contractors beware – common clauses may now be unenforceable after Maxcon Constructions v Vadasz (1 March 2018)

The High Court has dismissed two appeals against decisions of the South Australian Supreme Court (Maxcon) and the New South Wales Court of Appeal (Probuild) on when a court can review an adjudication decision about security of payments legislation. In both of these matters, the primary courts held that an adjudicator had made an error of law in adjudicating disputes over progress payments for construction projects. The NSWCA held that the security of payment legislation removed any judicial power to quash an arbitral decision for that error of law, and the SASCFC held that it was bound to follow the NSWCA ruling. These rulings were upheld by the High Court.

Continue reading

Australian Building and Construction Commissioner v Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union

The High Court has remitted a proceeding concerning a civil breach of federal industrial relations law to the Full Court of the Federal Court of Australia to consider whether to order an individual defendant to pay the penalty personally. The defendants, a building industry union and an employee of that union, admitted to breaching s346 of the Fair Work Act 2009, which prohibits coercing someone into taking industrial activity, by organising a blockade of cement supplies to a government building site in order to put pressure on the builders to hire a representative of the union. In proceedings brought by the predecessor to the Australian Building and Construction Commission, the Federal Court imposed a civil penalty of $60,000 for the union and $18,000 for the employee. The amount of penalty was not disputed before the High Court.

The issue that went to the High Court was the ‘non-indemnification’ order that accompanied the civil penalty on the employee. Continue reading

News: Major commercial implications in latest leave grants

After rejecting twentyseven special leave applications on the papers in recent weeks, the High Court granted over half of the applications in today’s oral hearings. Several of the cases raise major points of principle with significant commercial implications: compensation for loss of life, arrangements for near bankrupt companies, compensation for native title and the tax valuation of mining companies. In some instances at least, these are balanced by human elements. Notably, in one sad matter – involving the question of compensation for a shortened life expectancy – the transcript reveals that the defendant volunteered to pay the plaintiff’s High Court costs (on both appeal and cross-appeal) and that that the High Court offered to hear the matter speedily this April in light of the plaintiff’s deteriorating condition.

The six new matters that will proceed to the High Court’s appellate jurisdiction are: Continue reading

News: State of play in the Court of Disputed Returns

The High Court entered its summer holiday having fully resolved nine matters in the Court of Disputed Returns concerning the 2016 federal election in four full court judgments, one each concerning one of the five disqualifications for federal MPs set out in s44 of the Constitution:

Any person who:

(i) is under any acknowledgment of allegiance, obedience, or adherence to a foreign power, or is a subject or a citizen or entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject or a citizen of a foreign power; or

(ii) is attainted of treason, or has been convicted and is under sentence, or subject to be sentenced, for any offence punishable under the law of the Commonwealth or of a State by imprisonment for one year or longer; or

(iii) is an undischarged bankrupt or insolvent; or

(iv) holds any office of profit under the Crown, or any pension payable during the pleasure of the Crown out of any of the revenues of the Commonwealth; or

(v) has any direct or indirect pecuniary interest in any agreement with the Public Service of the Commonwealth otherwise than as a member and in common with the other members of an incorporated company consisting of more than twenty-five persons;

shall be incapable of being chosen or of sitting as a senator or a member of the House of Representatives.

Re Canavan resolved seven challenges under ground (i) (dual citizenship), Re Culleton No 2 a challenge under ground (ii) (criminality), Re Nash No 2 a follow-up challenge to one of the successors of one of the Citizenship 7 under ground (iv) (office of profit under the Crown) and Re Day No 2, a challenge under ground (v) (pecuniary interest.) (Ground (iii) on bankruptcy has only been considered once by the High Court, three decades ago.)

However, the Court began this year with six more election challenges on its books. While no major judgments have since been published, there has been a lot of activity and plenty of diversions in these matters in recent weeks. So, where are they now? Continue reading

Falzon v Minister for Immigration and Border Protection

The High Court has dismissed an application challenging the validity of s 501(3A) of the Migration Act 1958 (Cth). Section 501(3A) provides that the Minister of Immigration and Border Protection must cancel a visa held by a person if the Minister is satisfied that person does not pass the character test due to a substantial criminal record, which includes being sentenced to a term of imprisonment of at least 12 months. The plaintiff is a Maltese national who has lived in Australia since the age of three, but never became an Australian citizen, and instead held an Absorbed Person Visa and a Class BF Transitional (Permanent) Visa as a ‘lawful non-citizen’. In 2008, he was convicted of drug trafficking and sentenced to 11 years in prison. In March 2016 the Minister cancelled his Absorbed Person Visa, which meant that the Minister was taken to have cancelled the other visa. The plaintiff was taken into immigration detention, and sought revocation of the decision to cancel his visa. The Assistant Minister refused, and the plaintiff commenced proceedings in the High Court’s original jurisdiction. The plaintiff contended that s 501(3A) is invalid for conferring federal judicial power on the Minister, contrary to Ch III of the Constitution, because it empowers the Minister to punish him for offences he has committed.

The High Court unanimously dismissed the application. The joint judges (Kiefel CJ, Bell, Keane and Edelman JJ) held that s 501(3A) does not authorise or require detention, but merely requires that his visa be cancelled because of his criminal convictions: it changed his legal status from lawful non-citizen to unlawful non-citizen, and this change meant he was liable to removal from Australia, and detention to facilitate that removal.

After summarising the facts (at [1]ff) and the statutory scheme (at [9]ff), the joint judges turned to each of the plaintiff’s four propositions. The first, that the power to punish an offence against a Commonwealth law is exclusive to ch III courts was uncontroversial (at [14]–[17]). Continue reading

Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police v Hart; Commonwealth of Australia v Yak 3 Investments Pty Ltd; Commonwealth of Australia v Flying Fighters Pty Ltd

The High Court has allowed an appeal against a decision of the Court of Appeal of Queensland on the meaning and application of federal proceeds of crime legislation. The proceeds of crime proceedings follow a successful criminal prosecution of Steven Irvine Hart, the respondent in the one of the three High Court appeals, for his involvement in tax minimisation schemes. During that prosecution, the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions obtained a restraining order on property under Hart’s ‘effective control’. When Hart was convicted in 2006, the restrained property became subject to automatic forfeiture under s 92 of the Proceeds of Crimes Act 2002 (Cth). The present proceedings involve two subsequent actions: first, an action by companies against the Commonwealth under s 102 of the Act claiming an interest in some of the forfeited properties (respondents in two of the three High Court Appeals) for their interests (or an equivalent value) to be transferred to them; second, an action by the Commonwealth DPP under s 141 of the Act seeking a declaration that any property the companies recover in this way be made available to pay any pecuniary penalty Hart was liable to pay. The companies generally succeeded in both actions at the trial in Queensland’s District Court in 2013 and following the Commonwealth’s appeal to Queensland’s Court of Appeal, with the Commonwealth ordered to pay the companies the value of their interests and denied the ability to use that money to pay a nearly $15M pecuniary penalty that Hart was ordered to pay to the Commonwealth in 2010.

The High Court (Kiefel CJ, Bell, Gageler and Edelman JJ, and Gordon J) unanimously allowed the Commonwealth’s appeal against the orders to pay the companies, but dismissed the Commonwealth’s appeal against the refusal to allow it to use the interests the company’s retained to pay off Hart’s pecuniary penalty. Justice Gordon’s judgment sets out the facts, background and orders. The plurality agreed with Gordon J (at [2]) on the facts, the orders and the dismissal of the Commonwealth’s appeal relating to offsetting the pecuniary penalty, but provided alternative reasons for allowing the Commonwealth’s appeal relating to order to restore the companies’ interests. Continue reading

News: Court may no longer expedite MP eligibility referrals

Last Friday, Kiefel CJ kicked off the High Court’s public work for 2018 with a directions hearing on the latest two referrals of MPs who were or are possible dual citizens. As occurred previously with Senator Malcolm Roberts, it is clear that both of these references will require first resolving factual (in addition to legal) disputes, including disputes about the meaning of overseas (UK) law. However, when the Commonwealth Solicitor-General told the Chief Justice that both London experts in Senator Katy Gallagher’s referral were available to appear by video link on Monday 29 January, she responded:

Mr Solicitor, I do not suppose the experts have been asked to consider the availability of dates further down the track, so to speak, in advance? I say that for this reason. The Court is of course aware of the need to determine these matters as soon as possible but there is a limit to its ability and its preparedness to do so in relation to these references when they keep coming in and to treat every matter, every reference, as one of extreme urgency.

Ruling out scheduling a hearing ahead of the Court’s coming February sitting weeks, she suggested a date in the second of those weeks, noting that the Court will then be dealing with smaller bench matters (presumably a bundle of appeals from Nauru.) However, it is not clear that her proposed timing will work Continue reading

DWN042 v Republic of Nauru

The High Court has allowed an appeal against a decision of the Supreme Court of Nauru on procedural fairness and the conduct of appeals. The appellant, a Pakistani asylum seeker, was denied refugee status and complementary protection by the Nauruan Secretary of the Department of Justice and Border Control. On appealing that determination to the Nauruan Refugee Status Review Tribunal, the Tribunal affirmed the Secretary’s decision and concluded that the appellant’s submitted materials did not support his narrative that he had been targeted by the Taliban and would be targeted if returned to Pakistan. The appellant then appealed to the Supreme Court of Nauru, and gained legal representation only the day before his hearing.

On the morning of the hearing, he filed an amended notice of appeal that raised four grounds of appeal, including that the Tribunal acted contrary to the principles of natural justice in hearing his appeal while he was detained unlawfully in breach of the Nauruan Constitution (see details at [4]). Judge Khan struck out the two grounds relating to natural justice on the basis that his Honour lacked jurisdiction to consider them ‘apparently because (i) the two grounds involved the interpretation and effect of the Constitution of Nauru so that under s 45(a) of the Appeals Act 1972 (Nr) there could be no appeal to the High Court of Australia from his decision on these grounds, and (ii) the Refugees Act was Continue reading

Regional Express Holdings Ltd v Australian Federation of Air Pilots

The High Court has dismissed an appeal against a decision of the Full Federal Court on the standing of employee organisations to allege breaches of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth). Section 540(6)(b)(ii) provides that an industrial association can apply for an order relating to a breach if that association is ‘entitled to represent the industrial interests’ of the person affected by the breach. The appellant airline instructed its cadet pilots that if they insisted on their right to accommodation contained in the enterprise agreement they would not be given a position of command. The respondent association alleged that this breached various provisions of the Fair Work Act, and the appellant disputed the association’s status as representing the cadet pilots because none of those pilots were members. The FCAFC held that although the pilots were not in fact members, they were eligible for membership, and thus the respondent was ‘entitled to represent’ their industrial interests.

The High Court (Kiefel CJ, Keane, Nettle, Gordon and Edelman JJ) unanimously dismissed the appeal, holding that where a person is eligible for membership of an industrial organisation, that organisation’s entitlement ‘to represent the industrial interests of the person’ can be sufficiently shown by its registration under the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act 2009 (Cth). After reviewing the legislative provisions, facts and proceedings below (at [2]ff), the Court noted that because the Continue reading

News: The High Court’s summer homework

A month or so after the last federal election, the judges of the High Court decided that the High Court’s ‘summer recess begins on Saturday 16 December 2017.’ A year later, the current judges settled on ‘Monday 5 February 2018’ as the Court’s first sitting day for next year. The dates in between are the summer holiday for the High Court (and its bar), a tradition not limited to Australia’s apex court. US Chief Justice John Roberts, in his previous role as a counsel in the Reagan Government, criticised the Court he would later lead for sitting too few weeks to handle its workload, writing ”it is true that only Supreme Court justices and schoolchildren are expected to and do take the entire summer off’ and semi-joking: ‘we know that the Constitution is safe for the summer’.

It turns out that the Australian Constitution is not so safe for this coming summer. Continue reading

Esso Australia Pty Ltd v Australian Workers’ Union; Australian Workers’ Union v Esso Australia Pty Ltd

The High Court has allowed an appeal and dismissed a second appeal against a decision of the Full Federal Court on protected industrial action and enterprise agreements. During negotiations over a new enterprise bargaining agreement between Esso and the AWU for employees of offshore gas platforms, onshore processing plants, and a marine terminal, AWU organised various forms of industrial action in support of its claims (at [13]ff). AWU claimed that each form of industrial action was protected under s 408(a) of the Fair Work Act (Cth), and Esso claimed some forms of purportedly protected action — relating to bans on equipment performance testing, air freeing and leak testing (which the AWU claimed was ‘de-isolation of equipment’) — were not protected. The Fair Work Commission granted Esso’s application for an order requiring the AWU to stop the organisation of bans on equipment testing, air freeing and leak testing, and in contravention of that order the AWU continued to organise that action. Section 413(5) provides that employees and bargaining representatives must not contravene any orders that apply to them and ‘relate to, or relate to industrial action relating to’ an agreement or a matter that arose during bargaining. Sections 343 and 348 prohibits the coercing others to exercise or not exercise workplace rights or engage in industrial action. Esso claimed the AWU had contravened s 413(5) in ignoring the order, and contravened ss 343 and 348 by organising action to coerce Esso to agree to the AWU’s terms. A majority of the FCAFC upheld the primary judge’s decision to not grant Esso’s s 413(5) declaration on the basis that s 413(5) must relate to an order that is current and operative at the time of protected industrial action. The majority also upheld the primary judge’s conclusion that the AWU had contravened ss 343 and 348, dismissing the AWU’s contention that it believed the action to be lawful and therefore could not be coercive.

A majority of High Court allowed Esso’s appeal (Kiefel CJ, Keane, Nettle and Edelman JJ, Gageler J dissenting) and the Court unanimously dismissed the AWU’s appeal. Dealing Esso’s appeal first, the majority first reviewed the lower court decisions (at [18]ff) and the parties’ contentions before the Court (at [23]ff), before turning to the construction of s 413. Because s 413(5) is ‘poorly drafted’, Continue reading

Aldi Foods Pty Ltd v Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association

The High Court has partly allowed an appeal against a decision of the Full Federal Court on the regional coverage of enterprise agreements and the operation of the ‘better off overall test’. ALDI offered seventeen employees currently working in ALDI stores around Australia positions in a new ‘region’ of operations in South Australia. A majority of these employees voted to approve an enterprise agreement with ALDI. The appellant unions, who were not involved in the making of this agreement, challenged it before the Fair Work Commission on the basis that it should have been a ‘greenfields agreement’ under pt 2-4 of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth), and that it did not pass the ‘better off overall test’ (‘BOOT’). The Fair Work Commission disagreed, ruling that the agreement was valid, and this ruling was upheld by the Full Bench. A majority of the FCAFC allowed an appeal against the Full Bench’s decision, holding that the agreement was not valid because it did not meet the requirement in s 186 that it be ‘genuinely agreed to’ because at the time of the vote the region had no employees at the time. The FCAFC also held that the FWCFB erred in applying the BOOT test.

The Court (Kiefel CJ, Bell, Keane, Nettle, Gordon and Edelman JJ, Gageler J agreeing) partly allowed the appeal, holding that the FCAFC erred in its holding on the coverage issue, but was correct in its view of the BOOT issue (at [4]). (Consequently, it was not necessary to determine the issues relating to jurisdictional error or the applicability of certiorari: at [4], and see [1] and [2].) Continue reading

Re Canavan; Re Joyce; Re Ludlam; Re Nash; Re Roberts; Re Waters; Re Xenophon

The High Court, sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns, has decided a special case referred to it by the Senate and the House of Representatives on the question of eligibility of six Senators and one MP under s 44(i) of the Constitution: Senators Matthew Canavan, Malcolm Roberts, Fiona Nash, and Nick Xenophon, the Hon Barnaby Joyce MP, and Scott Ludlam and Larissa Waters (former Senators who resigned on discovering that they may have been ineligible). In each case, material had emerged that these representatives held dual citizenship at the time that they were nominated for election. The Court permitted former MP Tony Windsor to appear as a party to the Joyce matter, and also permitted an amicus curiae to appear as contradictor in the matters of Canavan, Nash and Xenophon (on both, see at [7]).

Section 44(i) of the Australian Constitution provides that any person who

is under any acknowledgment of allegiance, obedience, or adherence to a foreign power, or is a subject or a citizen or entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject or a citizen of a foreign power … shall be incapable of being chosen or of sitting as a senator or a member of the House of Representatives.

On 22 September 2017, Keane J delivered a judgment on the evidence relating to Senator Malcolm Roberts’ s 44(i) matter, evaluating what Senator Roberts knew about his citizenship status at the time of his nomination and the steps he took to verify and renounce it before that nomination, and holding that he was a UK citizen prior to his recent renunciation (see below).

On 27 October 2017, the Court unanimously held that Senators Canavan and Xenophon were eligible at the time of their nomination, and that Ludlam, Waters, and Joyce, and Senators Roberts and Nash were ineligible at the time of their nomination.

Construction of s 44(i) (at [13]–[73])

After restating the text of s 44(i), emphasising that the phrase ‘shall be incapable of being chosen’ relates to the electoral process, of which nomination is a central part, and noting that s 44(i) focuses on the time between that nomination and the completion of the electoral process (at [1]–[3]), the Court recounted the chronology of the referrals and proceedings (see [4]ff). Turning to the different approaches to construing s 44(i), the Court noted (at [13]) that of the various competing submissions, only those made by the amicus contradictors and on behalf of Windsor gave s 44(i) Continue reading

Thorn in the Side of Prenuptial Agreements? Thorne v Kennedy

By Katy Barnett

Thorne v Kennedy Case Page

In Thorne v Kennedy, the High Court unanimously struck down both a prenuptial and a postnuptial agreement (the plurality on the basis of undue influence and unconscionable conduct, and Nettle J and Gordon J on the basis of unconscionable conduct alone). The agreements had been entered into by a impoverished 36-year-old woman from overseas (known by the pseudonym ‘Ms Thorne’) who married a 67-year-old wealthy Australian property developer (known by the pseudonym ‘Mr Kennedy’). Prior to and after the wedding, Ms Thorne agreed that she would have very little claim on Mr Kennedy’s assets (worth between $18 million and $24 million) if her relationship with her husband broke down because he wanted his money to be kept for his three children from his first marriage. Ms Thorne’s English was poor; she had no assets; she was desperate to have a child; her Australian visa was about to expire, and she would not be able to get a new visa without her marriage; and Mr Kennedy asked her to sign the prenuptial agreement four days before the wedding, when all her family had come to Australia from her home country to attend. She was told that if she did not sign the wedding would not go ahead and the relationship would end, and so she signed the agreement. This was despite the fact that the independent solicitor whom Mr Kennedy arranged to advise Ms Thorne implored her not to sign it and pronounced it the worst agreement she had ever seen. Pursuant to the prenuptial agreement, Ms Thorne was obliged to sign a postnuptial agreement in the same terms, which she did, although the independent solicitor again advised her not to. Ms Thorne and Mr Kennedy divorced just under four years later.

Some have argued that this signals the death-knell to ‘binding financial agreements’ under pt VIIIA of the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) (eg, here) because there will almost never be equality between partners, whereas others (eg, here and here) argue that binding financial agreements will still be viable, but care must be taken with the circumstances of entry into such agreements. Continue reading

Courting Communication Anachronisms: Trkulja v Google [2017] HCATrans 129

By Mitch Clarke

Consider how many electronic Internet links you click each day on your mobile or laptop. You presumably clicked on a hyperlink to arrive at this very article. The Internet and linked content are reciprocally essential; the benefits of one cannot be realised without the other. Their invention and use has advanced how we communicate, share content, and find information. Prohibiting the use of linking content would be antithetical to the Internet. Unfortunately, Trkulja v Google [2017] HCATrans 129 could have this effect.

Granted special leave in June, Trkulja presents two questions to the High Court. The first is procedural, predominantly as a result of the plaintiff initially being self-represented. The second is about whether a person who collated third party posts and linked-content on the Internet can be held liable if the content is defamatory. Generally speaking, the contentious issues in Trkulja and similar cases involve the liability of an Internet company for hyperlinking, collecting, collating, or reproducing content posted by third parties on the Internet.

There was a possibility that the second question would not be addressed and instead referred back to the Victorian Court of Appeal. I use past tense (‘was a possibility’) because of the October decision on a similar question from the Full Court of the South Australian Supreme Court in Google v Duffy. The Duffy judgment begs — and hopefully necessitates — a more critical adjudication from the High Court on the question of indexed and re-communicated Internet content. Without comment, there could be an unfortunate impairment — however unintended — on the operation of the Internet in Australia.

Precedent Spells Trouble for ‘Publication’

A defamation claim requires three elements: a ‘publication’, ‘identification’ of a third party, and ‘defamatory’ content about that third party. Without the presence of each element, there is no claim to be made. Much of the Australian case law has focused on the specificity of information reproduced on a webpage via hyperlinks, and the inclusive degree of such needed to constitute the re-publication of defamatory content underlying the hyperlink. However, it is the operation of hyperlinks and the associated reproduced content constituting a ‘publication’ which is deserving of more scrutiny.

‘Publication’ is not defined in the uniform legislation which is how we wind up with common law principled cases like Trkulja. Continue reading

News: 3 new cases in the Court’s non-s44 docket

As the High Court presumably braces for its next ‘job lot‘ of s. 44 cases, it has also added a relatively small number of new cases to its regular docket. While all special leave applications heard on the papers were rejected this month, the Court granted leave in Friday’s twin oral hearings in three matters. One grant is a rare (and welcome) instance of the High Court intervening in a criminal proceeding that has not yet gone to trial, in this case a very long running prosecution of four defendants on federal charges. The fact that the trial is yet to occur may (or may not) explain why the four are only referred to by pseudonyms and that the charges in question are not identified.

The three cases that will now be appealed to the High Court are: Continue reading

News: The High Court dismisses a runner-up Senator

This Wednesday at 10.05AM, Australians at last saw an end to the marriage law survey, the indirect product of the High Court’s 2013 decision declaring the ACT’s Marriage Equality Bill inoperative and the High Court’s September decision upholding the government’s instruction to the Australian Bureau of Statistics to perform the survey. Marriage equality is now exclusively a matter for the politicians Australians elected in 2016. But, as a decision from the High Court five hours later makes clear, the 2016 election is still ongoing and doesn’t look like ending any time soon. This time the High Court held that nominee Hollie Hughes was ineligible to be declared elected, because she took a position in the Administrative Appeals Tribunals (an ‘office of profit under the Crown’) during the 15 months that ineligible dual citizen Fiona Nash purported to take her spot in the Senate. This especially startling instance of the Court’s ‘brutal literalism‘ (when it comes to s44) will undoubtedly lead to more questioning of whether some of the people currently sitting in Parliament were actually elected.

The requirements of s44 are challenging, not just to MPs and nominees, but also to the media, which faces the difficulty of reporting on its content and the various processes for testing it. On Wednesday, the media were not assisted by the Chief Justice, Continue reading

HFM045 v Republic of Nauru

The High Court has allowed an appeal against a decision of the Supreme Court of Nauru on procedural fairness requirements of refugee status reviews. The appellant, a Nepalese citizen of the Hindu Chhetri caste, fled Nepal, arrived at Christmas Island and was then transferred to Nauru under the regional processing arrangement. He claimed refugee status in Nauru, claiming a fear of persecution from Maoist rebels on the basis of his political opinions and from Limbu tribe Mongols on the basis of his home district and caste membership. The Secretary of the Department of Justice and Border Control’s made a determination that he was not a refugee and could be returned to Nepal, which was upheld by the Nauruan Refugee Status Review Tribunal and the Supreme Court of Nauru. Before the High Court, the appellant contended that the Supreme Court erred in failing to hold, first, that the Tribunal denied him procedural fairness because it did not put him on notice of information that was relevant to its ruling — namely, the changed political circumstances in Nauru, the proportion of Chhetri caste members in the Nepalese army, and persons targeted by Limbuwans — and, secondly, that the Tribunal applied the incorrect test in evaluating the determination (at [5]).

The Court (Bell, Keane and Nettle JJ) rejected the second ground, but allowed the first in relation to the army composition point: the Tribunal was under a common law obligation Continue reading

Thorne v Kennedy

Katy Barnett, ‘Thorn in the Side of Prenuptial Agreements? Thorne v Kennedy‘ (4 December 2017)

Joanna Bloore, ‘Pressure, Influence, and Exploitation in Thorne v Kennedy‘ (24 July 2017)

The High Court has allowed an appeal against a decision of the Full Family Court on the enforceability of binding financial agreements before and after marriage. Pt VIIIA of the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) allows parties to a marriage to enter into binding financial agreements before or after a marriage to clarify their respective positions on asset redistribution in that the relationship breaks down. The parties met on an online website for potential brides, and the appellant moved to Australia to marry the respondent. The respondent was a wealthy Australian property developer with significant assets; the appellant had no significant assets, basic English skills, no family in Australia and, at the time of the marriage, was in the country on a tourist visa. Shortly before the wedding, the repsondent insisted that the appellant sign a binding financial agreement, which she did, over legal advice that it was ‘entirely inappropriate’ and that she should not sign it (see at [7]–[15]). The parties also entered into a second, post-marriage binding financial agreement, which again the appellant was advised not to sign. The Full Family Court overturned the trial judge’s finding that the agreements were the result of duress and undue influence, holding that the trial judge failed to provide adequate reasons for making those findings, and concluding that the agreement bound both parties.

The High Court unanimously allowed the appeal. The plurality (Kiefel CJ, Bell, Gageler, Keane and Edelman JJ) held that the Full Family Court erred in disturbing the findings of the trial judge; the agreements were voidable due to both undue influence and unconscionable conduct (at [2]). After reviewing the facts (at [7]ff), and statutory context (at [16]), the plurality reiterated that this appeal focused on whether the agreements should be set aside because the appellant was subject to the vitiating factors applied according to the principles of the common law and equity: duress, undue influence or Continue reading

Van Beelen v The Queen

The High Court has dismissed an appeal against a decision of the Supreme Court of South Australia on the requirements for reopening a conviction on the basis of fresh evidence. Van Beelen was convicted of murdering a schoolgirl on a beach in 1971 on the basis of evidence that he was present at the beach at the time of her death, that he was the only person whose actions were unaccounted for at that time, and the fibres the jumper he was wearing matched those found on the deceased’s clothing. In 2013, the South Australian parliament inserted Section 353A(1) into the Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935 (SA), which provides that the Court may allow a convicted person to bring a second appeal where it is satisfied that there is fresh and compelling evidence that should, in the interests of justice, be considered on appeal. The appeal itself may only be allowed if the Court is satisfied that there was a substantial miscarriage of justice. A majority of the SASCFC rejected the appellant’s s 353A(1) application, holding that while new expert evidence based on more recent work on stomach contents analysis showed that the earlier evidence was wrong and satisfied the ‘freshness’ and reliableness requirements, it was not substantive, reliable, highly probative or compelling: it was consistent with the initial defence expert witness’s testimony, and it did not disprove the other prosecution evidence about the time of death.

The High Court (Bell, Gageler, Keane, Nettle and Edelman JJ) unanimously held that the SASCFC erred in refusing permission to appeal because the new evidence does meet the criteria of being fresh and compelling and it is in the interests of justice that it be considered on appeal. However, the Court also held that that consideration revealed no substantial miscarriage of justice, and consequently the appeal was dismissed.

After reviewing the facts of the case (at [3]ff), the new evidence (at [8]ff), the provisions of s 353A (at [16]ff) and the SASCFC’s reasoning (at [17]ff), and the parties’ submissions (at [24]ff), the Court turned to the scope of s 353A and its application here. Continue reading

Theme Problems on Opinions on High

Apologies to all readers for the strange display issues. This change happened automatically a few days ago, and seem to be part of either a WordPress or University of Melbourne blog platform update that we were not told about, and did not approve. Unfortunately due to the University’s platform restrictions we also cannot manually change the theme at the moment. We are aware that the page is not functioning properly and is not easy to read, and that the pictures of cacti don’t make a lot of sense. Rest assured we hope to fix this and revert to the old theme shortly.

The Mikado in the Constitution: Re Canavan; Re Ludlam; Re Waters; Re Roberts [No 2]; Re Joyce; Re Nash; Re Xenophon [2017] HCA 45

Mikado. Ha! ha! ha! I forget the punishment for compassing the death of the Heir Apparent.

Ko-Ko, Pooh-Bah & Pitti-Sing. Punishment.

Mikado. Yes. Something lingering, with boiling oil in it, I fancy. Something of that sort. I think boiling oil occurs in it, but I’m not sure. I know it’s something humorous, but lingering, with either boiling oil or melted lead. Come, come, don’t fret — I’m not a bit angry.

Ko-Ko. If your Majesty will accept our assurance, we had no idea—

Mikado. Of course —

Pitti-Sing. I knew nothing about it.

Pooh-Bah. I wasn’t there.

Mikado. That’s the pathetic part of it. Unfortunately, the fool of an Act says “compassing the death of the Heir Apparent.” There’s not a word about a mistake —

Gilbert & Sullivan’s Mikado is a staple of both amateur theatres and Australian criminal law classes. Law lecturers routinely quote it (or, in some unlucky classes, sing it) to students because it illustrates a common problem in statutes: drafters’ penchant to ignore people’s minds when they devise rules of behaviour.

A case in point is s44(i) of Australia’s federal Constitution. Most constitutional provisions are about institutional, not individual, behaviour. But s44(i), which determines when otherwise eligible people are disqualified from Australia’s federal parliament, states:

Any person who: (i) is under any acknowledgment of allegiance, obedience, or adherence to a foreign power, or is a subject or a citizen or entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject or a citizen of a foreign power; … shall be incapable of being chosen or of sitting as a senator or a member of the House of Representatives.

This provision duly identifies a situation the drafters wanted to avoid – a person with certain status in a foreign country in a position of (legislative) power in Australia – but says nothing at all about what (if anything) is going on inside the mind of that person.

Ko-Ko, Pitti-Sing & Pooh-Bah. No!

Mikado. Or not knowing —

Ko-Ko. No!

Mikado. Or having no notion —

Pitti-Sing. No!

Mikado. Or not being there —

Pooh-Bah. No!

Mikado. There should be, of course —

Ko-Ko, Pitti-Sing & Pooh-Bah. Yes!

Mikado. But there isn’t.

Ko-Ko, Pitti-Sing & Pooh-Bah. Oh!

Mikado. That’s the slovenly way in which these Acts are always drawn. However, cheer up, it’ll be all right. I’ll have it altered next session.

The central holding of Re Canavan; Re Ludlam; Re Waters; Re Roberts [No 2]; Re Joyce; Re Nash; Re Xenophon [2017] HCA 45 is that s44(i) means exactly what it says and what it doesn’t say:

Section 44(i) does not say that it operates only if the candidate knows of the disqualifying circumstance. It is a substantial departure from the ordinary and natural meaning of the text of the second limb to understand it as commencing: “Any person who: (i) … knows that he or she is a subject or a citizen …”

The High Court unanimously rejected suggestions from the parties to the seven references before it that it read requirements of voluntariness (the Attorney-General’s suggestion), wilfulness (ex-MP Barnaby Joyce’s) or constructive knowledge (the Green ex-Senators’) into s44(i).

So much, so constitutional, you may say. But reading in words (aka ‘implications’) into constitutional provisions is very standard constitutional fare. Implications were the entire basis of the High Court’s decision landmark decision a week before the Citizenship 7 case, striking down some Tasmanian anti-protest laws. As well, given that s44(i)’s accepted purpose is to avoid an MP’s dreaded ‘split allegiance’ between Australia and some other nation, some sort of knowledge requirement (constructive, actual, whatever) of that foreign link would make a lot of sense.

The case for reading in a mental requirement into s44 is especially strong because the provision doubles up as something close to a criminal offence, complete with its own (initial) penalty provision:

46 Penalty for sitting when disqualified Until the Parliament otherwise provides, any person declared by this Constitution to be incapable of sitting as a senator or as a member of the House of Representatives shall, for every day on which he so sits, be liable to pay the sum of one hundred pounds to any person who sues for it in any court of competent jurisdiction.

As all criminal law students learn, Australian courts routinely read mens rea requirements into criminal offence provisions, applying either general criminal codes (often based on one drafted by Samuel Griffith, one of the Constitution’s drafters) or a detailed system set down by the High Court itself in a 1985 drug offence decision. So, Australian criminal law lecturers use The Mikado to illustrate exactly how criminal offences aren’t interpreted by Australian courts.

The High Court has now unanimously ruled that The Mikado is good law when it comes to s44. Continue reading

News: UK Supreme Court aligns with Australian High Court on criminal dishonesty

The United Kingdom’s Supreme Court is not shy about changing course on major legal issues, such as complicity law and (just last week) state immunity. On Wednesday, it dropped another criminal law bombshell. The case in question was a civil dispute between a champion poker player, Phil Ivey, and a London casino, on whether Ivey was entitled to 7.7 million pounds he seemingly won at Baccarat over two days. The issue was whether Ivey’s method, which included tricking the croupier into turning particular cards around and then making plays by relying on his ability to tell which cards had been turned from the pattern on their back, was cheating. The Court upheld lower court rulings in favour of the casino, surprising those who thought it took the case to hold that Ivey’s (undisputed) belief that his play was an honest ‘advantage’ one meant that he was no cheat . Instead, the Court not only found for the casino, but overturned the 1982 Court of Appeal decision, R v Ghosh, that held that criminal dishonesty requires proof that the defendant knew others would regard his or her actions as dishonest. The Supreme Cuurt’s ruling not only reversed thirty-five years of English theft and fraud law, but also seemingly left Ivey to prosecution for criminal cheating (not that any such prosecution is on the cards.)

While Ghosh‘s many fans in the academy are currently working their way through the five stages of grief, some Australian High Court judges may be feeling quite different emotions. Continue reading

News: Six new High Court cases

At last Friday’s oral special leave hearings, it was easier to ask which cases didn’t get special leave. There were just two and they were both quite interesting – a NSW decision upholding a high-interest short-term loan (now $670K plus $2.4M interest!) even though the lender (correctly) believed that the borrower had fallen for a Nigerian fraud scam; and a Victorian holding that a pregnancy the military failed to detect is not a ‘service injury’ (and therefore is not limited by a statutory military compensation scheme.)

The five new appeals that made the grade were: Continue reading

Brown v Tasmania

The High Court has determined a special case on Tasmanian forestry protest laws and the implied freedom of political communication, holding that the central anti-protest provisions of the challenged legislation were invalid because they impermissibly burdened the freedom of political communication implied in the Commonwealth Constitution.

The Workplaces (Protection from Protesters) Act 2014 (Tas) contains a range of provisions that prohibit persons from engaging in protest activities. Section 4 defines protest activities as activities taking place on a business premises or an ‘access area’ in relation to a business, that is ‘in furtherance of’ or ‘for the purposes of promoting awareness of or support for’ an ‘opinion, or belief’ about a ‘political, environmental, social, cultural or economic issue’. Business premises also include forestry land and land on which forestry operations are being carried out, and ‘access areas’ include the areas around and outside those premises. Section 6 provides that a protester must not enter or do an act on a business premises that prevents, hinders or obstructs the carrying on of a business activity. Section 6(4) makes it an offence to disobey a police officer’s order, made under s 11, to leave the premises, directed at a person that the officer reasonably believes has committed, is committing or is about to commit a contravention of s 6. Section 8(1) makes it an offence to re-enter an area near where that person received a s 11 direction to leave, within four days of receiving that direction. That area is not limited to the area in which the direction was issued: it extends to any area outside ‘forestry land’. Section 11 also contains police powers to direct groups to leave areas, and s 13 contains powers for police to make warrantless arrests for contraventions of the Act for specified purposes.

The plaintiffs were present in the Lapoinya Forest while forestry operations were being carried out there, and engaged in raising public and political awareness about the logging operations and voicing protests against it. They were arrested and charged under the Act for offences against s 8(1) and s 6(4), though the charges were ultimately not proceeded with and dismissed. Before the High Court, they challenged the validity of provisions of the Act noted above (ss 6, 8, 11, 13 and pt 4 of the Act). While the stated Special Case contained a first question on the standing of the plaintiffs to seek relief, the defendants conceded that the plaintiffs had standing and the question no longer needed to be answered (see [5], and see below for the full order).

The High Court held, by majority (Kiefel CJ, Bell and Keane JJ, Gageler J, Nettle J) that the impugned provisions did impermissibly burden the implied freedom of political communication and were thus invalid. Gordon J held that only s 8 was invalid, and Edelman J held the Act was valid in its entirety.

The Joint Judgment (Kiefel CJ, Bell and Keane JJ)

After reviewing the background to the matter, the history of the Act, and the impugned provisions (see [11]–[60]), the joint judges (Kiefel CJ, Bell and Keane JJ) turned to analyse the terms, operation and effect of the Protesters Act. The impugned provisions together had a significant deterrent effect on protestors, Continue reading

Koani v The Queen

The High Court has published its reasons for allowing an appeal against a decision of the Supreme Court of Queensland on whether an unwilled criminally negligent act combined with an intention to kill or cause grievous bodily harm constitutes murder under s 302(1)(a) of the Criminal Code 1899 (Qld). Following a breakdown in their relationship and during a violent confrontation in front of witnesses, the appellant loaded and aimed a shotgun at the deceased, saying ‘I don’t give a fuck, I’ll kill you … I’ll go back to jail’, which then discharged (see [3]–[7]).

The appellant pleaded guilty to manslaughter charges but claimed he was not guilty of murder; the prosecution declined to accept that plea and, following a jury trial, he was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. During the trial, expert evidence established that shotgun had been altered, with the effect that it was prone to discharge ‘half-cocked’, that is, pulling the trigger 10mm, then letting it go, accidentally or intentionally. The prosecution’s main case was that the appellant discharged the gun deliberately, intending to kill the deceased. The alternative case was Continue reading

News: Dispute over submissions to High Court in a sentencing appeal

On 14th June this year, the High Court heard a Crown appeal against an incest sentence, an appeal that turns in part on a practice of Victoria’s Court of Appeal. Since 2007, the Victorian Court has sought submissions and made rulings on the topic of ‘current sentencing practices’ in particular classes of case, simultaneously with but separate from resolving particular sentencing appeals. A year ago, the Court of Appeal ruled that sentencing practices for incest were too low, but also dismissed a Crown appeal about a particular incest sentence. In his written submissions on appeal, Victoria’s Chief Crown Prosecutor said:

It is not apparent that any other State or Territory in Australia struggles with the question of consistency of sentencing in quite the manner experienced in Victoria. It is respectfully submitted that the correct role to be played by “current sentencing practices” should be decided. From what appears above, it might be said that there is not a united position in the Victorian Court of Appeal on the issue.

In the High Court hearing, he used sharper language, describing the Victorian approach as ‘inimical’ and ‘not permissible’. One exchange went like this:

KEANE J: But as I understand it, it seems to be said against you that the Director somehow accepted that there was this limit on the appeal and that the result is essentially something for which the Director is responsible.

MR SILBERT: Your Honour, this has been going on for something like 10 years. The Director has no option, when requested to make these submissions, but to make them. When the court refers to an uplift the Director cannot simply say, “I refuse to be involved in this uplift.” If the Director is lodging an appeal on the basis of manifest inadequacy he has to go along with it or else he has no basis for appealing. So it is a procedure that is imposed by the court and has been for something like 10 years. It has actually never been used by the Director effectively, I do not think, to produce any result in any concrete case.

There are dicta that emanate from various cases where the court considers this uplift and says well, sentencing is inadequate, and they have said it here, but they do not determine the dispute in issue between the parties. There is obiter, as referred to by Justice Ashley in Ashdown, that emanates from these discussions but they are more philosophical discussions than disputes between the Crown and an accused. The Crown is not complicit in the exercise – it did not invent the exercise – and it is dragged kicking and screaming into each one of these contests. I do not know whether that answers your Honour’s question.

KEANE J: It just does seem odd.

On Wednesday, the High Court unanimously upheld the DPP’s appeal, drawing on its recent ruling in Kilic (on the relevance of the maximum sentence) and holding that the decision to uphold a sentence that was based on then current, but wrong, sentencing practices, was ‘an error of principle’. Indeed, the plurality concluded that it ‘might’ be that the Court of Appeal’s practice ‘is inconsistent with [Victoria’s] Sentencing Act’.

The publication of the judgment coincided with the release by News Ltd of letters between Victoria’s then Chief Justice and Victoria’s Director of Public Prosecutions. Continue reading

DPP v Dalgliesh

The High Court has allowed an appeal against a decision of the Victorian Court of Appeal on ‘ranges’ of sentences and the evaluation of current sentencing practice. The respondent plead guilty to four charges of incest and was cumulatively sentenced  to five years and six months imprisonment. The sentence for charge one, which related to committing incest and impregnating his 13-year old stepdaughter, whose pregnancy was subsequently terminated, was three years and sixth months. The DPP appealed against both the sentence for charge one and the cumulative total imposed, contending that both were manifestly inadequate. While the VSCA noted that the sentence on charge one could be seen as lenient, and that the range was so low that it revealed an error in principle as being not proportionate to the objective seriousness of the offence or moral culpability of the offender here, the Court ultimately held that in light of what were the then current sentencing practices, it was within the range open to the sentencing judge, and that the Court of Appeal was constrained by those sentencing practices to dismiss the appeal.

The High Court unanimously allowed the appeal. The joint judges (Kiefel CJ, Bell and Keane JJ) held that the VSCA erred in treating a range of sentences established by current sentencing practice as decisive of the appeal (at [2]). After noting the sentencing Continue reading

Wilkie v Commonwealth; Australian Marriage Equality Ltd v Cormann

The High Court has decided two proceedings challenging the legal basis for the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey, dismissing the first application and answering questions stated in the special case in the second proceeding, holding that the Minister’s determination to fund the Survey was not invalid, and was validly authorised under the most recent appropriations act.

Following the Government’s 7 August 2017 announcement of a ‘voluntary postal plebiscite’ on whether Australian law should be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry, to be run by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the Finance Minister (and respondent in the second matter) made a determination entitled ‘Advance to the Finance Minister Determination (No 1 of 2017–2018)’ to provide the ABS with $122 million for the plebiscite. That determination was purportedly supported by s 10 of the Appropriation Act (No 1) 2017–2018, which allows the Finance Minister to make a determination to provide for expenditures not exceeding $295 million where the Finance Minister ‘is satisfied that there is an urgent need for expenditure, in the current year, that is not provided for … in Schedule 1 … because the expenditure was unforeseen until after the last on which it was practicable to provide for it [in the original Bill]’. The Finance Minister stated in the instrument and in an affidavit that because the 2017–18 budget was tabled in May 2017, and Government policy on holding the plebiscite and using the ABS to do so was not changed until August, he was satisfied that there was an urgent need for the expenditure (see further at [32]–[37]). Continue reading

News: What is happening in the MP eligibility cases?

After a lengthy break for renovations (and rare full court hearings in Sydney and Melbourne), the High Court will return to its Canberra headquarters next month. The first case on the business list for Tuesday 10th October is:

In the matter of questions referred to the Court of Disputed Returns pursuant to section 376 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (Cth) concerning Senator Matthew Canavan, Mr Scott Ludlam, Ms Larissa Waters, Senator Malcolm Roberts and the Hon. Barnaby Joyce MP (C11/2017, C12/2017, C13/2017, C14/2017 & C15/2017)

These are five of the seven matters referred to the High Court concerning possible ineligibility under s44(i) of the Constitution, specifically its disqualification of ‘a citizen… of a foreign power’. It is likely that the remaining two matters (concerning Senators Nick Xenaphon and Fiona Nash) will  be heard at the same time. (An eighth pending matter about MP eligibility – Labor’s challenge to David Gillespie over his ownership of a shopping centre company with Australia Post as a tenant – is not yet listed and involves entirely separate issues and processes.)

The seven matters to be heard in October aren’t regular High Court challenges where one person sues someone else. Continue reading

News: Murphy J and the ‘Greek Conspiracy’

Last week, the federal Parliament released a large set of documents from 1986’s ‘Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry’ into the conduct of High Court justice Lionel Murphy, which ended without resolution after the sad news broke of the judge’s imminent death. Justice Murphy’s family have strongly objected to the release, noting that the papers include many wholly unsubstantiated allegations and that there is now no possibility of them being formally investigated; instead, the papers can only contribute to the much more ambiguous judgement of history. None of the allegations relate to Murphy J’s actual work as a High Court judge, but instead are concerned with his alleged activities off the bench (albeit ones that may have led to his resignation or removal from the Court.)

An arguable exception is what is known as ‘Allegation 39‘, Continue reading

Chiro v The Queen

The High Court has partly allowed an appeal against a decision of the Full Court of the Supreme Court of South Australia on special and general jury verdicts on the offence of persistent sexual exploitation of a child. Section 50(1) of the Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935 (SA) prescribes the offence of ‘persistent sexual exploitation of a child’, defined as committing more than one act of sexual exploitation over a period of not less than three days, where an act of sexual exploitation means an act that could be subject of a sexual offence charge. The appellant was convicted under s 50 after the prosecutor gave the jury a list of six alleged abusive acts and asked the jury to convict if it was unanimous that at least two of these acts occurred over a two year period, and the trial judge sentenced him to ten years imprisonment with a non-parole period of six years. The SASCFC rejected the appellant’s contention that the trial judge erred in not taking a special verdict or asking questions of the jury after they returned the general verdict of guilt; specifically, to state which incidents they found had been proved, and in the absence of such information the trial judge should have sentenced him only for the two least serious acts alleged.

The High Court allowed the appeal against the sentence by majority, and unanimously dismissed the appeal against conviction. Continue reading

Hamra v The Queen

The High Court has dismissed an appeal against a decision of the Supreme Court of South Australia on the offence of persistent sexual exploitation of a child. The appellant was tried under s 50 of the Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935 (SA) of ‘persistent sexual exploitation of a child’, defined as committing more than one act of sexual exploitation over a period of not less than three days, where an act of sexual exploitation means an act that could be subject of a sexual offence charge. After a trial by judge alone, the trial judge held that the general nature of the complainant’s evidence meant that it was not possible to identify two or more specific proven sexual offences, and thus there was no case to answer. The SASCFC allowed a Crown appeal against that decision and remitted the matter for retrial. Before the High Court, the appellant contended that the SASCFC erred in concluding there was a case to answer, and erred in not addressing the appellant’s argument that the Crown should not have been granted permission to appeal owing to the Court’s failure to consider the appellant’s arguments on double jeopardy concerns.

The High Court (Kiefel CJ, Bell, Keane, Nettle and Edelman JJ) unanimously dismissed both arguments and the appeal. The Court noted that the appellant’s contention on the operation of s 50 was that the provision did not alter or ameliorate the requirement that the prosecution must prove each ‘distinct occasion’ Continue reading

Dookheea v The Queen

The High Court has allowed an appeal against a decision of the Victorian Court of Appeal on the adequacy of jury directions in a murder trial. The respondent and his partner attacked a former employer, intending to ‘teach him a lesson’, which ended in the death of the employer caused either by the respondent choking him or sitting on his back. After rejecting the respondent’s contentions on the adequacy of jury directions on intention and cause of death, the VSCA accepted the argument that the trial judge’s statement to the jury that the prosecution ‘has to have satisfied you of this not beyond any doubt, but beyond reasonable doubt’ was in error, given the High Court’s prohibition on directions on the meaning of reasonable doubt. Before the High Court, the Crown contended that while the trial judge had strayed from the traditional formulation by contrasting reasonable doubt with ‘any doubt’, it was not an error to do so, and, in any case, had not produced any substantial miscarriage of justice.

The High Court (Kiefel CJ, Bell, Gageler, Keane, Nettle and Edelman JJ) allowed the appeal, holding that while it is generally ‘undesirable’ for a trial judge to contrast reasonable doubt with ‘proof beyond any doubt’, it was not an error to do so in the circumstances of this case (at [1]). After noting historical changes in understandings of the expression ‘reasonable doubt’ among the general population (at [23]ff), the Court stated that today there may be reasonably differing views on whether it is well-understood: while popular media makes frequent use of it, trial judges appear to be frequently asked to define ‘reasonable doubt’ or Continue reading

SZTAL v Minister for Immigration and Border Protection; SZTGM v Minister for Immigration and Border Protection

The High Court has dismissed two appeals against a decision of the Full Federal Court on the refugee protection criteria applicable to persons who would face detention for unlawfully leaving their country of origin if returned. SZTAL and SZTGM, both Sri Lankans, arrived in Australia and applied for protection visas under the ‘complementary protection regime’. Under s 36(2)(aa), one criteria of granting that application is that the Minister has substantial grounds for believing that, if the applicant were returned, there is a real risk that they will suffer significant harm, including ‘cruel or inhuman treatment or punishment’ and ‘degrading treatment or punishment’. Under the definition in s 5, these must, respectively, be ‘intentionally inflicted’ and ‘intended to cause’ extreme humiliation. The Minister rejected the applications.

The Refugee Review Tribunal found that, if returned to Sri Lanka, the appellants would be arrested, charged and detained for leaving the country illegally, and would be held in prisons that may not meet international standards. The RRT concluded that the requirement of ‘intention’ was not satisfied: the poor conditions were due to a lack of resources, rather than an intention to inflect cruel, Continue reading

The Queen v Holliday

The High Court has dismissed an appeal against a decision of the ACT Court of Appeal on incitement to procure a third person to commit a criminal offence. The respondent was in custody awaiting prosecution when he asked a fellow prisoner to arrange for a third person, outside the prison, to kidnap two potential witnesses, convince them to adopt an exculpatory statement the respondent had written, and then kill them. The other prisoner did not go through with the plan and instead reported the respondent, who was then convicted on charges of attempting to pervert the course of justice (contrary to ss 44 and 713(1) of the Criminal Code 2002 (ACT)) and incitement to kidnap (contrary to s 47 of the Code and s 38 of the Crimes Act). On appeal, the ACTCA unanimously upheld the respondent’s conviction on the perversion of justice count, but set aside the convictions on the incitement to kidnap charges; Murrell CJ held that a person cannot be charged with inciting someone to procure a third person to commit a crime, and Wigney J held that such a charge was possible, but requires that the crime is actually committed. At issue before the High Court was whether incitement to procure a substantive offence was an offence under the Code; and whether Continue reading

Graham v Minister for Immigration and Border Protection; Te Puia v Minister for Immigration and Border Protection

The High Court has determined a special case on the validity of ss 501(3) and 503A(2) of the Migration Act 1958 (Cth). Section 501(3) provides that the Minister may cancel a visa where its holder does not pass the ‘character test’ — which may occur where, among other things, the person has a substantial criminal record, or the Minister reasonably suspects the person is associated with an organisation involved in criminal conduct — and where the visa cancellation would be in the ‘national interest’. Section 503A requires that the Minister divulge or communicate information to a court or tribunal that is reviewing a purported exercise of the character test-cancellation power. The plaintiff and applicant were both New Zealand citizens resident in Australia who held Class TY Subclass 444 Special Category (Temporary) Visas. In each case, the Minister issued them with a decision to cancel the visa, purportedly made under s 501(3), on the basis that they were members of the Rebels Outlaw Motorcycle Gang, which had been involved in criminal conduct, and noted that in making the decision the Minister had considered information that was protected from disclosure to them under s 503A, but with no further details beyond that.

The first question in the special case agreed by the parties requested that the High Court determine

whether either or both of ss 501(3) and 503A(2) of the Act Continue reading

News: The High Court returns to Melbourne

The High Court’s current rectification works at its Canberra headquarters are said to be urgent, but foreseen. The Court could not have foreseen that they would coincide with a series of urgent, high profile cases that may determine the future of the present government. This week’s hearing into the legality of the same-sex marriage postal poll takes place in premises that have never before held a major hearing and are ill-suited to housing so many judges and barristers, let alone journalists and interested members of the public. The Court’s current Melbourne home, on Level 17 of the Commonwealth Courts building above Flagstaff Station, has just a single modest sized courtroom designed for special leave applications, and an even more modest lobby. The Federal Court warns its users:

It is anticipated that there will be delays through security screening at Commonwealth Law Courts building in Melbourne over the next few days. This is due to the High Court sitting in Melbourne over September and the expected increase in visitor numbers to the building. Please allow extra time for screening ahead of your court event.

The High Court’s contribution is to permit its hearing to be  ‘broadcast to‘ a second courtroom on Level 8 of the same building, one usually used for Federal Court hearings (and the odd lecture.)

This isn’t a first – the Court has previously had overflow facilities for high profile cases such as the Gerard Baden-Clay appeal in Brisbane. An apparent first is the Court’s permission for live tweeting to occur in the overflow room, presumably because there is no possibility of the arguments being interrupted by a ringing phone. Video and audio recordings, and photographs, remain forbidden.

This week’s hearing is also a significant event in the history of the Court, Continue reading

News: Parties and dates set for dual citizenship hearings

Thursday morning’s directions hearing relating to the possible of ineligibility of sitting federal MPs due to their possible dual citizenship began with a series of ‘determinations‘ by the Kiefel CJ under this section of the Commonwealth Electoral Act:

The Court of Disputed Returns may allow any person who in the opinion of the Court is interested in the determination of any question referred to it under this Part to be heard on the hearing of the reference, or may direct notice of the reference to be served on any person, and any person so allowed to be heard or so directed to be served shall be deemed to be a party to the reference.

Most actions before the High Court have two clear parties, because one of the parties starts the action and names their opponent. By contrast, the present five (and counting) applications are just ‘questions’ referred to the Court of Disputed Returns by parliament, and the Court needs to work out who (if anyone) will actually be making arguments. Hence, the Court itself advertised the references on its webpage and called for submissions from prospective parties. Kiefel CJ then determined who were the lucky (or unlucky) parties for each reference, for example:

In relation to the reference concerning Mr Ludlam, the orders of the Court are: The following persons shall be allowed to be heard on the hearing of the reference and shall be deemed to be the parties to the reference pursuant to section 378 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (Cth): (i) Scott Ludlam; and (ii) the Attorney-General of the Commonwealth. Ian Bruce Bell, Bret Busby and John Lewis Cameron will not be heard by the Court. The submissions of Joe Bloggs, Deearne Gould, Ian Bruce Bell, Bret Busby and John Lewis Cameron will not be received by the Court and will not be taken into account on the hearing of the reference.

Senator Scott Ludlam was the first of the five MPs whose dual citizenship became an issue. He has since resigned and, according to the Commonwealth Solicitor-General, isn’t going to argue that he was ever eligible to be a Senator. However, Kiefel CJ said that she wasn’t willing to resolve his position separately from the rest, so he became a (unwilling?) party, as did the Commonwealth Attorney-General (who said he won’t necessarily be arguing either way on Ludlam’s eligibility.) But Kiefel CJ rejected nearly all the remaining hopefuls, including barrister John Cameron (who revealed Ludlam’s dual citizenship) and the ubiquitous ‘Joe Bloggs’ (who made submissions on all five candidates.) The Chief Justice’s detailed reasons for these determinations (if any) have not yet been published.

The remainder of Thursday’s hearing was devoted primarily to setting a date for the hearings, although that was quite complex. Continue reading

News: Four more High Court cases

On Friday’s oral special leave hearings, the High Court added three new cases to its docket, while rejecting leave in a high profile matter, former army reservist, Bernard Gaynor, whose sacking by the ADF over anti-gay and anti-Islam views he posted online will accordingly stand. However, in the week after June’s oral hearings, the High Court granted leave on the papers in a connected set of five disputes concerning the powers of state tribunals, which include an anti-discrimination complaint against Gaynor over his alleged anti-homosexual remarks.

The four matters that can now be appealed to the High Court are: Continue reading

Ramsay Health Care Australia Pty Ltd v Compton

The High Court has dismissed an appeal against a decision of the Full Federal Court on the circumstances in which a bankruptcy court may ‘go behind’ an earlier debt judgment. In a 2015 judgment, the NSW Supreme Court held that Compton, who had guaranteed the Ramsay’s debts, now owed almost $10 million to the company, and rejected his contention that he was not aware of the debts as they were not attached to the guarantee papers he had signed. When Compton himself went bankrupt, Ramsay presented a creditor’s petition to the Federal Court to sequester the debt to preserve it from the demands of other creditors, and Compton, in response, submitted new evidence that he contended showed he never actually owed anything to the company. Section 51(1)(c) of the Bankruptcy Act 1966 (Cth) provides that

At the hearing of a creditor’s petition, the Court shall require proof of: …
(c) the fact that the debt or debts on which the petitioning creditor relies is or are still owing;
and, if it is satisfied with the proof of those matters, may make a sequestration order against the estate of the debtor.

The FCAFC unanimously held that the primary judge should Continue reading

Forrest and Forrest Pty Ltd v Wilson

The High Court has allowed an appeal against a decision of the Western Australian Court of Appeal on the statutory preconditions for the grant of mining leases. In 2011, two of the respondents made applications to have their mining exploration licences converted into lining leases. Those applications did not include a ‘mineralisation report’ (which arrived four months later) or a ‘mining operations statement’ (which never arrived), both of which the Mining Act 1978 (WA) required an application ‘shall be accompanied by’. Nonetheless, the Mining Warden recommended the leases be granted and the Minister made the decision to do so. The WASCA held that while the applications failed to meet the requirements of the Act, that failure did not preclude the warden or Minister from considering or granting the applications, as they were not factors that had to be considered before the leases could be recommended or granted.

The High Court held, 4:1, that the WASCA erred in its construction of the statutory regime (Kiefel CJ, Bell, Gageler and Keane JJ, Nettle J dissenting).

The majority (Kiefel CJ, Bell, Gageler and Keane JJ) emphasised that considering the WASCA’s reasoning must begin with a consideration of the majority judgment in Project Blue Sky v ABA [1998] HCA 28. Whereas the WASCA had relied on that approach to conclude that the document submission were not conditions precedent to a hearing or recommendation by the warden (see [47]ff), the majority held Continue reading

Plaintiff S195-2016 v Minister for Immigration and Border Protection

The High Court has decided a special case on the legality of the Australian Government’s designation of Papua New Guinea as a regional processing country and the effect of a PNG Supreme Court decision on those arrangements.

The plaintiff is an Iranian national claiming refugee status who was detained as an ‘unauthorised maritime arrival’ and later taken to PNG (pursuant to s 198AD of the Migration Act 1958 (Cth)) in line with the ‘regional processing’ arrangements that had been put in place, namely, the 2012 designation of PNG as a regional processing country (under s 198AB(1)) and a direction made by the Minister in 2013 to move the plaintiff there (under s 198AD(5)). Once in PNG, the plaintiff became subject to PNG law and the directions of the PNG Minister for Foreign Affairs and Immigration, which required that he remain at the Manus Regional Processing Centre, which is run by Broadspectrum (Australia) Pty Ltd pursuant to a contract between that company and the Commonwealth. The PNG Minister rejected the plaintiff’s application for refugee status, though he has not yet been removed from Manus. Prior to this determination, the PNG Supreme Court handed down its decision in Namah v Pato [2016] PGSC 13, in which the PNGSC held that the Continue reading

News: High Court OKs a one-person law

On 12th September 1996, a 4-2 majority of the High Court struck down a NSW law that applied to only one person:

Gregory Wayne Kable is the person of that name who was convicted in New South Wales on 1 August 1990 of the manslaughter of his wife, Hilary Kable.

The law allowed a Supreme Court judge to detain Kable (and only Kable) for six months at a time, if the judge thought that Kable was still a danger to the community. Today, nearly twenty-one years later, the High Court unanimously rejected a challenge to a Victorian law that applies to only one person:

In this section a reference to the prisoner Julian Knight is a reference to the Julian Knight who was sentenced by the Supreme Court in November 1988 to life imprisonment for each of 7 counts of murder.

That law forbids Victoria’s parole board from ever releasing Knight (and only Knight, who perpetrated 1987’s Hoddle St Massacre), even if the parole board thinks he is no danger to the community. Kable’s law was struck down because it placed his freedom in the hands of the courts. Knight’s was upheld because it left his freedom in the hands of no-one at all.

When Kable was decided in 1996, some hoped it was the start of judicial scrutiny of laws that sought to impose punitive outcomes by unjust means Continue reading

Katanas v Transport Accident Commission

The High Court has dismissed an appeal from a decision of the Victorian Court of Appeal on statutory assessments of whether a mental disorder is ‘severe’ in the context of transport accidents. The appellant was injured in a car accident and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Section 93 of the Transport Accident Act 1986 (Vic) allows for a transport accident victim to recover damages for injuries suffered, including ‘severe’ mental disorders. While the Act does not define the meaning of ‘severe’, the ‘narrative test’ in Victoria was stated in Humphreys v Poljak [1992] VicRp 58 (emphasis added by the High Court, at [4]):

To be ‘serious’ the consequences of the injury must be serious to the particular applicant. Those consequences will relate to pecuniary disadvantage and/or pain and suffering. In forming a judgment as to whether, when regard is had to such consequence, an injury is to be held to be serious the question to be asked is: can the injury, when judged by comparison with other cases in the range of possible impairments or losses, be fairly described at least as ‘very considerable’ and certainly more than ‘significant’ or ‘marked’?

The trial judge held that the appellant’s PTSD was due to the accident, but given the wide range of social, recreational and domestic matters that she participated in, it failed to reach the threshold of ‘severity’ require by the statue and the test. The VSCA held, by majority, that the trial judge erred in approaching Continue reading

Knight v Victoria

The High Court has determined a special case on whether s 74AA of the Corrections Act 1986 (Vic) is invalid as contrary to ch III of the Constitution, holding that it is not. The plaintiff pleaded guilty to seven counts of murder and 46 counts of attempted murder, and was sentenced to a total non-parole minimum term of 27 years, which expired on or around 8 May 2014. A month before, the Parliament of Victoria enacted s 74AA, which purported to prevent the Adult Parole Board from releasing the plaintiff, who is named in the section, unless it is satisfied that the plaintiff is in imminent danger of death or is seriously incapacitated and thus unable to harm any person. The plaintiff brought a special case before the Continue reading

News: The High Court revisits same-sex marriage

Take a moment to consider the workload of the Commonwealth Solicitor-General, Stephen Donaghue, now seven or so months into his job. On Monday and Tuesday, he argued the Commonwealth’s position before the High Court in Brisbane in a horrendously complex proceeds of crime matter, an appeal from a 1275 paragraph Queensland  judgment. He (presumably) spent last weekend advising the Prime Minister on the potential disqualification of his deputy under s44(i) of the Constitution, advice Turnbull cited in Parliament on Monday. And last Friday, he represented various Commonwealth parties being sued in two actions over the proposed poll on same-sex marriage in a directions hearing before Kiefel CJ. Donaghue’s busy long weekend is one sign of how the recent whirlwind in federal politics will soon descend onto the High Court, which has only just returned from its winter break and is still unable to work in its renovations-affected Canberra home.

The High Court last ruled on an issue of same-sex marriage in 2013, Continue reading

IL v The Queen

The High Court has allowed an appeal from a decision of the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal on the intersection of constructive homicide and joint criminal enterprise. The appellant and victim were involved in the manufacture of methamphetamine, during the course of which a fire was sparked by a gas burner killed the victim. The constructive murder portion of Section 18(1) of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) provides that

[m]urder shall be taken to have been committed where the act of the accused … causing the death charged, was done  … during or immediately after the commission, by the accused, or some accomplice with him or her, of a crime punishable by imprisonment for life or for 25 years

The appellant was tried on one count of drug manufacturing, one count of murder (Count 2a) and in the alternative, one count of unlawfully causing the death of the victim (Count 2b). At trial, the Crown could not exclude the possibility that the accused caused his own death, but contended that the appellant was nonetheless guilty of constructive homicide because the victim died in the course of committing Count One, which here carried a penalty of life imprisonment. At the conclusion of the trial, the trial judge, Hamill J, directed the jury to acquit the appellant of Counts 2a and 2b on the basis that the principles of common purpose and constructive murder could not interact to make the appellant liable for murder. The NSWCCA overturned that ruling, holding that it did not matter whether the appellant foresaw the victim’s death or the fire itself, whether lighting the burner was a joint act, or whether the defendant foresaw the victim would probably be harmed. Continue reading

Commissioner of Taxation v Jayasinghe

The High Court has allowed an appeal against a decision of the Full Federal Court on income tax exemption for officials of international organisations. The respondent was employed as a civil engineer on a United Nations project in Sudan. Section 6(1)(d)(i) of the International Organisations (Privileges and Immunities) Act 1963 (Cth) provides that a person holding an office in an international organisation to which the Act applies (which includes the UN) will have the privilege of, among other things, ‘[e]xemption from taxation on salaries and emoluments received from the organisation’ (sch 4, cl 2). A majority of the FCAFC held that the Administrative Appeals Tribunal was correct in finding that the engineer did hold an ‘office’ under the Act and was an ’employee’ of the United Nations, and was thus exempt from income tax on his income. On appeal to the High Court, the central issues were whether the appellant did hold an office within the meaning of s 6(1)(d)(i), and whether a 1992 determination by the Continue reading

Pressure, Influence, and Exploitation in Thorne v Kennedy

By Joanna Bloore

The forthcoming case of Thorne v Kennedy will provide the High Court with a rare opportunity to consider and clarify the nature of the doctrines of undue influence, duress, and unconscionable dealing, and the relationships between them. It is increasingly argued that undue influence, like duress, is a vitiating factor within the law of unjust enrichment. By contrast, unconscionable dealing is generally accepted to constitute an equitable wrong, operating independently of the law of unjust enrichment. The three doctrines often suggest themselves from the same set of facts, and the appearance of the language of ‘unconscionability’ in unjust enrichment cases has introduced further confusion. There are, however, important distinctions between the three forms of claim. The body of this post examines the doctrines of duress, undue influence, and unconscionable dealing. The nature of each doctrine, and the relationships between them, are explored through their potential application to the facts of Thorne v Kennedy.

The dispute is set to be heard in the High Court on appeal from the Full Family Court in Kennedy v Thorne [2016] FamCAFC 189. Mr Kennedy was an Australian property developer with assets valued at $18 million. Ms Thorne lived overseas, and occupied a position of relative disadvantage (with poor English skills, relative poverty, and fragile immigration status). The two met through an online dating site. After meeting in person, they decided to get married and Ms Thorne accompanied Mr Kennedy back to Australia on a tourist visa. About a week before the wedding, and after Ms Thorne’s family had travelled from overseas to attend, Mr Kennedy insisted on the signing of a prenuptial agreement as a condition of their marriage. His aim was to preserve the economic wellbeing of his children. Ms Thorne received independent legal advice that the agreement was ‘no good’, but she signed it nonetheless. Four years later, the parties divorced, and Ms Thorne sought to set aside the prenuptial agreement. Continue reading

News: The High Court on dual citizen MPs

The recent resignations of Senators Ludlam and Waters mean that the following provision of Australia’s constitution is having a moment:

44 Any person who: (i)  is under any acknowledgment of allegiance, obedience, or adherence to a foreign power, or is a subject or a citizen or entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject or a citizen of a foreign power… shall be incapable of being chosen or of sitting as a senator or a member of the House of Representatives.

Despite some comments to the contrary, the issue is not one of foreign ‘allegiance’ – no-one seriously thinks the two ex-Senators owed, much less acknowledged, an ‘allegiance, obedience or adherence’ to New Zealand and Canada. Rather, the issue is their foreign citizenship. Both Ludlam and Waters are foreign citizens by birth, despite moving to Australia as very young children and quickly obtaining Australian citizenship. Their resignations have prompted some debate about the appropriateness of s44(i). For instance, it is startling that both Senators could now readily become MPs in the parliaments of their respective birthplaces without relinquishing their Australian citizenship.

While the media discussion of s44(i) has centred around its text and the slim possibility of a referendum, Australia’s High Court has also played a key role in the lead up to this situation. Continue reading

News: Historic Old High Court building in Melbourne

Melbourne-based readers of the blog may be interested to know that the Victorian Supreme Court will be opening the Melbourne Old High Court building on 30 July from 10am to 4pm as part of the Open House Melbourne Festival. In addition from 2 – 2:30pm, there will be a talk on the architecture and history of the building by Robin Grow, an expert in Art Deco architecture, and Joanne Boyd, the Supreme Court Archives and Records Manager. This post outlines some of the significance of the building, with a quick dip into significant constitutional cases for those who have an interest in such matters. [Update: for a fascinating personal insight into his role in ensuring the Supreme Court made use of the Old High Court and the decision-making process with regard to the crossover between the Supreme Court and the Old High Court see Hon. Philip Mandie’s comment on the post.]

Image taken by Heather Turk

Continue reading

A Brief Word on the ‘Always Speaking’ Approach to Statutory Interpretation: Aubrey v The Queen

By Dan Meagher

Aubrey v The Queen Case Page

If a person passes a sexually transmitted disease to their partner, do they ‘inflict’ harm on that other person? In Aubrey v The Queen [2017] HCA 18, the High Court opted to read the word ‘inflicts’ in a NSW statute in light of the way twenty-first century readers would understand the link between sex and disease, rejecting an earlier, more limited reading by nineteenth century judges. This choice of statutory approaches left Michael Aubrey to serve a five year prison term for recklessly passing HIV to his unwitting lover in 2004.

Are Australian Statutes ‘Always Speaking’ …?
In Aubrey, the High Court applied the ‘always speaking’ approach to statutory interpretation to s 35(1)(b) of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW). As a consequence, it was held that a person having sexual intercourse with another causing them to contract a grievous bodily disease could amount to the infliction of grievous bodily harm. In doing so the Court overturned the settled understanding of what constituted the ‘infliction of grievous bodily harm’ within the meaning of s 35(1)(b). That statutory meaning — which had stood for more than a century — was ‘that the “uncertain and delayed operation of the act by which infection is communicated” does not constitute the infliction of grievous bodily harm’ (Bell J, at [55]). As was noted in the joint judgment of Kiefel CJ, Keane, Nettle and Edelman JJ, ‘until this case, Clarence [the 1888 authority for that settled statutory meaning] had not been distinguished or judicially doubted in New South Wales’ (at [35]).

The joint judgment offered nine reasons why Clarence should no longer be followed. A central plank of that reasoning — and the focus of this brief comment — was the endorsement and application of the ‘always speaking’ approach Continue reading

News: Live tweeting the High Court

Two weeks ago, I ‘live tweeted’ a hearing at Victoria’s Court of Appeal, sending out roughly 115 tweets in around an hour (‘storified’ here) of discussions about alleged contempt by three Ministers.  It was my first try at live tweeting and the tweets were well received and distributed – and, it turns out, wrong. At last Friday’s hearing, a court officer told me that the use of mobile phones (or even having them on) is forbidden in Victoria’s Supreme Court When I  asked if that included live tweeting, he told me that if I ‘argued any more’, I’d have to leave. It turns out, though, that there is a rule on live tweeting by ‘members of the public’ set out on the Court’s website:

Accredited journalists may use electronic equipment for the publication of material on the internet (blogging, twittering and similar)…. Non-accredited journalists, free-lance writers, ‘citizen journalists’ and members of the public need to seek permission from the trial judge for the use of electronic equipment in Court.

Alas, this rule is cleverly hidden away. While court visitors who consult the website’s instructions on ‘court etiquette‘ are simply told to ‘turn off all mobile phones and other electronic equipment’, those seeking the process allowing them to live tweet must first click ‘contact us’, then ‘media centre’, then a link that directs ‘members of the media’ to a document titled ‘media policies and practices‘, which has  a heading – ‘journalists using electronic equipment in court’ – where the above discussion is buried in the middle (behind a sign that says ‘beware of the leopard’.) How visitors are meant to seek permission to live tweet appeal proceedings, particularly urgently scheduled ‘mentions’ such as those about contempt, is anyone’s guess.

So, what is the policy on live tweeting High Court proceedings? Continue reading

Rizeq v Western Australia

The High Court has dismissed an appeal on a constitutional matter on the operation of s 79 of the Judiciary Act 1903 (Cth). The appellant was a New South Wales resident who was convicted of state drug offences against s 6(1)(a) of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1981 (WA) in the Western Australia District Court by a majority jury verdict. As the trial was a ‘federal diversity’ matter (that is, between a state and the resident of another state), the WADC tried the appellant in exercise of its federal jurisdiction. The WASCA dismissed his arguments that this majority verdict was inconsistent with the requirement in s 80 of the Constitution that juries must return unanimous verdicts for convictions, and held that Western Australia’s state law on majority verdicts, and not s 80, applied to the case as a federal diversity matter, due to the operation of s 79. Before the High Court the appellant sought to contend that the WASCA erred in its application of the High Court’s decision in Momcilovic v The Queen [2011] HCA 34, and that it erred in its approach to the interaction between the State law and s 79.

The High Court unanimously dismissed the appeal.

The plurality (Bell, Gageler, Keane, Nettle and Gordon JJ) held that s 6(1)(a) applied at the time of the appellant’s offences and continued to govern the assessment of his criminal liability, even though the WADC exercised federal jurisdiction to resolve the controversy between the appellant and WA about the Continue reading

The Queen v Dickman

The High Court has allowed an appeal against a decision of the Victorian Court of Appeal on the admissibility of photoboard identification evidence. The respondent was convicted of intentionally causing serious injury and making a threat to kill on the basis that he was the ‘old man’ who participated in a gang bashing, as identified by the victim, who selected him from a photoboard two years after the crime (but had made other wrong selections at the time). A majority of the VSCA allowed his appeal against conviction, holding that the trial judge erred in failing to exclude the photobaord evidence because its ‘seductive quality’ outweighed its weak probative value, setting aside the convictions and ordering a new trial. Before the High Court, the Crown sought to challenge these conclusions, and contended that the VSCA erred in assessing the probative value by reference to the complainant’s unreliability.

The High Court (Kiefel CJ, Bell, Keane, Nettle and Edelman JJ) unanimously allowed the appeal and restored the convictions, holding that the real issue was the majority’s conclusion that the identification’s probative value was outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice to the respondent: Continue reading

GAX v The Queen

The High Court has allowed an appeal against a decision of the Queensland Court of Appeal on unreasonable or insupportable jury verdicts. The appellant was convicted of aggravated indecent dealing with a child and acquitted of two other counts of the same offence. A majority of the QCA (Atkinson J, Morrison JA agreeing) rejected his appeal against that conviction, in which he contended that the guilty verdict was inconsistent with the not guilty verdicts for the other counts. Before the High Court, the appellant argued that the QCA majority failed to make an independent assessment of the evidence in determining that it was open to the jury to convict him, and that the majority erred in concluding that the verdict was not unreasonable (see at [21]–[22).

The High Court unanimously allowed the appeal. The plurality judges (Bell, Gageler, Nettle and Gordon JJ) noted that there was ‘force’ to the appellant’s arguments that the lead judgment of Atkinson J did not disclose her Honour’s own Continue reading

News: Bell J on ‘The Individual Judge’

UNSW Law Journal has now released the video of Bell J’s keynote speech at the launch of its thematic issue on ‘The Individual Judge.’ Pleasingly, this was certainly no puff piece. Beyond praising the journal’s ‘honoured place’ amongst peer-reviewed law journals and describing the issue as ‘very readable and stimulating’, she didn’t (unless I missed something) have a single good thing to say about any of the papers inside it. Indeed, she strongly criticised several and threw in some critiques of academic writing on the Court’s 2013 Monis decision to boot. Her language was forceful and full of humour, and many of her arguments were persuasive. All of this, in my view, is a powerful example of everything we lose when each High Court judge’s individual voice is submerged in anonymous and depersonalised joint judgments.

Unsurprisingly, Bell J directly addressed the paper by Partovi et al identifying the authors of the Mason Court’s joint judgments, discussed here. She says: Continue reading

News: Sir Keith Aickin’s death, 35 years ago

At 1.25pm on Friday 4th June 1982, Gwyn Reiseger was driving on Coolart Road in Somerville on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula. Ahead of her, she could see a small green Volkswagen waiting at a stop sign to cross the road. As she slowed down and indicated that she was turning left at the intersection, the driver of the green car slowly drove across Coolart Road. Unfortunately, he didn’t look the other way until too late. Seeing a silver Datsun speeding towards him at 90km/h, he stopped in the middle of the intersection. Reiseger heard a screech of brakes and then saw the Volkswagen spin off the road. Both cars were wrecked. She later told the coroner:

Both drivers were having a conversation when I got there. I told someone to go and ring an ambulance. The driver was still seated in the vehicle and I had a quick look at him and he seemed to be alright. He had a cut on his left calf which was the only injury I observed.

The Datsun driver, navy diver Russell Crawford, was uninjured. After the ambulance left, he asked a tow truck operator who the Volkswagen driver was. He was told that it was Keith Aickin.

Two weeks later, and thirty-five years ago yesterday, the High Court’s Sir Keith Aickin died at Melbourne’s Prince Henry’s Hospital. Continue reading

News: Three private law matters granted special leave

My co-editor Katy Barnett has lately lamented the lack of special leave grants in private law matters. She will be happy about the three grants last Friday. In my view, a particular pleasure of private law matters is how hard-fought they can be over minutiae. An example is one of the three matters granted, which was described as follows in the lower court by the dissenting judge:

This is yet another appeal in what has been a long and bitterly contested series of actions and appeals between Clone Pty Ltd (“Clone”) and Players Pty Ltd (“Players”). There have already been two sets of proceedings that have been the subject of appeals to the Full Court and unsuccessful applications for leave to appeal to the High Court.

For added interest, one side of the dispute – who lost two High Court special leave applications but succeeded in their most recent state appeal – includes three well-known sports stars. Their opponent – a company owned by a wealthy family including a high profile investment banker – obtained leave to appeal the reopening of their victory 11 years ago. Astonishingly, the core dispute is about whether the word ‘NIL’ in a 1994 lease agreement was crossed out with a blue pen, to be resolved by examining four surviving photocopies of the lease because the original was lost. (For a taste of the factual subtleties of that process, see the dissenting judgment at [673]-[694].) And yet, the case raises some very major issues indeed concerning civil discovery, the obligations of civil litigants and the finality of civil rulings.

The three matters where leave have been granted are: Continue reading

News: High Court cases behind today’s contempt hearing

Today’s reported contempt proceedings in the Supreme Court of Victoria do not (yet) involve the High Court. Rather, they concern an ongoing appeal in Victoria’s Court of Appeal by the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions against a ten year sentence imposed on convicted terrorist Sevdet Besim by the Supreme Court. However, the issues are closely tied to several past High Court decisions.

One is a ruling in late 2015 allowing a Cth DPP sentencing appeal in a federal drugs matter, where the High Court unanimously held that:

to prefer one State’s sentencing practices to sentencing practices elsewhere in the Commonwealth, or at least to prefer them for no more reason than that they are different, is contrary to principle, tends to exacerbate inconsistency and so ultimately is unfair.

This ruling almost certainly is the background for reported comments by judges hearing the DPP’s appeal that, the case of terror sentences:

Warren CJ: “NSW courts appeared to put less weight on the personal circumstances of the offender than Victorian courts, with greater concern for denouncing the crime and sending a message to others in the community. It’s as if the Murray River is an enormous gap in terms of sentencing.”

Weinberg JA: “The range seems to be in the 20s [years] for offending somewhat similar to this. It is extremely worrying, I would have thought, that there is such a gap.”

Just as in the 2015 case, the difficulty faced by the judges is that Victorian courts consistently gave lower sentences than other states, notably NSW. The High Court has made it clear that Victoria should generally follow the national approach, rather than its own one.

The other High Court rulings in play today are ones concerning the common law offence of scandalizing the court. Continue reading

Air New Zealand v Australian Competition and Consumer Commission; PT Garuda Indonesia Ltd v Australian Competition and Consumer Commission

The High Court has dismissed two appeals against a decision of the Full Federal Court on restrictive trade practices law and the location of markets, specifically the meaning of a market ‘in Australia’. Section 4E of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth) provides that for the purposes of the Act ‘market’ means, absent a contrary intention, a ‘market in Australia’. The ACCC brought proceedings against the two appellant airlines, who are both involved in transporting cargo from other countries into Australia, claiming that the airlines had engaged in collusive behaviour by fixing surcharges and fees on air cargo arriving into Australia from Hong Kong, Singapore and Indonesia. The airlines claimed that the markets for that cargo were located in the departure nations, not Australia, and thus the provisions of the Act did not apply to their dealings there. The primary judge agreed with the airlines, holding that the markets were located in those countries because they were where the decision to choose an airline to carry freight into Australia took effect (the ‘switching decision’), and that decision was made when the Continue reading

Hughes v The Queen

The High Court has dismissed an appeal against a decision of the New South Wales Court of Criminal Appeal on tendency evidence in the context of multiple child sexual offences. The appellant, a well-known actor in a 1980s television series, was convicted of nine child sexual offences and sentenced to 10 years and nine months imprisonment. Among the evidence at trial was evidence from a range of complainants and other witnesses on the appellant’s sexual interactions with them, which was said to establish a tendency of the appellant to act in a particular way or have a particular state of mind, specifically, holding a sexual interest in children, using his social, familial and employment relationships to gain access to them, and engaging in particular kinds of sexual conduct. The NSWCCA dismissed his appeal against the conviction and sentence, rejecting (among a number of other arguments) that the trial judge erred in allowing the tendency Continue reading

News: High Court hears appeal in…. Sydney??

This may not seem like news, but it is a first in nearly four decades. While the High Court’s Sydney Registry is often host to hearings of Australia’s apex court, these have long been limited to minor fare: special leave hearings, case management and the like, involving between one and three judges. By contrast, today’s hearings involve the Court’s core business (appeals) and at least five judges, something that last happened in Sydney on 10th and 11th March 1980, when all seven members of the Barwick Court heard a workers compensation dispute.

What changed after that date? The opening of the High Court’s first and only dedicated premises in May 1980 in Canberra. While Sir Garfield wanted that move to mark an end to the Court’s ‘circuits’ of Australian capitals (then administered by its Sydney Registry), a combination of resistance from the other judges (who didn’t want to live in Canberra) and state bars preserved the circuit system, albeit in a more limited form described in the Court’s most recent annual report as follows:

The Court conducts its sittings in Canberra and such other places as are determined by a Rule of Court made by the Justices in the preceding year. In addition, applications for special leave to appeal to the Court are heard regularly in Sydney and Melbourne, and the Court continues the practice, established on its inauguration, of sitting in Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and Hobart if warranted by the amount of business.

So, what has changed now? Continue reading

News: Who wrote the Mason Court’s joint judgments?

Monday evening was the launch of the latest ‘thematic’ issue of the UNSW Law Journal. This issue’s theme is ‘The Individual Judge’, which is also the title of Kiefel CJ’s 2014 speech and paper, where she first said ‘collegiality is not compromise’. The paper is one of three where she has defended the High Court’s practice of attributing judgments largely written by one judge to all the judges who agreed with it. While there is much of interest in the new issue of the UNSWLJ, only one of the articles responds directly to Kiefel CJ’s stance. The paper by Andisheh Partovi et al sets out five arguments for correctly attributing authorship of judgments: ensuring individual accountability (an argument I also put here), discouraging free riding, and serving the interests of judges, academics and lawyers. More importantly, the authors acted on their views by outing the likely authors of the joint judgments of the High Court from 1987 to 1995, when Sir Anthony Mason was Chief Justice. Needless to say, their list is absolutely fascinating.

So, who, out of the eight judges who sat in that period, likely wrote the most important joint judgments of the Mason Court? Continue reading

News: Upcoming conferences include French court legacy

In two months, Melbourne Law School’s own Centre for Comparative Constitutional Studies will hold its fourth annual conference, this time focussing on:

  • Non-Statutory Executive Power;

  • Proportionality after McCloy;

  • Restrospectivity and the Rule of Law

The first of these topics in particular is associated with the work of the French court, while the second captures a key issue in the transition to the successor Kiefel court. More importantly:

The final session of the Conference provides a retrospective on the High Court under Chief Justice Robert French, with a special focus on Chapter III and the separation of powers.

Unsurprisingly, the day will encompass a host of High Court cases:

The cases to be discussed include: Re Culleton [No 2] (2017); Cunningham v Commonwealth (2016);… Murphy v AEC (2016); Plaintiff M68 (2015); P T Bayan Resources v BCBC Singapore (2016); Rizeq v Western Australia (2016); McCloy v New South Wales (2015); Assistant Commissioner Condon v Pompano Pty Ltd (2013); Wainohu v New South Wales (2011); Momcilovic v The Queen (2011); Kirk v DPP (2010); South Australia v Totani (2010) and International Finance Trust Co Ltd v New South Wales Crime Commission (2009).

Looking further ahead, 2018 will be the first time that the biennial Public Law Conference series (previously held in Cambridge) will be held in Australia, inevitably including a consideration of the French Court’s work. Former High Court judge Ken Hayne is a speaker at both conferences.

The website for the CCCS conference is here, while the one for the Public Law conference is here.

News: Bumper crop of special leave grants includes a sequel

After rejecting all written applications this session, the High Court granted seven applications in Friday’s twin oral hearings in Canberra. The grants include a direct sequel to a 2015 decision by the Court concerning an industrial dispute in Melbourne. As discussed in this post, the incident was a 2013 blockade of concrete trucks in Footscray at a site connected to the Regional Rail Link, seemingly led by Joe Myles, a CFMEU employee. Two years ago, the High Court ruled that the CFMEU, facing contempt proceedings for allegedly breaching an order barring such action, could be required to divulge telephone details that could link it to Myles. The contempt matter has since been settled and the CFMEU and Myles have admitted breaching the Fair Work Act in a parallel proceeding in the Federal Court. The new issue before the High Court concerns an unusual civil penalty that the Federal Court imposed on Joe Myles for his role in the Footscray incident.

The seven matters where leave has been granted this session are: Continue reading

News: High Court overrules 130 year-old criminal law precedent

In a decision this week, Aubrey v The Queen [2017] HCA 18, a 4-1 majority of the High Court overruled an 1888 decision of the Court of Crown Cases Reserved (a predecessor to England’s Court of Appeals), which had held that a man who gave his wife gonorrhoea could not be convicted of ‘inflicting’ harm. Holding that the English decision should not be applied to the case of Michael Aubrey, a NSW man convicted of maliciously inflicting grievous bodily harm by giving his sexual partner HIV in 2004, the majority said:

Granted, until this case, Clarence had not been distinguished or judicially doubted in New South Wales. It was assumed that proof of an offence against s 35 of the Crimes Act necessitated proof of a direct causing of some grievous physical injury with a weapon or blow…  It may also be accepted that the Court is ordinarily loath to overturn a long-standing decision about the meaning of a provision unless there is doubt about it, or to depart from the view of judges who, because of proximity in time to the passage of the legislation in question, were more aware of the reasons underlying the legislation. But that is not this case.

The majority listed nine reasons why Clarence should no longer be followed, including contrary pre-1888 authority, the lack of a single majority view in the case, two forceful dissenting judgments, subsequent discoveries about infection, the subsequent abandonment of the presumption of consent to marital sex and the more recent rejection of Clarence in England’s courts.

Few, other than people in a similar position to Aubrey himself, will mourn the death of Clarence. However, the majority’s approach to overruling that decision is an interesting contrast to the Court’s refusal last year to overturn its own little-loved decisions on complicity Continue reading

Aubrey v The Queen

The High Court has dismissed an appeal against a decision of the New South Wales Court of Criminal Appeal on the meaning of ‘inflict’ in ‘infliction of grievous bodily harm’ and the foresight of risk in establishing recklessness. Aubrey was charged with several offences related to his allegedly infecting his partner with HIV through unprotected sex and in the knowledge that he was HIV positive. The appellant sought to have a more general offence against s 35 of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) of maliciously inflicting grievous bodily harm quashed on the basis that, on the Crown’s factual case, the transmission did not constitute an ‘infliction’. The NSWCCA held that ‘inflicts’ should not be given a limited, technical meaning or require any violent act with an immediate result, and that transmitting a disease that manifests itself over time could amount to grievous bodily harm; special leave to appeal to the High Court against that decision was refused. Following these interlocutory appeals and a trial, Aubrey was convicted of maliciously inflicting grievous bodily harm. A differently constituted NSWCCA rejected his argument that this count disclosed no offence known to the law, agreeing with the reasoning in the earlier NSWCCA decision. Following a grant of special leave, the appellant sought to Continue reading

The Queen v Afford; Smith v The Queen

The High Court has decided two related appeals against decisions of the Victorian Court of Appeal and the New South Wales Court of Criminal Appeal on proof requirements for federal drug trafficking offences where the accused deny knowledge of drugs discovered in their luggage. Afford was arrested at Melbourne Airport for importing heroin hidden in oil and a laptop that he had been given as part of an apparent scam. A majority of the Victorian Court of Appeal allowed his appeal against conviction on the basis that Afford clearly did not want or intend to import any drugs. Smith was arrested at Sydney Airport with methamphetamine hidden inside soap and golf sets that he had been given as part of the scam. The NSWCCA unanimously upheld Smith’s conviction because his intent could be inferred from an admission that he had ‘significant misgivings’ about the gifts. The NSWCCA, which handed down its decision after the VSCA decision in Afford, also held that the VSCA erred in distinguishing the matter before it from Kural v The Queen [1987] HCA 16, in which the High Court held that the intention to import drugs can be inferred from a person’s awareness of a risk that the luggage contains drugs.

The High Court allowed the Crown’s appeal in Afford and dismissed Smith’s appeal against his conviction. The joint judges (Kiefel CJ, Bell, Gageler, Keane, Nettle and Gordon JJ) Continue reading

News: Forest challenge stumbles into a factual thicket

This week, the full bench of the High Court heard a challenge by ex-politician Bob Brown to Tasmanian laws giving police new powers to protect ‘workplaces’, including part of the Lapoinya forest where a logging operation has been occurring. Apart from its immediate political significance, the case is of enormous legal interest because the Court is being asked to revisit both ‘limbs’ of 1997’s Lange test on the operation of the Constitution’s implied freedom of political communication: what counts as a burden on the freedom (Tasmania argues that the new law cannot impose a burden on people who were, it claimed, already trespassers) and the test for when a law that burdens the freedom is invalid (some of the State parties have asked the Court to rethink the three-step proportionality test adopted by a bare majority of the Court in 2015’s decision on political donations.)

But these political and legal issues have long risked being sidelined by factual concerns. Continue reading

Talacko v Bennett

The High Court has allowed an appeal against a decision of the Victorian Court of Appeal on the enforcement of Australian judgments overseas in the context of bankruptcy. Section 15(2) of the Foreign Judgments Act 1991 (Cth), which lays out the procedure for an Australian court to issue a certified copy of a judgment for the purposes of enforcement in a foreign court, provides that a judgment creditor cannot make an application until the expiration of any ‘stay of enforcement’. Section 58(3) of the Bankruptcy Act 1966 (Cth) provides that when a debtor has become bankrupt ‘it is not competent for a creditor  to enforce any remedy against the person’.

Following a long-running family dispute over properties in then Czechoslovakia that were expropriated by the Communist regime, the VSC held in 2009 that one sibling had reneged on an agreement with the others to Continue reading

Plaintiff M96A/2016 v Officer in Charge, Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation

The High Court has allowed a demurrer and dismissed proceedings in relation to a challenge to the constitutional validity of ss 189 and 196 of the Migration Act 1958 (Cth). The plaintiffs, Iranian asylum seekers detained on Nauru since 2014, were brough to Australia under s 198B for the ‘temporary purpose’ of medical treatment on mainland Australia. While in Australia, they contended that there was no lawful basis for their detention while temporarily in Australia, arguing that a non-citizen brought to Australia for a temporary purpose cannot be detained under ss 189 and 196, because that detention would constitute an invalid exercise of federal judicial power by the Executive. Continue reading

Pickering v The Queen

The High Court has allowed an appeal against a decision of the Queensland Court of Appeal on whether part of a general defence of compulsion is available for the crime of manslaughter under Queensland’s criminal code. During a fight with his best friend, Pickering produced a knife and warned the deceased to stay away from him. The deceased charged at him and during the scuffle Pickering’s knife stabbed and killed the deceased. A jury acquitted him of murder, but convicted him of manslaughter. The QCA rejected Pickering’s arguments that the trial judge should have directed the jury on the general defence of reasonably resisting violent threats (known as ‘compulsion’) in s 31(1)(c) of the Criminal Code 1899 (Qld), and not just the narrower defence of self-defence in s 271. Section 31 provides that a person is not criminally responsible for an act or omission when it is reasonably necessary to resist actual and unlawful violence threatened to that person, though the protection does not extend to actions which would constitute murder Continue reading

News: Four new criminal cases

The latest round of special leave determinations is notable for the attention the media gave to some refusals of leave. On Wednesday, the Court published a list of thirteen written refusals of leave. One, refusing Victoria’s Attorney-General leave to appeal Attorney-General v Glass (in her capacity as Ombudsman) [2016] VSCA 306  (where the Court of Appeal held that the Ombudsman can investigate a referral from the Legislative Council concerning entitlements) was reported with the headline ‘High Court delivers embarrassing blow to Andrews government‘, including criticism from the shadow Attorney-General of the challenge’s ‘scandalous waste of taxpayer dollars’. The Court’s disposition (published the next day) stated:

The application for special leave to appeal discloses no reason to doubt the correctness of the decision of the Court of Appeal of the Supreme Court of Victoria.

which does, perhaps, qualify as somewhat embarrassing. A second case, refusing leave from Australian Competition and Consumer Commission v Reckitt Benckiser (Australia) Pty Ltd [2016] FCAFC 181, which held that misleading labelling on Nurofen warranted a penalty of $6M (as ‘the bottom of the appropriate range for the contraventions’), was widely reported, including internationally, through Associated Press under the headline ‘Australian court rejects British painkiller firm’s appeal‘. The disposition stated that ‘The decision of the Full Court of the Federal Court is not attended with sufficient doubt to warrant the grant of special leave to appeal’, which is perhaps a little less embarrassing than the disposition of the Ombudsman matter.

The wider significance of special leave determinations has always been hard to parse, as the Court’s reasons are not always about the merits of the appeal or the arguments made by either side and, anyway, they typically only represent the views of two of the Court’s seven judges. However, the Court’s shift to written determinations, while a welcome saving of (amongst others’) ‘taxpayer dollars’, have made it even harder to judge the flavour of any particular determination, because we no longer have access to clues that would appear i a transcript of the oral hearing about the arguments that were made by each side and the particular views of the judges about the merits and other issues. An extreme illustration is a matter granted leave on the papers on Thursday. Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police v Hart & Ors [2016] QCA 215, part of a decade-long saga of proceeds of crime litigation, is 1275 paragraphs (and nearly 130,000 words) long. Justice Morrison’s judgment begins with a 5-page overview detailing the three appeals dealt with (each with notices of contention), the seven common issues, the sixteen appeal grounds, eighteen determinations of general disputes and the eleven outcomes for particular assets – and his judgment turns out to be in dissent on a number of key issues! The High Court granted the Commonwealth leave in each appeal, but we don’t yet know what arguments they raised (and what notices of contention will  be raised.) We may get a hint when the transcript announcing the written determination s published, but otherwise we will have to wait until the next High Court bulletin (for a brief summary) or the parties’ submissions on appeal (for fuller details.)

Having noted these uncertainties, here are summaries of the four cases where leave was granted last week, all criminal and three from Queensland: Continue reading

Re Day [No 2]

The High Court, sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns, has answered a set of questions referred to it by the Senate regarding the qualifications of Robert John Day AO to be chosen as a senator under s 44(v) of the Constitution. The Court held that he was ineligible to be chosen, that there is a vacancy in the place for which he was returned, and that that vacancy will be filled by a special count of ballots.

Section 44(v) provides that any person who has any direct or indirect pecuniary interested in any agreement with the Commonwealth Public Service shall be incapable of being chosen or sitting as a senator.

Day was first elected to the Senate in 2013, taking office in July 2014. Following the 2016 double dissolution election, he was declared re-elected to the Senate in August 2016. In December 2015, the Commonwealth entered into a lease agreement with Fullarton Investments Pty Ltd, the registered proprietor of a property on Fullarton Rd in Kent Town, South Australia. The property had been used by Day as an office since April 2015, and the December lease was for the purposes of Day’s office accommodation (an ordinary parliamentary benefit). Through a set of transactions in 2014 (see, eg, [6]ff), the ownership of the Fullarton Rd Property passed from B & B Day Pty Ltd — controlled by Day (and later his wife) and the Continue reading

News: Kiefel J’s last judgment, Kiefel CJ’s first

Yesterday’s two judgments mark the final step of the transition from the French Court to the Kiefel Court. Until this week, judgments published by Susan Kiefel have been attributed to ‘Kiefel J’, even though she has been Kiefel CJ since January 30th. In today’s two decisions, the first, Ecosse Property Holdings Pty Ltd v Gee Dee Nominees Pty Ltd [2017] HCA 12, has a joint judgment attributed to ‘Kiefel, Bell & Gordon JJ’, while the second, Kendirjian v Lepore [2017] HCA 13, has a solo judgment attributed to ‘Kiefel CJ’. The obvious explanation of the shift is that ‘Kiefel J’ is used for judgments where Susan Kiefel was still a mere Justice when she sat at the hearing. Ecosse was heard on 14th December last year, at a time when Robert French was still Chief Justice – he had six weeks left in the role – but by then he had not heard any cases for over two months and the Court had already held a ceremony to mark his retirement. By contrast, Kendirjian is the fifth case heard by the High Court since Susan Kiefel became Chief Justice, but the first to be decided.

So, what were the first ever words in a judgment by Kiefel CJ?:

I agree with Edelman J.

Continue reading