Plaintiff M68-2015 Case Page
This post collects three perspectives on the judgments of the High Court in Plaintiff M68/2015 v Commonwealth  HCA 1 offered by Scott Stephenson, Michael Crommelin and Cheryl Saunders. These remarks emerged from a recent discussion of the case at a workshop by the Centre for Comparative Constitutional Studies at MLS convened by Adrienne Stone. Scott spoke on the joint judgment and the judgment of Keane J, Michael on Bell J and Gageler J’s opinions, and Cheryl on the dissent of Gordon J.
Scott Stephenson on the Joint Judgment (French CJ, Kiefel and Nettle JJ) and Keane J
Cheryl, Michael and I have divided our discussion of M68 by judgment. I will start by covering the joint judgment of French CJ, Kiefel and Nettle JJ as well as the judgment of Keane J. I imagine most people are somewhat familiar with the case and the facts, but let me provide a brief overview.
The case was a challenge to the legality of the offshore processing arrangements that operate on Nauru. The arrangements allow the Australian Government to transfer to Nauru non-citizens who arrive in Australia by boat without a valid visa and seek asylum. These persons remain on Nauru while their applications for refugee status are determined. In practice, the arrangements work as follows. The Australian Government intercepts an asylum seeker at sea, brings the person to Australia, and applies on behalf of the asylum seeker, and without their consent, to the Nauru Government for a regional processing centre visa. The Nauru Government grants this visa, allowing them to enter the country. The asylum seeker is transferred to Nauru and placed in a camp that is for the most part operated by Wilson Parking, a sub-contractor of Transfield. The asylum seeker remains in this camp while the Nauru Government determines their application for refugee status under Nauru law. Continue reading
In a long-awaited and unusual joint judgment of two peak courts, the UK Supreme Court and the Privy Council, five judges yesterday ruled that the common law took a ‘wrong turn’ on the criminal law of complicity at least 19 years ago.The courts heard appeals by people convicted of murder after their partners in crimes – respectively, an English domestic assault and a Jamaican taxi robbery – instead stabbed the intended victims. At issue were rulings by the Privy Council in 1985 and the House of Lords in 1997, building on decisions by Australia’s High Court from 1980, that such defendants could be convicted of murder if they were merely aware that their accomplices ‘might’ murder someone in the course of another crime. Yesterday’s unanimous judgment found that the twin decisions misunderstood the earlier authority, disregarded principle and, most disturbingly, ‘bring the striking anomaly of requiring a lower mental threshold for guilt in the case of the accessory’ – the accomplices’ awareness of the possibility of a murder -‘ than in the case of the principal’- the stabbers’ intent to cause serious harm. Accordingly, they overruled the 1985 and 1997 decisions, detailed a new narrower standard for liability and outlined ground rules for reviewing decades of potentially wrong convictions.
But yesterday’s ruling does not apply in Australia. Continue reading
Yesterday’s news of the death of United States Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia will dismay many, including those who agree with his views and many others who simply enjoyed reading his eloquent and witty judgments. The news also inserts a dramatic new dynamic into United States politics, given the Court’s outsized role in American political life, the sharing of the appointing role between an elected executive and a legislative house and Scalia J’s position as part of a recognisable (although far from invariable) conservative majority in the Court’s many 5-4 decisions. In all these respects, Australia differs from America. Indeed, on the latter point, as UNSW’s Professors Lynch and Williams reported last Friday at the Gilbert & Tobin Constitutional Law Conference, the current High Court now has fewer dissenting judgments than ever.
Deaths of sitting High Court judges are now a rarity, in part because (unlike in the US), appointments of Australian judges are no longer for life. While the last death of a sitting judge was Lionel Murphy’s in 1986, it was not a shock, coming six months after the announcement that he was suffering from inoperable colon cancer. Rather, the most recent surprise death was that of Keith Aickin in 1982, Continue reading
The Court today held its first special leave hearings for 2016, in its Sydney and Canberra registries. All the Sydney applications were rejected, while in Canberra, the Court granted special leave in just one matter and also referred a pair of appeals to the full court [EDIT: connected to a matter granted special leave in November]. Matters where leave was refused include two further pre-trial challenges by alleged foreign incursion promoter, Hamid Alqudsi, and a high profile appeal by a farmer who lost his organic certification when genetically modified crops grown by his neighbour contaminated his land.
The lower court decisions to be considered by the Court are: Continue reading
Yesterday’s new decision on civil procedure and insurers is not the only significant ruling of the High Court this week. Wednesday’s day-long hearing of a pre-trial application by accused promoter of foreign incursions, Hamdi Alqudsi, ended with the following statement by French CJ:
At least a majority of the Court is of the opinion that the following order should be made:
1. The 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”, should be answered “Yes”.
2. The motion is dismissed.
The reasons of the Court will be published at a later date.
The effect of these orders is that Alqudsi’s trial will be by a jury of his peers, rather than by judge alone as he preferred. The orders also strongly suggest a rejection by a majority of the High Court of an effort by Alqudsi, broadly supported by the Commonwealth and four states, to overturn or limit a thirty-year old 3-2 ruling by the High Court that effectively gave prosecutors, but not courts or defendants, the power to opt for a judge-alone trial of serious federal crimes.The Court’s majority holding in 1986’s Brown, although certainly a plausible reading of the bare text of s80 of the Constitution, is reviled by many as a perversion of one of the Constitution’s few apparent protections of human rights. However, we won’t know quite what the Court has said about s80 until the Court’s reasons emerge in next month or so.
Of more immediate interest is why the High Court opted to make its orders immediately Continue reading
In September 2013, I reported that long-running and complex Bell Group litigation had settled immediately before an appeal to the High Court was to be heard. The litigation began in 1995, and related to loans given to Alan Bond’s Bell Group of companies. However, it seems that the litigation just won’t die.
As I noted just before settlement, the question of how the settlement sum was to be distributed was potentially controversial. The litigation had been funded by the WA State Government-owned Insurance Commission of Western Australia (ICWA). Western Australian motorists had to pay an annual levy of $50 on third party insurance from 1993 to 1996 to assist ICWA, known as the WA Inc levy. That promise of controversy has now been realised. Continue reading
Wednesday saw the High Court’s first decision of 2016, concerning one of the most controversial issues in Australia: offshore immigration detention. The judgment is a blockbuster, consisting of five judgments and over 42000 words (not including the 339 footnotes), answering (or declining to answer) a special case consisting of fourteen multi-part questions. As is the Court’s practice since late 2002, the judgment was accompanied (and, online, preceded) by a one-page judgment summary, describing the proceedings and, in a single paragraph, its outcome:
The Court held, by majority, that the plaintiff was not entitled to the declaration sought. The conduct of the Commonwealth in signing the second MOU with Nauru was authorised by s 61 of the Constitution. The Court further held that the conduct of the Commonwealth in giving effect to the second MOU (including by entry into the Administrative Arrangements and the Transfield Contract) was authorised by s 198AHA of the Act, which is a valid law of the Commonwealth.
It is likely that this summary was responsible for speedy and accurate media reports that the challenge to the ‘Nauru solution’ had failed, in turn prompting fresh political debate about whether the federal parliament or executive should maintain or end the regime, and specifically the fate of 267 asylum seekers slated to return to Nauru.
However, as The Guardian observed on Wednesday evening, ‘High court decisions are not football matches: it’s not always clear who has won and by how much.’ Continue reading
The High Court has decided a constitutional matter on the detention of asylum seekers in the Nauru Regional Processing Centre, and upheld the validity of the scheme (see below table for the full order). The plaintiff, a former detainee at the Nauru RPC who is set to be returned to Nauru, contends that the contractual arrangements between the Commonwealth government and Transfield Services (Australia) Pty Ltd relating to that detention are not supported by a valid statutory provision — here, s 198AHA of the Migration Act 1958 (Cth) which relates to regional Continue reading