News: Four new criminal law appeals, including Van Beelen case

The Kiefel Court held its first oral special leave hearings on Friday morning. Last week, the Court ruled on several dozen written applications, dismissing them all. According to the High Court’s business list, a further seven matters were ‘TO BE HEARD IN CANBERRA AND BY VIDEO-LINK TO ADELAIDE AND TO SYDNEY’. However, on Thursday, the next day’s court list revealed, for the first time, that there would be two separate hearings at the same time, one in Canberra (hearing three applications, including two from Adelaide via video link) and the remaining four live in Sydney (rather than from Sydney via video link. [EDIT: Corrected. See comment below.]) It seems unlikely that anyone was put out by this late change of plans, but it is also unclear why it was not announced earlier.

The High Court granted leave in four matters, all of which relate to crimes or the criminal law. The four decisions appealed are: Continue reading

Western Australian Planning Commission v Southregal Pty Ltd; Western Australian Planning Commission v Leith

The High Court has allowed an appeal against a decision of the Western Australian Court of Appeal on the availability of compensation for landowners affected by a public purpose reservation. The respondents were in the process of purchasing a parcel of land when it was made subject to a public purpose reservation under pt 4 of the Planning and Development Act 2005 (WA), which prevented the respondents from developing the land without the appellant Commission’s approval. The appellant refused that approval, and the respondents then claimed compensation under pt 11 div 2 of the Act, s 173 of which provides that ‘a person whose land is injuriously affected by the making … of a planning scheme is entitled to obtain compensation’ for that injurious affection. The appellant then declined each claim on the basis that none of the respondents fitted Continue reading

Commissioner of State Revenue v ACN 005 057 349 Pty Ltd

The High Court has allowed an appeal against a decision of the Victorian Court of Appeal on the repayment of erroneous land tax payments. The appellant Commissioner wrongly assessed a double land tax payment of the respondent taxpayer’s land between 2008 and 2012, and repaid the excess amounts assessed. The Commissioner refused to repay similar excessive payments from 1990 to 2002. The Court of Appeal held that the earlier assessments contained the same duplication error as the later one. The Court of Appeal noted that that error was not disclosed on the face of the assessments and could not have been discovered by the taxpayer with reasonable diligence, though it was known to the Commissioner, and ordered repayments. The Court of Appeal Continue reading

Palmer v Ayres, Parbery and Owen as liquidators of Queensland Nickel Pty Ltd (in liq); Ferguson v Ayres, Parbery, Owen as liquidators of Queensland Nickel Pty Ltd (in liq)

The High Court has decided a constitutional matter on the validity of s 596A of the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth), holding that the section is not invalid as contrary to ch III of the Constitution by conferring non-judicial power on federal courts and courts exercising federal jurisdiction. Section 596A provides that on the application of an eligible applicant, a court is to summon a person for examination about a corporation’s examinable affairs if it is satisfied that the person is or was an officer of the company prior to it being wound up.

The plaintiffs were directors of Queensland Nickel at various points from 2013. Following a successful application by creditors to wind the company up in April 2016, the defendant liquidators summoned the plaintiffs for examination under s 596A, and the plaintiffs were examined and produced documents. The plaintiffs then challenged the constitutional basis of s 596A, making six submissions in support of that argument. First, that the power to summon a person under s 596A did not satisfy the functional or ‘classical’ Continue reading

Catch-22 in the Court of Disputed Returns: Re Culleton (No 2)

By Jeremy Gans

Re Culleton [No 2] Case Page

‘What did you mean,’ he inquired slowly, ‘when you said we couldn’t punish you?’ ‘When, sir?’ ‘I’m asking the questions. You’re answering them.’

No-one cares about Re Culleton [No 2] [2017] HCA 4. Not Rod Culleton, who is out of the Senate regardless, thanks to his bankruptcy problems. Not political types, because the One Nation candidate’s spot will just be taken by another one. Not anyone else, because no-one much likes the ex-Senator (or never Senator or whatever he is — was? — now) or cares who’s who in One Nation. And, it seems, not the High Court either, which last week phoned in a judgment in the case.

This indifference is a bit of a pity. Re Culleton [No 2] raises lots of issues that have nothing to do with Culleton and a number that have nothing to do with elections — and the High Court’s judgment fluffs several of them. Re Culleton [No 2] is a fine example of much that is wrong with Australia’s apex court these days.

‘I didn’t say you couldn’t punish me, sir.’ ‘When?’ asked the colonel. ‘When what, sir?’ ‘Now you’re asking me questions again.’

Every Australian’s right to be elected to Parliament (and to cast a valid vote for their preferred candidate) is limited by the following text:

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; 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.

Section 44 of the Constitution is well meant, but has mostly silly effects. Para (i) forces all dual citizens who want to stand for election to first give up their non-Australian citizenship forever. Para (iv) likely forces all public servants (including all teachers) to quit (and not just take leave from) their jobs if they just want to try to become an MP. Para (v) is basically incomprehensible (and might invalidate the election of many investors, depending on how the High Court rules in Re Day [No 2].) Para (iii), the best of a bad bunch, still makes it risky for anyone to combine running a business with being a politician (as both Rod Culleton and Bob Day exemplify.)

And then there’s para (ii), which keeps Parliament free of (some) criminals. While that certainly sounds like a good idea, Australia’s contemporary criminal law is a good deal broader than most people imagine. The drafters of s 44(ii) wanted to ban people convicted of a ‘felony or any infamous crime’, which in 1900 covered the sort of crimes that could see criminals executed or deprived of all of their property. But Samuel Griffiths, realising that criminal law terms can change or lose their meaning over time, suggested a different test: ‘any offence punishable under the law of the Commonwealth or of a State by imprisonment for one year or longer’. Alas, those replacement words – especially ‘offence punishable’ – are now s 44(ii)’s biggest problem.

‘When didn’t you say we couldn’t punish you? Don’t you understand my question?’ ‘No, sir. I don’t understand.’ ‘You’ve just told us that. Now suppose you answer my question.’

We mainly know criminal ‘offences’ by their shorthand labels — murder, rape, theft, etc — but, under Australian law, offences actually consist of a complex (often very broad) definition and a maximum (often very high) penalty. Lots of offences cover an extremely wide range of behaviour, from absolutely trivial to extremely serious. Assault can be anything from an unwanted tap on the shoulder to a kick in the face. Drug possession can be anything from one banned pill to a truck full of contraband. Criminal damage can be anything from putting up a poster to burning down a house. Child pornography can be anything from a sext on your phone to a hard drive’s worth of horror. And so on. We tolerate these broad definitions (and the accompanying vast maximum penalties) because Australia’s criminal justice system is also full of discretion: prosecutors rarely chose to prosecute trivia and, if they do, judges rarely choose to punish it.

But there is no discretion in s 44(ii). If you have ever done anything trivial that happens to fall within the definition of a serious offence, then you can lose your right to stand for election (and your voters will lose their right to elect you) simply through bad timing, even though you never came within cooee of ‘imprisonment’. All it takes is for someone to charge you with an offence that bundles together whatever trivial thing you did with much more serious behaviour that merits a lengthy stay in prison. That is exactly what happened to Rod Culleton. Continue reading

News: New High Court Robes

During Kiefel CJ’s ceremonial sitting to mark her investiture as Chief Justice (recorded here), it is noted that she had particular involvement with the design of the new High Court robes. She was also apparently pivotal in designing the Federal Court robes, and commissioned theatre designer Bill Haycock to design them. Haycock was subsequently also asked to redesign the High Court robes.

I confess to having a crafty streak, although I am no weaver – drawing, writing and knitting are more my cup of tea.

I was delighted by this blog post, by Kay Faulkner, the weaver responsible for the sleeves for the new High Court robes. Please do read it all in detail if you want to know about the process of creating the robes. The material is handwoven, and exquisite. The pattern of the sleeves were designed to resemble the ripples left by waves on sand. It is fascinating to look at the way in which the various parties worked together and created these beautiful robes. Delightfully, everyone took a turn at weaving the final thread on the fabric.

After reading this post, I watched the video of Kiefel CJ’s investiture with a different understanding of the care which had been taken to make those robes.

Re Culleton [No 2]

The High Court, sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns, has decided a matter referred to it by the President of the Senate over the validity of the election of Senator Culleton. Culleton was elected as a Senator for the State of Western Australia in July 2016. In March 2016, prior to his nomination and election, he was convicted in his absence of larceny in a NSW court, and was liable to be sentenced to up to two years imprisonment. In August 2016, after his election, Culleton was brought before the court, which annulled the earlier conviction and heard the matter afresh, found him guilty on his own plea, and then dismissed the charge without convicting him of the offence. In November 2016 the President of the Senate referred the matter of Senator Culleton’s eligibility to the Court of Disputed Returns (see at [10]–[12]).

Section 44(ii) of the Constitution provides that ‘Any person who:

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 … shall be incapable of being chosen or of sitting as a senator.

The Court unanimously held that because Culleton had been convicted of and was subject to be sentenced for an offence punishable by imprisonment for a year or longer, s 44 operated to disqualify Culleton from being elected Continue reading

News: ACs in the HCA

This has undoubtedly been a busy week for the High Court’s website manager, with multiple changes to incorporate, including moving Kiefel J to Chief Justice and inserting Edelman J in the current justices list, and removing French CJ from the current justices list – he is now at the end of the Former Chief Justices list. A further change, also visible on the Court’s ‘About the Justices’ page, as to add ‘AC’ to all mentions of Gageler J:

As this image shows, the photo of the seven judges has not yet been updated (though French CJ is blocked by the drop-down menu.) Presumably, the Court is waiting for the first occasion when the seven current judges sit together (probably Thursday’s hearing of Rizeq v Western Australia, concerning the application of the constitutional right to a jury in state prosecutions involving non-state residents.)

Amidst the excitement of Kiefel CJ and Edelman J’s new judicial roles, Gageler J’s entry into the General Division of the Companion of the Order of Australia,  five years after his appointment to the High Court, has received little attention. Continue reading

News: Kiefel CJ’s swearing in by Bell J

The swearing in of Justice Kiefel as the Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia was major news throughout Australia, and rightly so. But, as Professor Adrienne Stone pointed out on twitter, the Australian Financial Review fluffed its reporting:

The photo the Fin used was from Kiefel J’s swearing in as a High Court judge in 2007. On Monday, Kiefel CJ was sworn in by the High Court’s next most senior judge, Bell J, arguably adding to the groundbreaking nature of the event from a gender perspective.

Without letting Fairfax off the hook, I have noticed that there don’t seem to be any photos online of Bell J swearing in Kiefel CJ anywhere. Continue reading

News: Testimony in the High Court

Here’s something you don’t often read in High Court transcripts:

HER HONOUR: Come into the witness box please, Mrs Smith. Do you wish to take an oath or an affirmation?
MRS SMITH: An oath.
DEBRA KIM SMITH, sworn:
HER HONOUR: Have a seat please, Mrs Smith, and pour yourself a glass of water if you would like one.
THE WITNESS: Thank you.

Debra Smith was testifying before Gordon J as part of litigation about the validity of former Senator Bob Day’s election last year. The final case’s hearing will be held in the second week of February before the full High Court (with Susan Kiefel as Chief Justice and James Edelman newly on the bench.) This week’s hearing is a preliminary one to resolve some factual disputes, the result of an order made by French CJ in November:

10. If the parties have been unable to agree by 22 December 2016 a statement of all the facts and documents which are relevant to the reference, the hearing and determination of the facts will be heard by a single Justice at a date to be fixed with a view to a referral to the Full Court thereafter.

The parties agreed on most issues, but not all of them. According to a ruling by Gordon J last week:

Notwithstanding that agreement, Ms McEwen sought, and continues to seek, additional findings of fact. The additional facts are directed to three separate issues: Mr Day’s interest in the lease with the Commonwealth (“Issue 1”), Mr Day’s statement and declaration in nominating for the Senate in 2016 (“Issue 2”) and distortion of the vote (“Issue 3”).

At Monday’s hearing, two witnesses, Debra and her husband John, both acquaintances of Senator Day and his building company, testified on the first issue and were cross-examined by Day’s counsel.

Witness evidence before the High Court, while unusual, is not unprecedented. Continue reading

News: New special leave procedures affect injunction practices

Litigants who win their ‘day in court’ often have to wait until long afterwards to reap the rewards, because of the mere possibility that the decision might be successfully appealed. An example is a dispute between members of Perth’s Mercanti family about the validity of Michael Mercanti’s 2004 appointment of his son Tyrone in his place as appointer of a trust governing proceeds of the family’s shoe repair business. Although Tyrone first won that battle in October 2015 in Western Australia’s Supreme Court, he has been subject to a series of injunctions concerning his exercise of powers under the trust ever since. First, the Supreme initially issued an injunction in 2013, presumably when the action by Michael, his wife, and two other children, commenced. Second, after ruling in Tyrone’s favour, the same court immediately issued an injunction pending Michael’s appeal to the Court of Appeal, which effectively lasted thirteen months until Michael lost the appeal in late November 2016. Third, the Court of Appeal immediately issued a three-week injunction to allow Michael time to consider an application for special leave to the High Court. Fourth, the Court of Appeal issued a second three-week injunction because Michael (apparently for understandable reasons) was not able to act before the High Court shut for Christmas. Fifth (but perhaps not finally), earlier this month, the High Court’s Kiefel J issued a further injunction against Tyrone, with no end date. That final injunction arose, in part, because the appellants thought the Court of Appeal wouldn’t grant a longer injunction and because Tyrone wouldn’t consent to any further extension of the injunction that had governed his actions for three years.

Justice Kiefel, in the High Court’s first judgment of 2017, addressed the issue of who should decide whether to grant an injunction pending a High Court special leave application: the court being appealed from, or the High Court? Continue reading

Cashflow is the ‘Lifeblood’ of the Construction Industry: Has the High Court Applied a Tourniquet? Southern Han Breakfast Point Pty Ltd (in liq) v Lewence Construction Pty Ltd

By Matthew Bell

Southern Han Case Page

The December solstice of 2016 was celebrated in diverse ways around the world. At Stonehenge, druids and pagans greeted the mid-winter dawn. In Australia, construction lawyers were digesting the first High Court judgment on the Building and Construction Industry Security of Payment Act 1999 (NSW): Southern Han Breakfast Point Pty Ltd (in liq) v Lewence Construction Pty Ltd [2016] HCA 52.

The Court (Kiefel, Bell, Gageler, Keane and Gordon JJ in joint judgment) confirmed that the existence of a Reference Date under a Construction Contract is a precondition to the making of a valid Payment Claim (the capitalised terms are defined under the Act — more on that shortly). In doing so, the Court overturned the decision of the NSW Court of Appeal ([2015] NSWCA 288), effectively restoring the declaration by Ball J at trial ([2015] NSWSC 502) that the adjudicator had no jurisdiction to make a determination under the Act on a purported payment claim.

Ball J’s conclusion rested upon his Honour’s interpretation of the contract used here (AS4000-1997, a widely-used, construct-only form of construction contract) as having exhausted its capacity to generate ‘Reference Dates’ (which trigger the right to make a payment claim under the Act). This was based on alternate hypotheses: either the contract had been terminated for repudiation, or (if the contract remained on foot) the ‘show cause’ procedure then in effect suspended the right to claim payment.

The judgment is on a narrow point, but has wider significance. This is because the NSW Act has, as was noted by Senior Counsel for the appellants, Continue reading

RP v The Queen

The High Court has allowed an appeal against a decision of the New South Wales Court of Criminal Appeal on the presumption of lack of criminal responsibility by offenders under 14 years of age. The appellant was 11 to 12 years old when he allegedly sexually abused his younger brother on two occasions. A child offender under 14 years old is presumed to not be responsible for his or her crimes, though this presumption can be rebutted by evidence that the offender was aware that the conduct was seriously wrong, as distinct from an act of ‘mere naughtiness or mischief’ (see NSWCCA at [34]). The NSWCCA unanimously upheld the trial judge’s ruling that the presumption was rebutted by evidence that the appellant Continue reading

News: French Court averaged 50 substantive judgments per year

The High Court’s 2015/2016 annual report states (as every annual report has for the past decade) that:

the numbers of Full Court hearings and decisions in 2015–16 were comparable with averages for both during the past 10 years.

However, as noted here last year, the number of published judgments in 2014 (49) and 2015 (53)  were among the fifteen lowest in the High Court’s history. With three judgments released today, 2016 equals 2015’s number of published judgments.

As previously noted, counting High Court judgments is not straightforward, because of changing practices in judgment publication (notably past courts’ willingness to issue lengthy substantive judgments on special leave applications.) The judgments published by the High Court typically include some minor judgements – single judge decisions and interlocutory rulings – that seemingly reflect publishing preferences in individual judges. This year, there were four such judgments, leaving 49 substantive judgments in 2016, one more than each of the last two years. The final counts of substantive judgments for the French Court are: Continue reading

ElecNet (Aust) Pty Ltd (as Trustee for the Electrical Industry Severance Scheme) v Commissioner of Taxation

The High Court has dismissed an appeal against a decision of the Full Federal Court on the meaning of ‘unit trusts’ for tax purposes. The appellant is the trustee of the Electrical Industry Severance Scheme Trust (the ‘EISS trust’), which protects redundancy or insolvency pay entitlements of employees in the electrical trades industry by requiring employers to pay money into a fund, from which payments could be made to employees following termination of their employment. The appellant sought a ruling from the respondent that the EISS trust was a unit trust for the purposes of div 6C of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1936 (Cth), and the Commissioner ruled that it was not a unit trust. While div 6C does not define ‘unit trust’ it does define ‘unit, in relation to a prescribed trust estate, includes a beneficial interest, however described, in any of the income or property of the trust estate’. On appeal to the Federal Court, Davies J held that the EISS trust was a Continue reading

Southern Han Breakfast Point Pty Ltd (in liq) v Lewence Construction Pty Ltd

Matthew Bell, ‘Cashflow is the “Lifeblood” of the Construction Industry: Has the High Court Applied a Torniquet? Southen Han Breakfast Point Pty Ltd (in liq) v Lewence Construction Pty Ltd‘ (23 December 2016).

The High Court has allowed an appeal against a decision of the New South Wales Court of Appeal on jurisdictional error in the context of a building commission adjudication over a construction contract and ‘reference date’ requirements. Following the collapse of a building agreement between the parties, an adjudicator ordered the appellant company to make payments to the respondent builder in recognition of progress on the works. Section 8(1) of the Building and Construction Industry Security of Payment Act 1999 (NSW) provides that ‘[o]n and from each reference date under a construction contract’, Continue reading

News: Three new special leave grants round off 2016

Just when it seemed that 2016 couldn’t get any worse, the High Court’s website went out of action last weekend from late Friday afternoon until mid-Sunday. The High Court has not provided any explanation to date of the outage, either over the weekend – the Court presently does not use social media tools that would suit such notice – or since. That means that Australians (other than those who happened to be at the High Court’s Sydney or Canberra registries on Friday morning) had to wait until Monday afternoon to discover what special leave applications were granted or dismissed in the Court’s last oral hearings for the year. Applications addressed in those hearings include three matters of broad public interest: an appeal by The Age newspaper concerning an order that journalists reveal their sources to a defamation matter; a dispute in Nauru’s Supreme Court concerning its jurisdiction to hear appeals in refugee matters; and challenges to ICAC findings holding that developers committed corrupt conduct by allegedly concealing the involvement of Eddie Obeid in their proposals.

As it turns out, leave was not granted in any of those matters. Rather, yesterday afternoon, the Court’s  website revealed that three different applications were granted at the oral hearings (the only three grants in December.) The three matters that will be heard by the Kiefel Court next year are: Continue reading

News: High Court forms must now include the Queen’s name

The  High Court Amendment (2016 Measures No. 2) Rules 2016 were published on December 6th this year and took effect on December 9th. The amendments, presumably the final ones from the French Court, include new forms for arrest warrants, committal warrants, subpoenas and writs. For the first time since 2004, those forms must include the following words:

ELIZABETH THE SECOND, by the Grace of God Queen of Australia and Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth

These are the exact same words that were once required by the 2004 rules’ predecessor. As noted here, these amendments were prompted by a question from Senator Rod Culleton to Attorney-General Brandis, who pointed out that the previous version of the rules did not require that such forms comply with  s. 33 of the High Court of Australia Act 1979:

All writs, commissions and process issued from the High Court shall be:
(a) in the name of the Queen…

Even if Senator Culleton’s election is held to have been invalid by the Court of Disputed Returns, he will have had an impact on the statute book and the High Court that is rare indeed for a minor party Senator.

Roll Up, Roll Up … for A Transformational Journey into the Australian Constitution!

By Martin Clark

David Foster Wallace’s journey into voter apathy in the United States following John McCain’s 2000 Presidential campaign around the country led him to this profound insight:

it’s hard to get good answers to why Young Voters are so uninterested in politics. This is probably because it’s next to impossible to get someone to think hard about why he’s [sic] not interested in something. The boredom itself preempts the inquiry; the fact of the feeling’s enough.

Picking over the political ‘upsets’ that fixed the attention of the Anglophone western world in 2016 — the Brexit referendum and the election of Donald J Trump to the Presidency of the United States — plenty of commentators read these as ‘anti-establishment’ political movements. Voters in the UK and the US sought to vent their frustration at ‘political elites’. Formerly uninterested in politics or bored with politicians, these voters suddenly thought ‘hard’ and did the ‘next to impossible’: got out to vote in support of the movement or candidate promising to rock the establishment to its core … and in both instances there is already plenty of evidence showing a ‘betrayal’ is not far off.

What could any of this have to do with Australia’s High Court? Half a world away, the centrepiece of our legal establishment enjoys an extremely high public confidence rating. Unlike the Supreme Court of the United States (or even, given the recent Brexit, cases the United Kingdom Supreme Court), the High Court is firmly insulated against politics. Its cases, reasoning and appointments are always (said to be) about questions of law and legal expertise, not politics. This year’s cases on voting procedures, parliamentary retirement entitlements, and senate eligibility remind us that even when the Court touches on the overtly political, it is guided — as it (says it) must be — by legalism. (Certainly, that hasn’t stopped it from being the stage for often dramatic political protests (here and here).)

But really, what is all this preamble about boredom and the ‘establishment’, politics and legalism in aid of? Well, the Constitution Education Fund Australia has just announced a new journey: a major new interactive multimedia exhibit about the Constitution which will be installed in the High Court itself. Continue reading

The High Court on Sentencing Domestic Violence: Kilic v The Queen

By Tamara Hamilton-Noy

Kilic Case Page

In Victoria in 2014, there were 32 victims of family and domestic violence-related homicide (5 per million persons) and 1,321 victims of family and domestic violence-related sexual assault offences (23 victims per 100,000 persons). There were seven times as many female victims as male victims in Victoria of family and domestic violence-related sexual assault.

On 27 July 2014 a young woman drove up to the home of 22 year old Yavaz Kilic with a group of friends. She had been in a relationship with Kilic and was 12 weeks pregnant to him. The relationship was later described as having been controlling and ruled by his paranoia. Kilic had commenced using drugs at the age of 13 and had had a period of homelessness at 18 years of age. He had worked previously as a labourer. He had previous convictions for weapons related charges, but no violence related priors. As of 27 July 2014 he was reported to have been using ice for several days.

The woman and her friend, Mr B, went to get out of the car at which time Kilic ran across the road in an aggressive manner, holding a samurai sword above his shoulders and pointing it at Mr B. He shoved the sword through the open window towards the steering wheel and yelled at the people in the car, including yelling at the young woman, “You’re just a fucking slut”.

Mr B followed Kilic into his front yard and Kilic filled a bottle of water and swung the sword at it, stating ‘This would take some cunt’s head off’. Mr B followed Kilic into the house and hid the sword inside the house. While Mr B went to the bathroom, Kilic went Continue reading

News: French CJ’s last words

Quote

In Wednesday’s ACCC v Flight Centre Travel Group Limited [2016] HCA 49, concerning whether Flight Centre breached competition laws by seeking a deal with some airlines not to undercut its prices, French CJ’s separate judgment concludes:

In my opinion, Flight Centre was not in competition, in any relevant market, with the airlines for which it sold tickets. Its proposals with respect to the pricing practices of its principals were not proposals offered by it as their competitor but as their agent. I would dismiss the appeal with costs.

These are very likely French CJ’s last words in a court judgment. He did participate in a second judgment on Wednesday, seconds after the ACCC one, but that was a joint judgment with (as is often the case) Kiefel, Bell & Keane JJ, and (as is always the case) no indication of who wrote it. (Austlii’s earliest judgment by French J appears to be this one.) As French CJ has no more reserved judgments (having stopped hearing cases in early October), his only possible remaining judgments would be chambers or special leave matters. His remaining duties on the Court until his resignation on 29th January next year will be almost entirely administrative or ceremonial.

Wednesday’s ACCC judgment was unusual for the outgoing Chief Justice in another respect. Continue reading

New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council v Minister Administering the Crown Lands Act

The High Court has dismissed an appeal against a decision of the New South Wales Court of Appeal on a land rights claim over a former prison. Under s 36(1) of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983 (NSW), Crown lands that may be subject to a land rights claim must not be lawfully ‘occupied’. After Berrima Gaol was decommissioned in 2011, the Crown Lands Minister rejected the appellant’s claim over the land on the basis that while the prison was no longer operating, the land and buildings were still occupied by Corrective Services NSW which guarded and maintained them, and used the site for working visits by community service order workers. The NSWCA held that the land was still occupied on the basis of regular use by the community service order workers, that no statutory authorisation was necessary for that occupation to be lawful, Continue reading

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission v Flight Centre Travel Group Ltd

The High Court has allowed an appeal against a decision of the Full Federal Court on the applicability of competition law to the airline booking industry. Flight Centre and several airlines reached an agreement under which the airlines would not offer fare prices directly to potential passengers that were lower than the prices offered by Flight Centre. The ACCC alleged that this constituted a breach of ss 45 and 45A of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth). The trial judge agreed that the airlines and Flight Centre were in competition in a market to supply booking services to consumers and distribution services to airlines, and that the arrangements aimed to set a floor under the price of flights offered for sale and thus maintained or controlled the price of Flight Centre’s booking services. The FCAFC found in favour of Flight Centre, holding that there was no separate market for booking or distribution services (see at [168]), that Flight Centre operated within the market Continue reading

News: An Interruption in the Court of Disputed Returns

This week, the United Kingdom’s and Australia’s apex courts each held hearings that touch on recent votes in each country. The UK Supreme Court’s Brexit case (on whether triggering the UK’s exit from the EU is a matter for parliament or just the executive) is broadcast live on the Court’s website. The High Court’s Culleton hearing (where the Court of Disputed Returns will determine whether the WA One Nation Senator was disqualified by a since annulled conviction for larceny) can now be viewed on the Court’s AV archive, albeit not live. One difference that seemingly follows from this is that the video record of the Court may be incomplete. A possible example is an incident at the hearing described in The Guardian as follows:

The high court hearing into Rodney Culleton’s eligibility as a senator was interrupted by a One Nation member who labelled it a “star chamber” and “kangaroo court” after Culleton lost a bid for an adjournment. The dramatic interjection was made by member John Wilson, without Culleton’s knowledge. The senator’s chief of staff, Margaret Menzel, then remarked “he’s right” and his wife Ioanna Culleton said “at least someone has the guts to stand up [and say it]” as Wilson was asked to leave the court room.

I have been unable to locate this incident on the video recording of the hearing that appeared on the High Court’s website yesterday afternoon. Interestingly, though, there appears to be an unexplained, and unsignposted, break in the recording just after the 36 minute mark, immediately after Kiefel J says the words ‘We will now proceed to hear the substantive argument.’ You can see it most clearly by watching Keane J’s hands.

As noted in an earlier post, interruptions in apex court proceedings, usually as a form of political protest, are nothing new. However, video recording of hearings is a recent phenomenon in the High Court. If it is correct that the interruption and other events described in the media indeed occurred in the above break, then it appears that the Court may have an unannounced policy to remove these events from thevideo  record.  Continue reading

Simic v New South Wales Land and Housing Corporation

The High Court has allowed an appeal against a decision of the New South Wales Court of Appeal on the construction of a bank guarantee contract. The appellant is the guarantor of a building company that tendered for a building contract from the respondent housing corporation. As part of that contract, the appellant provided security in the form of a bank guarantee contract, authorising the transfer of approximately $140,000 to the respondent if requested by the respondent. The contract was prepared with multiple errors, including mistakes in the name of the respondent corporation and its ABN, causing the bank to refuse to pay the amount when the respondent made the request. The NSWCA held that while the principle of strict compliance with the terms of the contract was a requirement of performance rather than construction, the principle of autonomy (that letters of credit and guarantees should be construed independently from the underlying agreements that lead to their creation) must form part of the process of construction. The Continue reading

The Queen v Kilic

The High Court has allowed an appeal against a decision of the Victorian Court of Appeal on sentencing guidelines and ‘manifestly excessive’ sentences. The respondent pleaded guilty to intentionally causing serious injury after he doused his partner in petrol and set her alight. The offence carried a maximum penalty of 20 years, and the sentencing judge sentenced the respondent to 15 years imprisonment. The VSCA held that the sentence significantly exceeded those previously given for convictions that involved more horrific assaults and where defendants did not show remorse, were young, or made an early guilty plea (as had all occurred here), and reduced it to 10 years and 10 months imprisonment. Appealing the VSCA decision to the High Court, the Crown contended that the original sentence cannot be manifestly excessive if it falls into the ‘worst case’ category for the offending, and that the VSCA erred in its approach to evaluating ‘current sentencing practices’ as applied by the sentencing judge.

The Court (Bell, Gageler, Keane, Nettle and Gordon JJ) unanimously allowed the Crown’s appeal, holding that the Court of Appeal erred in its approach to ‘current sentencing practices’ when it held that the differences between the sentencing judge’s conclusions and those in other cases warranted the conclusion that the sentencing judge imposed a manifestly excessive sentence.

The Court first held that the VSCA erred in describing the offence as falling within the ‘worst category’ of cases of intentionally causing serious injury. Given that the ‘worst category’ means an instance of an offence which warrants the Continue reading

News: Congratulations James Edelman, new High Court Judge

I was particularly delighted to hear of James Edelman’s recent appointment to the High Court of Australia, as he is a friend and former academic colleague. Indeed, his book based on his PhD thesis, Gain-Based Damages: Contract, Tort, Equity and Intellectual Property was the inspiration for my own PhD thesis.

Edelman J’s list of achievements are impressive: degrees in law, economics and commerce, a Rhodes Scholarship, a BCL and a DPhil from Oxford, a Professorship at Keble College, Oxford, followed by an appointment to the Supreme Court of Western Australia in 2011 and an appointment to the Federal Court in Queensland in 2015. He has numerous publications in the area of private law, and a keen interest in theoretical scholarship.

We extend our warmest congratulations to him and to our new Chief Justice, Susan Kiefel.

News: The Kiefel Court

Today’s news, as welcome as it is unsurprising, officially confirms that the next High Court will be the Kiefel Court. Here are some features of the new Court that will commence on 30th January 2017:

  • Susan Kiefel, age 63, appointed by Howard government until 17th January 2024
  • Virginia Bell, age 65, appointed by Rudd government until 7th March 2021
  • Stephen Gageler, age 58, appointed by Gillard government until 5th July 2028
  • Patrick Keane, age 64, appointed by Gillard government until 26th October 2022
  • Geoffrey Nettle, age 66, appointed by Abbott government until 2nd December 2020
  • Michelle Gordon age 52, appointed by Abbott government until 19th November 2034
  • James Edelman, age 43, appointed by Turnbull government until 9th January 2044

With Edelman J ( a Supreme Court judge later Federal Court judge, from WA) replacing French CJ (previously a Federal Court judge from WA, appointed by the Howard government), the Court’s diversity in appointing party, gender, geography (alas for South Australia) and prior positions remains unchanged. However, Edelman J is the Court’s first appointee born in the 1970s, just as Gordon J before him was the Court’s first appointee born in the 1960s.

Assuming no early resignations, these are the last new appointments to the High Court for four years. The next (or so) Prime Minister  will then have the opportunity to replace Nettle J and Bell J in quick succession in 2020/1, followed by Keane J in 2022. If Kiefel CJ stays for her full term, then the next most senior judges will be Gageler J, Gordon J and Edelman J. As  Gageler J will have only four years remaining on the Court (although Brennan CJ was appointed in similar circumstances), a Gordon Court from 2024-2034 and an Edelman Court from 2034-2044 would be a solid bet.

News: Bell Group case led to Attorney-General and Solicitor-General rift

It is no secret that relations between Attorney-General George Brandis and Solicitor-General Justin Gleeson were “irretrievably broken” when Gleeson resigned as Solicitor-General in October this year. However, it has now been revealed that there may have been a High Court connection to the rift: it has been reported today that the ever-sprawling, never-ending Bell Group case may have led to the difficulties between the pair.

As I noted earlier this year, the Bell Group case looked to have settled in 2013, but the Western Australian government’s attempt to distribute the settlement funds via a statutory scheme was struck down by the High Court in May in Bell Group N.V. (in liquidation) v Western Australia [2016] HCA 21. The ATO was a major creditor who would have lost out had the Western Australian legislation been held to be valid.

The West Australian reports that Brandis had apparently made a deal with the Western Australian government that the legislation would not be challenged, and that Brandis instructed Gleeson not to run a particular argument in the May case. It was reportedly Gleeson’s refusal to comply with this which led to the rift. Continue reading

News: Ten new grants of special leave

Senators’ queries and qualifications aside, the High Court is having a quiet month, perhaps in part because some pending matters have been shifted to February when the Court will again have seven functioning judges. The Court finished off all of this month’s full court hearings in a single week and also announced orders settling or partly settling matters where special leave had been granted (in cases concerning migration, sentencing and advocates’ immunity.) At the same time, there has been a bumper crop of special leave grants this month, two on the papers last week, a spectacular five out of six applications granted in Wednesday’s oral hearing and three at today’s oral hearing.

All up, ten new cases will eventually be heard on appeal: Continue reading

News: Senator Culleton says he will not attend Court of Disputed Returns hearing

A week ago, the High Court published notices on its webpage that it will sit as the Court of Disputed Returns in relation to Senators Bob Day and Rob Culleton. The notices state:

Any person who desires to place any evidence before or make any submission to the Court should apply to the Court by email addressed to Senate.Reference.[Day/Culleton]@hcourt.gov.au by 12:00noon (AEDT) on Thursday 17 November 2016 setting out the reasons why they should be granted leave to appear before the Court. The Court may determine such application on the papers or invite the person to appear and make oral submissions to the Court in Canberra (or by video-link if required) at 11:30am (AEDT) on Monday 21 November 2016.

The apparent purpose of this hearing is to determine who will be a party to the Senate’s reference of these matters, in accordance with s378 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.

However, The Guardian reports that Senator Culleton will not attend, physically at least:

On Wednesday Culleton told Guardian Australia he did not intend to appear, nor to send a legal representative, but he would represent himself “in spirit” at the directions hearing.

Presumably, though, the Court of Disputed Returns will ‘direct notice of the reference to be served on’ Senator Culleton, who will then be deemed to be a party.

Senator Culleton lists several reasons for not attending on Monday. Continue reading

Bywater Investments Ltd v Commissioner of Taxation; Hua Wang Bank Berhad v Commissioner of Taxation

The High Court has heard two appeal against a decision of the Full Federal Court on corporate residency for the purposes of tax assessments. Section 6(1) of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1936 (Cth) provides that a company is resident in Australia for tax purposes if it is either incorporated in Australia or if it carries on business in Australia and has either its central management and control in Australia or its voting power controlled by shareholders who are Australian residents. The appellant companies were all incorporated outside of Australia and ultimately owned by two Cayman Islands companies. Borgas, a businessman based in Switzerland, was the sole shareholder in the Cayman Islands holding companies and a director of each of the appellant companies, and was presented as the owner of the companies. The Commissioner challenged the companies’ claims that they were not residents in Australia for tax purposes. The primary judge found that Gould, a Sydney-based accountant, was the true owner of one of the Cayman Island companies and its appointor, holding the power to appoint Continue reading

Castle v The Queen; Bucca v The Queen

The High Court has allowed an appeal from the Full Court of the South Australian Supreme Court on admissions and discreditable conduct evidence. Castle and Bucca were convicted by a jury of murdering McDonald, Castle’s former partner, who was shot while sitting in a car driven by Castle. The prosecution’s case was that Castle and Bucca arranged the shooting, with Bucca hiding in the back seat. The defence for Castle contended that the shooter was another person, Gange, who had crept into the car through the car boot, unbeknownst to Castle, and shot McDonald. At trial Pascoe, an associate of Castle and Bucca, gave evidence that Bucca had shown handguns to her father months before the shooting, and that Bucca had said to her father after the shooting that ‘he didn’t mean to do it’. M gave evidence of a conversation between Castle and Bucca on the night of the shooting planning to meet and confront McDonald, and that while Gange had left that night he returned home before before the shooting occurred. Telephone tower records suggest that Bucca and Castle were at the scene of the shooting, Continue reading

Van Ryn v The Queen

The High Court has made orders by consent between the parties, allowing an appeal against a decision of the New South Wales Court of Criminal Appeal on the sentencing of paedophiles. The defendant pled guilty to a series of child sexual assaults committed between 2004 and 2014, and was sentenced in the New South Wales District Court to an aggregate term of 13 years imprisonment. The Crown appealed against the sentence, contending that it was manifestly inadequate, as demonstrated by errors in the judge’s assessment of the sentence. The NSWCCA allowed the Crown’s appeal, concluding that the sentencing judge did make a number of errors that may reflect the inadequacy, specifically in making no finding on the objective seriousness of the offending, and not properly appreciating the importance of deterrence, making the sentence inadequate. The NSWCCA also noted that even if those errors did not ’cause’ the inadequacy, the sentence was plainly unjust, Continue reading

AAR15 v Minister for Immigration and Border Protection

The High Court has made orders by consent between the parties, allowing an appeal against a decision of the Federal Court on fact findings on the current status of ethnic conflicts. The applicant, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, sought refugee protection on the basis of his membership of the Kasai-Luba ethnic group, which he alleged was subject to persecution by the Katangan-Lunda group. The Administrative Appeals Tribunal concluded that on the country information before it the applicant did not face a real chance of serious harm due to his ethnicity, but cited only a 2006 International Crisis Group report which referred only to ‘tensions’, and did not cite or refer to a number of later reports from various bodies which illustrated risks of genocide, war crimes and ongoing ethnic conflict. A single-judge Federal Court rejected the Continue reading

Timbercorp Finance Pty Ltd (in liq) v Collins; Timbercorp Finance Pty Ltd (in liq) v Tomes

The High Court has dismissed two appeals against a decision of the Victorian Court of Appeal on the operation of Anshun estoppels — which prevents a party asserting a claim or raising an issue of fact or law if that claim/issue was so connected to the subject matter of an earlier proceeding that it was unreasonable in the context of that first proceeding to not have raised it then — in the context of individual members of an unsuccessful group proceeding. (On the statutory scheme for group proceedings see Supreme Court Act 1986 (Vic) pt 4A.) The appellants are liquidators of companies that were part of the Timbercorp Group and were incorporated to provide loans to investors in forestry projects. The respondents applied for these loans between in 2008, became part of a group proceeding brought by investors after Timbercorp collapsed in 2009. When the group proceeding was rejected, Continue reading

Comcare v Martin

The High Court has allowed an appeal against a decision of the Full Federal Court on worker’s compensation for the aggravation of a mental condition as a result of reasonable administrative action. After the applicant was bullied and harassed by her supervisor and later denied a permanent position under a different supervisor by a panel that included her current and prospective supervisor, she was diagnosed with an ‘adjustment disorder’ that rendered her unfit for work. Sections 5A and 5B of the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 (Cth) provide that Continue reading

Blank v Commissioner of Taxation

The High Court has dismissed an appeal from a judgment of the Full Federal Court on the taxation of income from employee profit participation arrangements. The appellant, a senior executive at a commodities firm, received a salary package that included a profit participation arrangement which paid him a lump sum of $160mil payable in several instalments, payable after he left his role (the Incentive Profit Participation Plan or ‘IPPA’). The international holding company was incorporated in Switzerland, and the IPPA operated in the form of a Genussscheine or ‘profit sharing certificate’. The central issue was whether this amount was ordinary income and thus part of the appellant’s assessable income under s 6-5 of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 (Cth). A majority of the FCAFC held that it was, and rejected the appellant’s claims that the rights under the IPPAs were a Continue reading

News: Delay anticipated in High Court challenge to Senators

Eagle eyed readers of the UK Supreme Court’s twitter page will notice a couple of contrasts to the High Court of Australia:

 

First, the United Kingdom’s apex court is on Twitter; Australia’s High Court is yet to enter the modern world of social media. Second, the Court’s twitter stream actually replies to public queries, including confirming @aforlonehope’s query that the coming 11-judge Brexit hearing will make UK procedural history. Third, up until now, the UK’s apex court has never held a hearing that involves all of the courts’ judges.

While most major hearings in Australia’s High Court involve five of the Court’s seven judges, the Court typically sits ‘en banc’ – i.e. with all of its seven judges – for all constitutional cases and occasionally for other significant cases. Continue reading

News: Senator Culleton’s ‘dark cloud hanging over the High Court’

Those interested in federal politics have spent the past couple of days pondering the possibility that two senators elected at the recent election were disqualified on various grounds and the possible outcomes of proceedings in the High Court potentially raising those matters. One of those senators, One Nation’s Ron Culleton, gave an interview yesterday, which reportedly included the following statement:

Under Section 33 of the constitution, writs need to be named in the name of the Queen and that clearly hasn’t been happening. So when the media jumps on this and say there’s a dark cloud myself, I would say there is a dark cloud hanging over the High Court. Until the answer comes back (advice from the Senate), I’m not sure I’m going to participate in any High Court jurisdiction. If I do, I will represent myself.

Those following up on this statement would soon discover that s. 33 of the Constitution refers to writs, but not ones from the High Court:

Whenever a vacancy happens in the House of Representatives, the Speaker shall issue his writ for the election of a new member, or if there is no Speaker or if he is absent from the Commonwealth the Governor-General in Council may issue the writ.

Section 33 is actually concerned with casual vacancies in the House of Representatives (which are resolved by by-election.) Vacancies in Senator Culleton’s upper house are dealt with by s. 15 of the Constitution, which makes no mention of writs (as such vacancies are filled by state parliaments.) Neither constitutional provision includes any requirement that process should be in the name of the Queen.

However, it is likely that Senator Culleton was actually referring to s. 33, not of the Constitution, but of the High Court of Australia Act 1979:

All writs, commissions and process issued from the High Court shall be:
(a) in the name of the Queen;
(b) under the seal of the Court…; and
(c) signed by… the Chief Executive and Principal Registrar…

In fact, Senator Culleton’s first parliamentary question, a week after an action was filed against him, concerned this very section: Continue reading

News: Vic CJ proposes Australian Court of Appeal

At this year’s national conference of the Australian Bar Association, Victorian Chief Justice Marilyn Warren, after outlining the success of Victoria’s Court of Appeal in finalising civil appeals, provocatively added:

Now taking the local level of excellence, of course it extends across the national superior courts. So what opportunities arise to market that collective excellence? An opportunity that lies before all of us as the collective superior courts of Australia is to contemplate a national appellate court.

Of course, Australia already has a national appellate court, the High Court of Australia, which, unlike the Supreme Court of the United States, can hear appeals from any Australian court on any subject. Why, therefore, call for a second national appellate court? Warren CJ gives three related reasons. Continue reading

‘Parliamentary Perks’ as Constitutionally Protected Property?: Cunningham v Commonwealth

By Dr Lael Weis

Cunningham Case Page

How could the same constitutional provision that Darryl Kerrigan famously invoked to protect his ‘castle’ be relied upon by former Members of Parliament to protect ‘gratuitous’ — in the sense that they go above and beyond entitlements based on superannuation contributions — retirement benefits against any possible future reductions? As news coverage of the High Court’s recent decision in Cunningham v Commonwealth [2016] HCA suggests, the very contention is offensive to public sensibilities.

The constitutional provision in question, s 51(xxxi), protects individuals from the arbitrary acquisition of property by requiring that the acquisition of property by the Commonwealth be ‘on just terms’. Yet it seems highly counterintuitive to think of gratuitous retirement benefits — funded by taxpayer money, no less — as ‘property’ that the Constitution affords protection to. As one opinion piece scoffed, ‘you could hardly be blamed for imagining a snort of derision from the Bench at the implication that the [former parliamentarians] believed it was their own money they were fighting for.’ Surely they’re dreamin’ … or are they?

In this blog post I will briefly comment on the seemingly odd character of the constitutional challenge, explaining why Cunningham is not in fact that odd as far as s 51(xxxi) cases go. I will then offer a few remarks on what the commonplace character of challenges of this kind tells us about the broader challenges that confront the High Court’s jurisprudence in this area, and why the Court didn’t exactly tell the plaintiffs to ‘dream on’.

‘Property’ protected by the constitutional guarantee

In reality, cases like Darryl Kerrigan’s — which involve straightforward real property interests — are atypical for Australian constitutional property law. Australian constitutional property law much more frequently Continue reading

Greyhounds, Michael McHugh and the Integrity of the Judiciary

By Gabrielle Appleby and Alysia Blackham

On 16 June 2016, retired High Court judge, the Hon Michael McHugh AC QC delivered his report as Commissioner of a Special Commission of Inquiry into the Greyhound Racing Industry in NSW. The report found ‘overwhelming evidence of systemic animal cruelty, including mass greyhound killings and live baiting’, and concluded that the industry had ‘fundamental animal welfare issues, integrity and governance failings that can not be remedied.’ Relying on the report, the NSW Government moved to shut down the greyhound racing industry, with legislation introduced to effect a full closure by 1 July 2017. In a move described by the NSW Opposition as the ‘mother of all backflips’, the NSW Premier has now confirmed that greyhound racing will not be banned after all, with ‘tough penalties’ to be introduced to ensure animal welfare instead.

Banning greyhound racing is a politically and emotionally charged issue. Prior to the government’s backflip, the NSW Greyhound Racing Industry Alliance criticised the Special Commission of Inquiry report as being ‘biased and seriously flawed’. It argued that racers and trainers were denied procedural fairness. There were allegations that the report was a ‘stitch up’, with the result predetermined by NSW Premier Mike Baird. The greyhound industry even brought a claim in the NSW Supreme Court, seeking to have the report declared invalid. Others applauded the ban, and saw Continue reading

News: Another NSW-Vic schism amongst special leave grants

It is always hard to predict the outcome of special leave applications, but one category of appeal comes close to a certainty: cases where Australian courts have divided on the meaning of a single, important statute. Earlier this year, the High Court (in a divided decision of its own) entered into a key dispute between the NSW and Victorian courts about the meaning of Australia’s ‘uniform’ evidence law, and last month the Court took on a case dealing with a second dispute between those courts about that law. Last week, the Victorian Court of Appeal decided not to follow the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal on the precise role of guilty pleas in federal sentencing, guaranteeing that the issue will reach the High Court soon. This month, the sole grant of leave ‘on the papers‘ was a pair of cases where the NSW and Victorian courts reached different views on the fault element of federal drug offences.

The Court’s new process continues to be unpredictable. For the first time since the process began, the Court held two oral hearings – these were held, unusually, in separate weeks, and yielded five more special leave grants. The Court’s written dispositions refusing leave continue to be very uninformative. One exception was the Court’s refusal of a NSW criminal appeal, which included the Court’s view that the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal was right to apply the High Court’s House ruling (requiring an error of law before a decision can be reviewed) to a trial judge decision; alas, the NSW case is (for now) suppressed, so the public is none the wiser about the nature of this ruling. Chief Justice French continues to play no role in the Court’s written dispositions, but participated in (at least) the first oral hearing.

The six matters where leave was granted are appeals from the following decisions: Continue reading

Ainsworth v Albrecht

The High Court has allowed an appeal against a decision of the Queensland Court of Appeal relating to the alteration of the rights of lot owners to common property in a community titles scheme. The appellants and first respondent are owners of lots in the community title scheme at Viridian Noosa Residences. When the first respondent sought to amalgamate two balconies on his lot, which would require his exclusive use of the common property airspace between the balconies, the body corporate rejected the request. Following a ruling by an adjudicator, which was overturned by QCAT, the QCA restored the adjudicator’s initial ruling, holding that the adjudicator’s role was not limited to asking whether the present appellants’ objections (and those of the architect) were reasonably Continue reading

Cunningham v Commonwealth

The High Court has decided a constitutional matter on the annual allowance payable to retired members of parliament. The plaintiffs, four retired ALP and LNP MPs, challenged the validity of various provisions of statutes relating to retirement allowances and travel benefits (‘Life Gold Passes’) for former parliamentarians and the powers of the Remuneration Tribunal. The plaintiffs contended that those allowances amounted to property rights within the meaning of s 51(xxxi) of the Constitution, and that changes to those provisions and the connected tribunal Continue reading

Prince Alfred College Inc v ADC

The High Court has allowed an appeal against a decision of the Full Court of the South Australian Supreme Court on vicarious liability of a school for an employee’s child sexual abuse offences. While a student at Prince Alfred College, the appellant was sexually assaulted multiple times by a boarding house master, Bain, who was dismissed once the school learned of the abuse, and who had previously been convicted of gross indecency and suspected of abusing students at a previous school. The appellant contended that the school was vicariously liable for Bain’s abuse, and that it was negligent in failing to make proper and adequate inquiries into Bain’s suitability for employment. The SASCFC overturned the trial judge’s decision to dismiss the action, Continue reading

Lyons v Queensland

The High Court has dismissed an appeal against a decision of the Queensland Court of Appeal on whether preventing a deaf person from serving on a jury constitutes discrimination. The appellant, who is deaf, is a proficient lip reader, but requires an Auslan interpreter when communicating with people who do not know Auslan. After being called for jury service, the appellant notified the Deputy Registrar that she required an Auslan interpreter, after which the Deputy Registrar excluded the appellant as a potential juror under s 4(3)(l) of the Jury Act 1995 (Qld) which precludes a person with a ‘physical or mental disability that makes the Continue reading

News: Re-reading Monis v the Queen

The High Court’s judgment, Monis v The Queen [2013] HCA 4, concerns the meaning and validity of the federal government’s ban on offensive postal communications. However, the case is known for many more things: the extremity of the communications sent by the defendants to bereaved families condemning the deceased’s involvement in military operations; the rare evenly divided High Court ruling, upholding the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal’s dismissal of the defendants’ pre-trial challenge to the statute’s constitutionality; Justice Dyson Heydon’s final judgment, quoting Kipling’s My Boy Jack and condemning the implied freedom of political expression as he applied it (one of the ‘great dissents’ nominated in Andrew Lynch’s edited collection); later accusations against the defendants of much more serious crimes; and, finally and most dramatically and sadly, Man Haron Monis’s killing of two people (and his own death) during the siege of Martin Place’s Lindt Cafe.

It is not surprising that the case continues to draw academic attention. The latest instance is an entire book devoted to the case. Continue reading

Murphy v Electoral Commissioner

The High Court has decided a constitutional matter challenging the Commonwealth Parliament’s power to legislate to suspend the processing of claims for enrolments to vote and transfers of enrolments to vote from seven days after the issue of writs for an election. The plaintiffs argued that the principle in Rowe v Electoral Commissioner [2010] HCA 46, in which the Court held that Parliament could not close the rolls on the day the writs are issued, should be extended up to polling day (or, at least, more than the current seven day period), and that the current arrangements contravene the requirements contained in ss 7 and 24 of the Constitution. Central Continue reading

News: “The Castle in reverse”, a coda to DPP (Cth) v Poniatowska

A sad coda to the High Court’s decision in DPP (Cth) v Poniatowska emerged recently. Malgorzata Poniatowska has had two major litigation successes, but each has been followed by setbacks. Her first success, obtaining a historic payout for sexual harassment from her former employers in a building consultancy, was followed by her prosecution for fraud charges for allegedly failing to inform Centrelink of the commissions she earned from that consultancy. Her second success, obtaining a landmark ruling from the High Court quashing her conviction (together with many other social security prosecutions), was soon followed by a negative story on Channel 7’s Today Tonight:

Matt White: First, this evening, a legal landmark in the High Court has forced Centrelink to close a loophole that will allow people to claim welfare they shouldn’t get. An Adelaide woman has shot down Centrelink, avoiding prosecution for claiming $20,000 in single parent benefits she wasn’t entitled to. As David Richardson reports, it’s a case that has shifted the goal post, and sent the government back to the drawing board.
Reporter: Every year, Centrelink goes hunting for cheats – 4 million entitlements reviewed, 640,000 payments reduced, 3400 cases convicted. They don’t miss much – until today.
Warren Moore: Instead of the average person being the winner, you’ve got one woman taking money from the average taxpayer.
Reporter: Meet the cheat who got away: she confessed to defrauding them, then she beat them.

She responded by suing Channel 7 for defamation and, recently, lost, badly.

Continue reading

News: ‘Hey Dad!’ case one of six special leave grants

The High Court’s August round of special leave deliberations has yielded six grants of leave to appeal, following a very slow start:

  • Wednesday 24th: None out of 3 applications granted (on papers, Bell & Keane JJ)
  • Thursday 25th: None out of 7 applications granted (on papers, Nettle & Gordon JJ)
  • Tuesday 30th: None out of 8 applications granted (on papers, Bell & Gageler JJ)
  • Wednesday 31st: None out of 6 applications granted (on papers, Bell & Keane JJ)
  • Thursday 1st: 3 out of 21 applications granted (on papers, 7 Kiefel & Keane JJ (no grants),  7 Kiefel & Nettle JJ (1 grant), 7 Gageler & Gordon JJ (2 grants))
  • Friday 2nd: 3 out of 7 applications granted (oral hearings; 4 Kiefel & Nettle JJ (2 grants), 3 Gageler & Gordon JJ (1 grant)). (There was also a further matter where leave was granted and the appeal allowed, by consent of the parties.)

As usual, French CJ did not decide any special leave matters. As per recent practice, the pairs of judges assigned are no longer always geographically connected. One interesting development is just two pairs of judges were responsible for all six grants (both written and oral), with Gageler  & Gordon JJ responsible for all the criminal grants and Kiefel & Nettle JJ responsible for all the civil grants. There also appears to be a slight increase in information included with the refusals, for example Bell & Gageler JJ’s refusal of leave to Matthew and Elizabeth Pallet, campaigners in favour of medical cannabis, which indicates that their unsuccessful argument was a constitutional challenge to Victoria’s drug laws.

The six cases in which grants were made are: Continue reading

Maritime Union of Australia v Minister for Immigration and Border Protection

The High Court has decided a challenge in its original jurisdiction to two ministerial determinations on ‘offshore resources activity’ and associated vessels, both of which impact on the visa conditions of non-citizens involved in work in various offshore resources industries. The initial challenge was to the Minister’s decisions made in March 2015 under ss 9A(6) and 33(2)(b)(ii) of the Migration Act 1958 (Cth), which respectively empower the Minister to make a determination to define an Continue reading

The Queen v Baden-Clay

The High Court has allowed an appeal against a decision of the QCA to substitute a conviction of murder for one of manslaughter on the basis of the jury’s verdict being reasonable. Baden-Clay was found guilty of the murder of his wife by a jury after a trial at which he gave evidence that he did not fight with her, kill her or dispose of her body. On appeal, the QCA held that while the evidence supported a finding that Baden-Clay had killed his wife, it did not allow it to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that he had intended either to kill her or cause her grievous bodily harm, and specifically that the prosecution had not excluded the hypothesis that Baden-Clay had fought with his wife without intent to kill or cause grievous bodily harm and in the course of that Continue reading

NH v DPP; Jakaj v DPP; Zefi v DPP; Stakaj v DPP

The High Court has allowed four appeals from a judgment of the Full Court of the Supreme Court of South Australia on jury procedures. After it emerged that the jury foreman may have misunderstood the trial judge’s question about whether or not ten or more of the jury had voted to find the appellants not guilty of murder, the DPP applied for orders to expunge or quash those verdicts, the judgment of acquittal, and the alternative convictions of manslaughter returned by the jury, and an order for a new trial on the murder charges. A majority of the SASCFC Continue reading

News: Claim Baden-Clay judgment sets a ‘massive precedent’

R v Baden-Clay [2016] HCA 35 is one of the High Court’s most-watched judgments, at least by non-lawyers. Indeed, this morning’s announcement of the Court’s orders in its Canberra premises was live-blogged on at least two Brisbane websites, so readers at home knew of the outcome some 15 minutes before the Court posted its judgment summary on its website. The rather brief proceeding (including other judgments and a hearing in a current appeal) was attended by friends of Baden-Clay’s victim, who told the media:

The law has acknowledged what we, who were closest to her, knew from that very morning Allison went missing — that is — that she was murdered… Today’s decision brings an end to Gerard’s attempts to smear Allison’s name. If some were in doubt as to his true nature, his behaviour after Allison disappeared and during the trial must have removed that doubt.

All of these matters were established by the jury’s verdict, but in Australia’s criminal justice system, appeal courts can sometimes second-guess the jury. In today’s judgment, the High Court firmly second-guessed the Queensland Court of Appeal’s second-guessing and also closed off all regular avenues for future second-guessing in the courts.

But some lawyers commenting on the decision have attributed more to today’s decision. Baden-Clay’s lawyer told the media: Continue reading

Deal v Father Pius Kodakkathanath

The High Court has allowed an appeal against a decision of the Victorian Court of Appeal concerning workplace accident compensation and the connections between tasks and anticipated risks. The appellant, a primary school teacher, was injured after falling from a small step-ladder while removing artwork from a wall at the school. Regulation 3.1.2 of the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2007 (Vic) requires that an employer ensure that the risk of a musculoskeletal disorder ‘associated with’ a Continue reading

Sio v The Queen

The High Court has allowed an appeal against a decision of the New South Wales Court of Criminal Appeal on the unreasonableness of a conviction for armed robbery with wounding in light of that conviction’s inconsistency with an acquittal for murder, and on the use of a convicted criminal’s statements to police in convicting an accomplice. At trial, the appellant was acquitted of murder, but convicted of one count of armed robbery with wounding for his role in the robbery of a brothel by his co-offender, who stabbed and killed an employee of the brothel. The co-offender had made a statement to police that alleged the appellant had driven and encouraged him to commit the robbery, but did not testify at the defendant’s trial. The NSWCCA held that Continue reading

Miller v The Queen; Smith v The Queen; Presley v DPP (SA)

The High Court has allowed three appeals against a decision of the South Australian Supreme Court on the extended joint criminal enterprise doctrine of complicity, in the context of a murder conviction. Miller and two others were convicted of murder through extended joint criminal enterprise for their involvement in a confrontation in which a fourth man, Betts, stabbed and killed one of the victims. The SASC rejected Miller’s arguments that the verdict was unsafe because the trial judge had erred in misdirecting the jury by leaving open extended joint criminal enterprise in relation Continue reading

News: High Court rejects challenge to Australia’s common law of complicity

Today, a 6-1 majority of the High Court upheld a 6-1 majority decision of the same court a decade ago to not revisit a unanimous decision of the same court 21 years ago, whose effect is eloquently described in Gageler J’s judgment as follows:

Three men set out to rob a bank. They adopt a simple plan. One of them, the driver, is to wait in the car. The other two are to enter the bank. One is to wave a gun. The other is to put the money in a bag. The two who enter the bank encounter a security guard. The gunman shoots him and he dies. Who of the three is liable for murder? The traditional answer of the common law is that the criminal liability of each depends on the intention of each. The gunman is liable for murder if he shot the security guard intending to cause death or grievous harm…. But what if shooting to kill or cause grievous harm was never part of the plan? The gunman went too far. The gun was not meant to be loaded. The gun was meant only to frighten….  The common law has of late given a different answer. The bagman and driver need not have intended that the gunman would shoot to kill or cause grievous harm as a possible means of carrying out the plan to rob the bank. It is enough for them to be liable for murder that they foresaw the possibility that the gunman would take it upon himself to shoot to kill or cause grievous harm and that they participated in the plan to rob the bank with that foresight.

Whereas the Privy Council and the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom ruled that the ‘common law of late’  was a ‘wrong turn’, the High Court today disagreed. Continue reading

News: Vale James Merralls AM QC

We were deeply saddened at Opinions on High to read of the death of Mr James Merralls, AM QC, editor of the Commonwealth Law Reports for the last forty seven years. The High Court issued a press release celebrating the considerable achievements of Mr Merralls:

Mr Merralls was the editor of the Commonwealth Law Reports, the authorised reports of the decisions of the High Court of Australia, for 47 years commencing in 1969. His unsurpassed period as editor was one of great public service to the Court, the profession and to the administration of justice in Australia. The high standard of his work as editor has been publicly acknowledged by two former Chief Justices of the Court, Sir Anthony Mason and Chief Justice Murray Gleeson. Mr Merralls, who served as an associate to another Chief Justice of this Court Sir Owen Dixon, rose to become a leading member of the Victorian Bar with a national reputation. He will be greatly missed.

I first came to know Mr Merralls after I sat next to him at a conference lunch about four years ago, although I had already known of him by reputation while in practice and when working at the Victorian Supreme Court. He was a polite and humble man who always stopped to say hello when he saw me; a gentleman. To my delight, it became evident that he was a reader of this blog, and he would engage me in debate about posts.

Mr Merralls’ humility did not stop others from recognising his considerable skills, and in 2013, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Laws by the University of Melbourne. Then, in 2014, a Visiting Fellowship in Law was established at Melbourne Law School in Mr Merralls’ honour.

We extend our deepest condolences to Mr Merralls’ wife and children.

Coralling the penalties horse: Paciocco v Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd

Paciocco v ANZ Case Page

It’s said that you can’t shut the stable door after the horse has bolted, but this presumes that there is only one door. If there is a gate on the field around the stable, then the horse can be successfully corralled by shutting the second door, even if the first door is left wide open. And in Paciocco v Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd [2016] HCA 28, the High Court effectively shut a ‘second door’ to prevent the penalties doctrine from escaping. The ‘doors’ are the two questions a court must ask when establishing whether a clause is a penalty and thus void or unenforceable:

  1. Is this a clause to which penalties doctrine applies?
  2. On the facts, is this clause a penalty?

The first door had been left ajar in Andrews v Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd [2012] HCA 30, potentially allowing the penalties doctrine to invalidate (at least partially) a wider range of clauses. This post will focus on the penalties doctrine rather than on the statutory claims of the appellants. It is suggested that after Paciocco there will only be a very small number of cases where plaintiffs can successfully challenge contractual clauses as void or unenforceable penalties. The Court’s findings regarding the question of whether a specific clause was a penalty indicate that the second door has been closed so that only the tiniest crack remains. This will be a relief for organisations such as banks and utility companies as they will have greater latitude to charge late payment fees. And it will provide particular relief for construction contractors, who were concerned that abatement provisions (often used in PPP or Public Private Partnerships) and time bar provisions would be penalties pursuant to Andrews. Continue reading

News: Former High Court judge rules on high profile NZ murder case

In a report published on Tuesday, former Australian High Court judge Ian Callinan found that New Zealander David Bain ‘has not proved on the balance of probabilities that he did not kill his siblings and his parents on the morning of the 20th of June 1994.’ While the judge’s career since leaving the High Court in 2007 has been characterised by government-commissioned reports (as well as sitting on an International Court of Justice dispute between Australia and East Timor), this is surely the first occasion that a retired High Court judge has played the role of judge of fact in a murder case. The Bain case, which turns on the question of whether David Bain shot his parents and three siblings at an isolated farm near their house in Dunedin (for no known motive), or whether Bain’s father committed a murder-suicide (possibly fearing revelations of abuse of his only youngest daughter) while his eldest son was on a paper run, has long divided New Zealanders. Remarkably, it has also been the subject of three controversial interventions by overseas judges. Continue reading

News: 5 new appeals under amended High Court Rules

On 1st July, amendments to the High Court’s rules took effect, including an all new Part 41 on special leave applications. Amongst other changes, the new rules consolidate the application for leave and the summary of argument into a single document (effectively halving the time for lodging all the documents from 56 days to 28 days, and subjecting the totality to a single page limit) and omit existing separate rules on unrepresented applicants and oral arguments in favour of a single rule permitting ‘any 2 justices’ to determine any applicants without an oral hearing.The explanatory memorandum states that ‘[c]onsultations on the changes have taken place with relevant professional organisations and the Special Committee of Solicitors-General.’

One result of the new rules is that there is no longer any public indication as to whether a particular applicant for special leave was represented or unrepresented (as all applications are now determined under new rule 41.08.1.) Rather, all we know is that there were:

  • 32 matters determined without a hearing (2 grants, 30 rejections), heard by Nettle & Gordon JJ (10 matters), Gageler & Gordon JJ (5 matters), Kiefel & Keane JJ (7 matters), Kiefel & Nettle JJ (4 matters) and Bell & Gageler JJ (5 matters), shaking up the previous wholly geographical pairings of judges. French CJ continues to play no role in these determinations.
  • 8 matters determined with a hearing (4 grants, 4 rejections), held in Brisbane (even though none of the matters heard were from Queensland.)

Although the Court’s  2016 calendar describes today is a ‘special leave date’,  no leave applications seem to be listed for determination today. Under the Court’s new approach, dedicated special leave dates are becoming a thing of the past, as, increasingly, are Court sittings in Australia’s two largest cities.

The five judgments that will now be reviewed in the second half of this year by the apex Court are: Continue reading

News: What happened after Smith v WA [2014] HCA 3?

In Smith v WA [2014] HCA 3, the High Court unanimously ordered the Western Australian Court of Appeal to reconsider an appeal by a man who sought to have his conviction for indecent dealing with a child set aside because of a note found in the jury room after the verdict that stated ‘I have been physically coerced by a fellow juror to change my plea to be aligned with the majority vote. This has made my ability to perform my duty as a juror on this panel’. The High Court held:

The shadow of injustice cast on the verdict by the note cannot be dismissed on the basis that the note itself and the paucity of evidence of its provenance are insufficient to create a suspicion that, as a matter of fact, the author of the note was overborne in the performance of his duties as a juror.

The Court observed that the identity of the author could be readily discerned, the note’s true meaning could be readily resolved by asking the author, that a wide-ranging and intrusive inquiry would not ‘necessarily’ follow and that the practicality of any inquiry, given the time since the early 2012 trial, is a matter for the Court of Appeal. Nearly two-and-a-half years later, a judgment published today by the WA court reveals how these predictions played out and how the appeal stands (for now.) Continue reading

Paciocco v Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd

Katy Barnett, ‘News: Bank Fees Back to High Court’ (9 April 2015)

The High Court has dismissed an appeal from a decision of the Full Federal Court on the lawfulness of late payment fees for credit card and business bank accounts. The appellant, a business owner and head of the representative proceeding, argued that various late payment fees were penalties and/or unconscionable or unfair and contrary to various provisions Continue reading

Minister for Immigration and Border Protection v SZSSJ; Minister for Immigration and Border Protection v SZTZI

The High Court has allowed an appeal against two decisions of the Full Federal Court relating to the procedural fairness implications for asylum applications following a ‘data breach’. On 10 February 2014, a ‘data breach’ incident occurred, in which the names and personal details of over 9,000 asylum seekers were made publicly available on the Department of Continue reading

Graham v The Queen

The High Court has dismissed an appeal against the Queensland Court of Appeal on the effect of jury misdirections in the context of self-defence. The appellant shot and wounded a rival bike gang member, Teamo, and a bystander at a shopping centre, after Teamo produced a flick knife. The appellant was convicted by the jury of attempted murder and of wounding the bystander with intent to wound Teamo. The appellant contended that Continue reading

Crown Melbourne Ltd v Cosmopolitan Hotel (Vic) Pty Ltd

The High Court has allowed an appeal against a decision of the Victorian Court of Appeal on collateral contracts and estoppel. Crown leased two premises to Cosmopolitan for five years on the understanding that Cosmopolitan would complete significant refurbishments and, allegedly, that in exchange for the refurbishment Cosmopolitan would receive an extension of the lease for another five years. After the leases expired, Crown did Continue reading

The High Court and the facts of sentencing: Nguyen v R and Betts v R

Australia’s law students are currently sitting their first semester exams. Some of them might be examining hypotheticals like this one:

D shot and wounded the V, who was a police officer, while V was lawfully executing a search warrant in company with other police officers on premises in close proximity to D’s home. The shot struck V in the arm, thereby causing him a serious but non-fatal gunshot wound. In the course of the fire-fight which ensued, one of the other police officers fired a shot which was intended for D, but which unfortunately instead hit V in the neck, thereby inflicting a wound from which he later died. Assume that when D fired at V, D honestly believed that V was someone posing as a police officer who was intent on robbing the D and might have posed a serious risk to the D’s safety.

That exam question could earn the examiner congratulations for her inventiveness, but the next one would probably earn her a meeting with her Dean:

D moved to stab V in the chest but she asked him not to stab her there and he rolled her over and stabbed her a number of times in the back. V believed her only chance to escape was to calm D and weaken him. She said, “If we are going to do this together, then I should have a turn with the knife.” The tip of the knife D then had had broken and was embedded in V’s back so D grabbed another knife from the kitchen, handed it to V and said “Okay” and lay on his back. V stabbed D in the stomach, giving an extra shove to make sure the knife was in deep and she twisted it. It appeared that some of D’s intestines came out, D remarking “That was a good one.”

Adding further details – that D was a former contest on Australian Survivor and that, during D’s attack, a real estate agent entered the flat to open it for inspection, saw ‘red liquid’ everywhere, and left, seemingly without calling the police – may well leave the lecturer without a job. But, as Mark Twain is reputed to have said, ‘the difference between fact and fiction is that fiction must be believable.’ Or, as the late Han Solo said, ‘it’s true, all of it’.

The victims of crime in the above two cases were Bill Crews, a 26 year-old police constable whose parents recounted to the coroner their surprise and pride when their son told them three years earlier that he had got in to the police force and then sat and watched video of his last moments, and Samantha Holland, aged 23 at the time, who was stabbed at least 26 times before she escaped over a balcony and will suffer physical and psychological scars for life, and who sobbed in court as her ex-boyfriend was sentenced. The defendants were Phillip Nguyen, then 55, whose first wife was murdered a decade earlier and whose second marriage failed while he was on remand for killing Crews, and Joel Betts, then 30, a victim of childhood sexual abuse and violence who faces a lifetime of incontinence due to the bowel injury he incurred while stabbing Holland. Each recently lost their final appeals in the High Court. Because both defendants pleaded guilty, the Court’s task was not the criminal law student’s task of applying the rules of criminal responsibility to these strange facts. Rather, the nation’s top judges faced an infinitely harder task: assessing whether the punishment each offender was given fitted their unusual crimes. Continue reading

News: Latest special leave cycle yields five new appeals

The past month has produced five grants of special leave, as follows:

  • 25th May (non-oral): 2 grants, no refusals (Nettle & Gordon JJ)
  • 9th June (non-oral; 8 unrepresented matters, 1 represented): no grants, 9 refusals (Nettle & Gordon JJ)
  • 15th June (non-oral; 11 unrepresented, 10 represented): no grants, 21 refusals (Kiefel & Keane JJ)
  • 17th June (non-oral, 6 unrepresented, 4 represented, 1 unknown): 1 grant, 10 refusals (Bell & Gageler JJ)
  • 17th June (oral): 2 grants, 4 refusals

This month continues the previous trend of non-oral matters being divided amongst three pairs of geographically linked judges, i.e. the Victorian judges (Nettle & Gordon JJ), the Queensland judges (Kiefel & Keane JJ, who received a double load this month) and the NSW/ACT judges (Bell & Gageler JJ), with French CJ again not participating in any non-oral leave matters. Presumably, these pairings suit practical arrangements within the Court, but they also potentially skew leave grants, to the extent that these various pairs see things eye to eye more than other pairs (or French CJ.) The oral matters continue to also be heard by pairs of judges (rather than three, as might be expected if two judges had previously disagreed on the written merits), but the oral pairs don’t match the non-oral ones. This month also sees the Court’s listings all referring to ‘matters for determination’, rather than for publication of reasons or not, and hence no longer indicating results in advance of the Court’s sittings.

The five matters granted leave to appeal are as follows: Continue reading

Betts v The Queen

The High Court has dismissed an appeal against a sentencing decision of the New South Wales Court of Criminal Appeal after it allowed an appeal against sentence because of errors in the characterisation of aggravating factors. The appellant was convicted of attempted murder and kidnapping following a murder-suicide attempt on his former partner, in which he repeatedly stabbed her over a prolonged period of time, and sentenced to 16 years imprisonment with a non-parole period of 11 years. Continue reading

Alqudsi v The Queen

The High Court has dismissed a motion on a cause removed from the New South Wales Supreme Court relating to constitutional requirements for trials in the context of a trial for terrorism recruitment offences. The applicant is charged with seven offences against s 7(1)(e) of the Crimes (Foreign Incursions and Recruitment) Act 1978 (Cth), which makes it an offence for a person to give money, goods or services to a person or body for the purpose of supporting or promoting the commission of an incursion into a foreign country to engage in hostilities (on which see also s 6 of the Act). Pursuant to s 132 of the Criminal Procedure Act 1986 (NSW), the applicant made a motion to be tried by a judge only. Section 80 of the Commonwealth Constitution, however, provides that trials on indictment for Commonwealth offences ‘shall be by jury’. Following an application by the Commonwealth Attorney-General, French CJ ordered that part of the cause be removed into the High Court to determine the following question:

Are ss 132(1) to (6) of the Criminal Procedure Act 1986 (NSW) incapable of being applied to the Applicant’s trial by s 68 of the Judiciary Act 1903 (Cth) because their application would be inconsistent with s 80 of the Constitution?

Continue reading

Hall v Hall

The High Court has dismissed an appeal from the Full Family Court on spousal maintenance and the meaning of support and ‘financial resources’ under the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth). In late 2013, the primary judge made an interim spousal maintenance order of approximately $10,000 per month pending the final determination of a property settlement and maintenance proceedings between the appellant wife and respondent husband, on the basis that the wife was ‘unable to support herself adequately’ as per s 72 of the Family Law Act. The recently deceased father of the wife had expressed a ‘wish’ that she be paid $150,000 per year Continue reading

Robinson Helicopter Co Inc v McDermott

The High Court has allowed an appeal against a decision of the Queensland Court of appeal on negligence and manufacturer’s liability for defective goods in the context of a helicopter crash. The first respondent was severely injured in 2004 when a helicopter manufactured by the appellant crashed due to a loose bolt in the helicopter’s flexplate. The respondents claimed that the maintenance manual provided by the appellants gave inadequate instructions on the method for checking the tightness of the bolts, contrary to the law of negligence and ss 75AD and AE of the Trade Practices Act 1974 (Cth). The trial judge found that the manual was adequate in requiring torque seals Continue reading

Dictators, Discretion and Systems of Public Law: Bell Group NV (in liq) v Western Australia

By Martin Clark

Bell Group Case Page

The High Court’s judgment in Bell Group was a nice rendition of the well-told story about s 109 of the Constitution. Section 109 provides that ‘[w]hen a law of a State is inconsistent with a law of the Commonwealth, the latter shall prevail, and the former shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be invalid.’ Western Australian passed a law to create a body that was empowered to finally determine the liabilities owed to various creditors of the Bell Group companies in the fallout of their liquidation, the long saga of which is detailed by Katy Barnett here and here. The High Court held that this law was invalid because it conflicted with the federal tax laws, which created the rights of and liabilities owed to another government and another office holder in relation to these companies: the Commonwealth and the federal Commissioner of Taxation. As I wrote shortly after the decision came down, the plurality judges (French CJ, Kiefel, Bell, Keane, Nettle and Gordon JJ) held that:

The Authority’s purportedly absolute discretion to determine the existence of a liability of a WA Bell Company and to quantify that liability and the Governor’s powers to extinguish liabilities that would otherwise be owed to the Commonwealth meant that the Bell Act effectively created a scheme that stripped the Commonwealth’s tax debts of their existence, quantification, enforceability and recovery under the Tax Acts (at [57]–[60]). Because it overrides the Commonwealth’s rights under the Tax Acts as a creditor of the WA Bell Companies, the Bell Act alters, impairs or detracts from the rights accrued to the Commonwealth under the Tax Acts (at [61]).

The day after the High Court handed down Bell Group I heard the eminent British historian Gareth Stedman-Jones speak on the meaning of ‘dictatorship’. What followed was a great rendition (which I’ll recollect poorly shortly) of a well-told story in the history of political thought — the origins and development of the office of ‘dictator’ in Rome and beyond.

In this post, I attempt to make the otherwise fairly routine decision in Bell Group a little more interesting by framing it around the content of Stedman-Jones’s paper. This might seem a bit esoteric: what could the two have to do with each other? But I think that bringing Bell Group and the idea of ‘dictator’ together suggest one way in which the case is interesting: as a modern Australian episode in the long global history of the relation between discretion and systems of law. That relation is of fundamental importance to public law in general, and reflects some foundational aspects of the Australian constitutional system that were at play in Bell Group. Continue reading

News: Wigs in the High Court

At the start of this month, the judges of Victoria’s Supreme Court all stopped wearing wigs. A similar (but broader) decision was made by the High Court in 1988:

As of today, Tuesday, 2 August, the Chief Justice and Justices of the High Court of Australia will wear black gowns when sitting in court instead of the traditional attire of a robe, jabot and wig.

While the Victorian decision was a statutory determination by the state’s Chief Justice, the High Court’s decision was not made under any statute and involved no new rules or practice directions; the Court’s seven judges simply all entered the courtroom wigless, as Murphy J and (for a time) Starke J had individually decided in the past. The Court’s press release was careful to disclaim any implications for other Australian courts:

This decision is not intended to establish a model for other courts. The fact that the High Court is a constitutional and appellate court and not a trial court has been significant in the decision to alter the dress. Different considerations may well apply to other courts. The nature of their work, particularly that of trial courts, differs from that of the High Court.

By contrast, in the case of barristers’ wigs, decisions by other Australian courts, including this week’s direction from Victoria’s common law division that barristers appearing there must do so without wigs, can directly affect what barristers wear in the High Court.
Continue reading

News: Bell Group litigation – harder to kill than a Hydra

In September 2013, it appeared that the Hydra had finally been slain: the long-running, complex and expensive Bell Group litigation had settled just before the hearing of an appeal to the High Court. However, just like the Hydra of myth, it appears that where one head of litigation is cut off, at least one other will grow. The High Court has just ruled in Bell Group N.V. (in liquidation) v Western Australia [2016] HCA 21 that the Bell Group Companies (Finalisation of Matters and Distribution of Proceeds) Act 2015 (WA) (‘Bell Act’), under which the $1.7B settlement sum was sought to be distributed, is constitutionally invalid. The legislation was rushed through the Western Australian parliament last year, but last-minute amendments made in April this year were insufficient to save it. It seems likely that the Bell litigation will continue, as litigation had previously been both threatened and commenced after settlement and prior to the enactment of the Bell Act.

Attribution: Wolfgang Sauber

Attribution: Wolfgang Sauber

Continue reading

News: Uber’s legality turns on 1929 High Court decision

Wednesday’s ruling by Victoria’s County Court quashing the conviction of an Uber driver in a test prosecution has been reported as confirming the legality of the Uber X service in Victoria, avoiding the need for drivers and vehicle owners to obtain expensive commercial licenses. A curiosity of this week’s ruling is the role of,a High Court decision on the Uber X of 1929 Victoria (and the first ever High Court judgment of Justice Owen Dixon.)

In Blyth v Hudson [1929] HCA 3, the High Court considered the legality of a transport service from Geelong to Melbourne. The driver, George Hudson, who had been refused a commercial licence to operate a ‘motor omnibus‘ – a service for ‘carrying passengers for reward at separate and distinct fares for each passenger’ – struck a deal with the Geelong Motor Tourist Bureau, which arranged for shopkeepers to sell tickets for his service and then pay him a lump sum to drive anyone who showed up with a ticket. When he was prosecuted by William Blyth (the Country Roads Board’s Chief Inspector,) Victoria’s Supreme Court ruled that the definition of motor omnibus should be read strictly so that it didn’t cover fares paid to intermediaries, but the High Court (including Dixon J) disagreed, prophetically emphasising the need for flexibility to effectively regulate a fast-changing sector of the economy: Continue reading

News: New special leave process yields five new appeals

Last Friday was the High Court’s official special leave day for May. However, there were no special leave hearings that day and no determinations either. Rather, May special leaves were determined on three days:

  • Two Thursdays ago, when 2 matters received leave and 11 (including 4 unrepresented matters) were refused, all decided on the papers by Nettle & Gordon JJ.
  • Last Thursday, when 1 matter received leave and 13 (including 6 unrepresented matters) were refused, all on the papers by Bell & Gageler JJ.
  • This Monday, when 2 matters received leave and 5 were refused, all after listed oral hearings.

So, that is a total of 5 grants and 29 rejections, out of 7 oral hearings, 17 represented non-oral matters and 10 unrepresented non-oral matters.

This month, we have learnt a little more about the Court’s new process. Continue reading

Bell Group NV (in liq) v Western Australia; WA Glendinning and Associates Pty Ltd v Western Australia; Maranoa Transport Pty Ltd (in liq) v Western Australia

The High Court has decided a constitutional matter on the validity of a state law, the Bell Group Companies (Finalisation of Matters and Distribution of Proceeds) Act 2015 (WA), which aimed at providing a legislative framework for the dissolution and administration of the property of the Bell Group Ltd (the Bell Act). Following the collapse of the Bell Group and a number of its subsidiaries (the WA Bell Companies), the Western Australian parliament enacted a law to collect the remaining property of each of these companies to be then transferred to and vested in a fund that was to be administered by a statutory authority (see [20]ff). The Commonwealth was a substantial creditor of several WA Bell Companies, including for pre-liquidation tax debts and post-liquidation liabilities. The Bell Act required the Authority to determine the property and liabilities of each Continue reading

Day v Australian Electoral Officer for the State of South Australia; Madden v Australian Electoral Officer for the State of Tasmania

The High Court has dismissed a constitutional matter challenging changes to the ballot papers to be used in the election of Federal Senators. Recent amendments to the Electoral Act 1918 (Cth) allowed electors to vote ‘above the line’ on the Senate ballot paper by numbering at least six squares sequentially. The list of candidates marked ‘1’ will be allocated preferences in the order in which they appear, then followed by the list of candidates marked ‘2’, and so on. Continue reading

News: Court accused of undermining suppression order

Sunday’s Northern Territorian included the following story (HT: Twitter @dunlop_craig):

THE High Court has published, and later removed, a document which bares the name of an alleged Northern Territory paedophile, whose identity is the subject of an NT Supreme Court suppression order. The document, a case chronology, was downloaded repeatedly by the NT News last week, but was switched out with a redacted version late on Saturday night, around the time inquiries were sent to court staff.

The NT News states that the case was IMM v R, a very significant ruling on Australia’s uniform evidence law where the Court issued a complex judgment last week. Like most High Court evidence law cases, the facts involved alleged child sexual abuse and the adult defendant’s name was most likely suppressed to protect the identity of the complainant. That being said, the Court did not suppress the man’s name when the case was initially listed for a special leave hearing and the court list for that day (which is still hosted by the Court but not hyperlinked from the Court’s website) still contains his surname. [EDIT: see the first comment below.]

The ‘chronology’ mentioned in the report is likely to be the one supplied by the appellant and published (now without the defendant’s name) by the Court on its website here. Continue reading

Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission v May

The High Court has allowed an appeal against a decision of the Full Federal Court on workers compensation and the meaning of ‘injury’ in the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 (Cth). The appellant, a former RAAF officer cadet, began to experience symptoms similar to vertigo that could not be diagnosed specifically, and which gradually arose after he received various vaccinations during the course of his employment. The FCAFC held that the Tribunal and a single Federal Court judge erred in concluding that the established definition of injury as a Continue reading

Badenach v Calvert

The High Court has allowed an appeal against a decision of the Supreme Court of Tasmania on the professional duties of lawyers in the context of a will dispute. The first appellant, a solicitor, prepared a will that was to pass all of the testator’s estate to the respondent. After the testator died it emerged that the appellant’s firm (the second appellant here) had prepared two wills in 1984, one of which included a bequest to an estranged daughter. The daughter successfully sued for a maintenance provision out of the estate and was awarded a significant portion of it plus legal costs. The respondent then Continue reading

News: Reading the special tea leaves

We are now nearly two months into the High Court’s new process for determining special leave applications. Pending a fuller review after Friday’s hearings, a potential pattern has emerged that may reveal, a day in advance of the Court’s formal ruling, whether cases that have been listed for orders without an oral hearing will be granted special leave. If correct, then that means that there is a sign this evening that special leave will be granted tomorrow morning in the high profile appeal by Queensland prosecutors against an appellate ruling by that state’s Court of Appeal reducing Gerard Baden Clay’s conviction for murder to manslaughter. Continue reading

News: Court ruling on Senate voting this Friday

Yesterday’s High Court’s judgment delivery notification service (an email list) includes the following announcement:

Please be advised that the High Court will deliver the following judgments:

Friday, 13 May 2016 at 10:00 am in Court No. 2 Parkes Place, Canberra

Day v Australian Electoral Officer for the State of South Australia & Anor (S77/2016)

Madden & Ors v. Australian Electoral Officer for the State of Tasmania & Ors (S109/2016)

These judgments are a pair of constitutional challenges by Senator Bob Day and Tasmanian senate candidate Peter Madden (both of the Family First Party) to amendments made to the Commonwealth Electoral Act in March 2016 to some aspects of the system for voting for senators. A successful challenge would (most likely) mean that the coming federal election would be governed by the previous rules for Senate voting, which have been criticised for permitting candidates with little direct support to be elected through complex deals with other parties about how ‘above the line’ votes for particular parties are dealt with. Such a ruling would be one of the apex court’s most dramatic recent interventions in national politics.

There has been no shortage of detailed analysis of the arguments put forward by Day and Madden. Most predict that the challenge will fail because of the weakness of the arguments put forward. In my view, the Court’s own conduct since the hearing also strongly suggests that the challenge will fail.  Continue reading

News: Congratulations to Katy Barnett

Hamish Michael Thompson was born Friday, weighing 3.3kg, with a fresh dose of immunity, but, disturbingly for his parents Katy and Scott, greatly reduced incentive to settle. Particular congratulations are due to Katy Barnett, who recently won the Barbara Falk prize for excellence in teaching and has written books on Accounting for Profit for Breach of Contract, Remedies in Private Law (with Sirko Harder) and a dystopian science fiction novel, The Earth Below. Somehow she did all of that while editing this blog. We wish the first ever Opinions on High baby and his family well.

News: High Court refuses to overrule itself on advocates’ immunity

Yesterday, in Attwells v Jackson Lalic Lawyers Pty Limited [2016] HCA 16, a majority of the High Court upheld the appeal of a man who wanted to sue his lawyers for negligence over advice they gave him that led him to settle a dispute about a bank guarantee that ended up being very costly for him. However, while refusing to extend advocates’ immunity to work that leads to an out-of-court settlement, the Court also unanimously refused to reopen two earlier decisions where majorities of previous High Court benches had held that advocates are generally immune from civil actions concerning the advice they give in relation to court proceedings that proceed to judgment. While yesterday’s entire ruling will surely be closely studied by private lawyers, a point of more general significance is the Court’s reasons for not reconsidering its earlier decisions. As the Court noted yesterday, it has ‘undoubted authority’ to overrule itself, a power it last exercised in 2013 (as discussed here by Katy Barnett).

However, that doesn’t mean that it will overrule itself, even in situations where the current Court would now develop the law differently. Continue reading

Attwells v Jackson Lalic Lawyers Pty Ltd

The High Court has allowed an appeal against a decision of the New South Wales Court of Appeal on advocates immunity from negligence actions in the context of out of court settlements. ANZ Bank sought to enforce a guarantee of approximately $1.75 million on a loan taken out by the appellants. An employee of the respondent law firm allegedly negligently advised the appellants to settle the claim and also accept liability for a larger amount (approximately $3.4 million) because it ‘would not make any difference’ whether they defaulted for $3.4 million or the lesser sum. The Court of Appeal held that the trial judge should not have refused the appellants’ application to first determine Continue reading

Nguyen v The Queen

The High Court has dismissed an appeal against a sentencing decision of the New South Wales Court of Criminal Appeal relating to excessive self-defence. The appellant, a drug addict and dealer, was convicted of manslaughter and wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm after a shootout with plain clothes police, in which the appellant wounded one office, and another was accidentally shot by the injured officer and mortally wounded. The NSWCCA held that the trial judge erred in finding that the appellant’s mistaken belief that the police officers were robbers was a mitigating factor in sentencing, because that belief was already implicit in the conviction for manslaughter, rather than murder, and in finding that sentences should be served concurrently because each involved distinct consequences and criminality. The NSWCCA raised the sentence from 9 years and 6 months to 16 years Continue reading

News: Few appeal grants as Court’s new special leave process takes shape

A month ago (or so), the High Court’s registrar announced changes to the Court’s practice on special leave applications, including filtering all applications (rather than just applications by unrepresented litigants) first on the papers, and only proceeding to an oral hearing with some of them. The Court’s announcement was short on details and none have been forthcoming, but there is now a month of practice to consider. The headline is that there are now far fewer oral special leave hearings. Just four were listed for Friday’s special leave day, all in the Court’s Melbourne registry (although two were heard by video link.) And only one of those matters was granted special leave. By comparison, there were eighteen cases (with six grants) heard on March’s special leave day (although some were multiple applications concerning the same matter) and seventeen (with five grants) this time a year ago.

So, what has happened to all the other special leave matters?  Continue reading

Coverdale v West Coast Council

The High Court has dismissed an appeal from the Full Court of the Supreme Court of Tasmania in a matter relating to the meaning of ‘land’ in the context of local government land valuations. West Coast Council sought a declaration that the Valuation of Land Act 2001 (Tas), the Local Government Act 1993 (Tas) and the Marine Farming Planning Act 1995 (Tas) required the Valuer-General to issue a valuation for several areas in Macquarie Harbour that are subject to marine leases, which would allow the Council to levy rates. At trial, Blow CJ held that while the areas would constitute ‘land’ under the Crown Lands Act 1976 (Tas), for the purposes of the LGA they were not liable to be rated (see at [24]). A majority of Continue reading

IMM v The Queen

The High Court has allowed an appeal against a decision of the Northern Territory Court of Criminal Appeal on complaint and tendency evidence and probative value in the context of child sexual assault. The appellant was convicted of sexually abusing his step-grandchild on three occasions. The NTCCA upheld the trial judge’s decision to admit evidence from the complainant’s friend and relatives, to direct the jury that if they were satisfied of that complaint evidence they could use it as ‘some evidence that an offence did occur’, and to admit tendency evidence from the complainant about the appellant’s conduct during a massage that indicated his sexual interest in her. Before the High Court the appellant argued that the NTCCA Continue reading

News: High Court grants injunction staying asylum seeker’s abortion

In breaking news, ABC News reports that the High Court has issued an urgent injunction restraining an asylum seeker from having an abortion. (The Commonwealth later clarified that she was in fact a refugee to whom a temporary protection visa has been granted). The woman, who is held on Nauru, had requested the abortion in Australia. However, she was flown out to Papua New Guinea yesterday to undergo the procedure, without any notice. She has sought a stay of the procedure because of doubts as to the legality of the procedure in Papua New Guinea.

In what follows below, I outline the law with regard to abortion in Papua New Guinea, and the test for an interlocutory injunction.

UPDATE: The transcript of the application before Keane J is now available. Continue reading

Mok v DPP (NSW)

The High Court has dismissed an appeal against a decision of the New South Wales Court of Appeal on applicable jurisdiction in the context of a cross-State prison transfer escape. The appellant briefly escaped custody in the course of being transferred from Victoria to New South Wales at Tullamarine Airport, a ‘Commonwealth place’. His transfer took place under a federal law, the Service and Execution of Process Act 1992 (Cth), s 89(4) of which states that the law in force in the place of issue of a warrant relating to the liability of a Continue reading

Fischer v Nemeske Pty Ltd

The High Court has dismissed an appeal against a decision of the New South Wales Court of Appeal on directors powers in the context of family trust dispute. In 1994, the directors of Nemeske Pty Ltd, a trustee company, resolved to make a final distribution of the trust monies to the beneficiaries, Mr and Mrs Nemes. That resolution was purportedly made pursuant to cl 4(b) of the trust deed, which provided that the trustee may ‘advance or raise any part or parts of the whole of the capital or income of the Trust Funds and to pay or to apply the same as the Trustee shall think fit for the maintenance, education, advancement in life or Continue reading

Zaburoni v The Queen

The High Court has allowed an appeal against a decision of the Queensland Court of Appeal on the test for intent and foresight of consequences in the context of HIV transmission. After the appellant was diagnosed with HIV in April 1998, he commenced a sexual relationship with the complainant in December 2006 involving unprotected sex, and in 2009, after the relationship had ended, she was diagnosed with HIV. Throughout this time, the appellant denied on multiple occasions that he had HIV, claimed that he only knew about Continue reading

News: Obeid’s suppressed High Court application

Two judgments published yesterday by Gageler J reveal that previously suppressed High Court events in mid-January involved an application by former NSW Legislative Councillor Eddie Obeid to delay and perhaps ultimately prevent his trial on a charge of misconduct in public office. In  the first of yesterday’s judgments, Obeid v The Queen [2016] HCA 9, Gageler J explained his reasons for refusing Obeid’s request to stay his trial until the High Court had considered his application for special leave to appeal the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal’s rejection of his pre-trial arguments (that his parliamentary position at the time of the alleged public misconduct either fell outside of the scope of the offence charged or meant that only the Legislative Council could try it.) In the second, Obeid v The Queen [No 2] [2016] HCA 10, Gageler J explained why both the fact of Obeid’s application for special leave and a stay and Gageler J’s ruling rejecting the stay were not published by the High Court until now: it was because Gageler J himself suppressed that information (at the ex-politician’s request.)That explains why the relevant court list only revealed that an application for an application for a non-publication order was to be heard, but not who made the application or what it was about.

The two sets of reasons for judgment from Gageler J explain the events and his reasoning in considerable and very useful detail. Continue reading

News: Fast track for complicity law challenge

Australian criminal defence lawyers have wasted no time responding to February’s UK ruling overturning the common law rule in England and some other countries that deemed anyone engaged in a criminal enterprise liable for any crimes committed by their colleagues, no matter how serious, if they foresaw the mere possibility that the crime would occur. A challenge to Australia’s similar common law (left untouched by the English decision) is already before the High Court in Smith v the Queen, a South Australian matter that was referred for argument before an expanded High Court bench just a week before the UK judgment. Smith’s 20-page submissions, lodged last week, spend just two pages on the issue that was the subject of the referral (the role of intoxication in such cases, a matter already before the Court in an appeal by Smith’s co-defendant.) Rather, the balance was devoted to the following new question:

Should the doctrine known as “extended joint enterprise”, enunciated in McAuliffe v The Queen (1995) 183 CLR 108, be reconsidered and revised or abandoned, in light of the decision of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom in R v Jogee [2016] 2 WLR 681?

Whether the High Court actually considers this question turns on multiple exercises of the Court’s discretion, including whether or not Smith can amend his earlier application for special leave to appeal, whether special leave will be granted and whether Smith can ask the Court to reconsider  its earlier rulings on this issue.

In many ways, this challenge resembles the Court’s current reconsideration of advocates’ immunity to negligence actions, another commonly criticised part of the common law. Continue reading