The new Chief Justice of the High Court, Susan Kiefel, gave the 2017 ‘Supreme Court Oration‘ in Brisbane last week to a sell-out crowd. I dare say it is one of the most significant speeches a sitting Chief Justice has given, outlining in detail the High Court’s current process for producing judgments and responding to some criticisms of that Court’s approaches, including those of former High Court judge Dyson Heydon and current President of the NSW Court of Appeal, Margaret Beazley. The Australian Financial Review covered the speech as favouring ‘productivity over prose‘, and contrasted her approach to one-time law student favourite Lord Denning. The Chief Justice’s line:
I have always assumed it to be a universally held view that a judgment should be as succinctly stated as the matter allows.
has the potential to be her version of Dixon CJ’s famous, and much debated, pronouncement: ‘There is no other safe guide to judicial decisions in great conflicts than a strict and complete legalism.’
The 12-page speech has far too much detail to cover in a short news post. However, one passage, explaining one reason she deprecates unnecessary separate judgments, caught my (and the Australian Financial Review‘s) eye: Continue reading
Last week’s special leave hearings broke a four-month drought in appeals granted special leave ‘on the papers’. There were three grants of leave announced, one on Wednesday (without a hearing) and one each on Friday’s two oral hearings in Brisbane and Sydney.
The three appeals that will now go to the High Court are:
- Compton v Ramsay Health Care Australia Pty Ltd  FCAFC 106, which concerns the circumstances when a person who a court previously held owed a debt and is now bankrupt can now argue that he didn’t owe the debt. In 2015, the NSW Supreme Court held that the respondent owed just under $10,000 to the applicant after guaranteeing a now bankrupt company’s debts, rejecting his argument that details of the debt were not attached to the papers he signed and that he wasn’t aware of them. After he went bankrupt and the applicant applied to sequester the debt (preserving it from the demands of other creditors), he submitted new financial evidence challenging whether the bankrupt company ever owed anything to the respondent. The Full Court of the Federal Court unanimously held that the trial judge should have opted to inquire into whether any debt was owed, even though the applicant never challenged the amount of the debt in the NSW Supreme Court.
- Kennedy & Thorne  FamCAFC 189, which examines the enforceability of binding financial agreements (colloquially known as ‘pre-nups’), where one party insists on the agreement as a pre-condition to marriage. The parties to a 2007 marriage differed in assets (none vs $18M), Australian immigration status (a tourist visa vs Australian citizenship) and English fluency (little vs complete.) A week before they married, they signed an agreement prepared by the richer party’s solicitor, despite the poor party receiving independent legal advice that the agreement was ‘no good’ and (about a further agreement shortly after the marriage) ‘terrible’. Ruling after their 2011 separation and the richer spouse’s death in 2014, the Full Court of the Family Court overturned a trial judge’s finding that the agreement was the result of duress, holding that the trial judge failed to provide adequate reasons for the finding of duress and failed to make a finding of unlawful pressure (as opposed to a mere threat not to marry), instead holding that the agreement was binding on both parties.
- Shop, Distributive & Allied Employees Association v ALDI Foods Pty Ltd  FCAFC 161, concerns the process for approving a regional enterprise agreement with employees who are presently in a different region. After the majority of seventeen employees of Aldi who were offered roles in a new ‘region’ of the company’s operations (on the NSW/SA border) voted to approve an enterprise agreement and the agreement was approved by the Fair Work Commission, the union (which was not involved in the earlier agreement) challenged the agreement on three grounds. A majority of the Full Court of the Federal Court held that the agreement could not be approved because it failed a statutory requirement that ‘the agreement has been genuinely agreed to by the employees covered by the agreement’ – at the time of the vote, the new region had no employees. The same majority also held that the Commission failed to properly apply the requirement that the employees be ‘better off overall’, relying instead on a clause in the agreement that promised the employees equal (but not better) terms than the award. But the Court unanimously held that it could not invalidate the agreement because of a one-word deviation between the notice given to the employees and the required wording, because, to the extent that the different wording was important – something the three judges differed on – the Commission’s failure to act on it was not a jurisdictional error.
The High Court has dismissed an appeal against a decision of the Northern Territory Court of Appeal on the legality and consequences of a public drunkenness arrest. Two police officers fined the appellant for drinking in public and, following an altercation, took him into protective custody purportedly under s 128 of the Police Administration Act (NT). Section 128(1) allows a police officer to take a person into custody if the officer has reasonable grounds for believing the person is intoxicated in a public place and because of that intoxication is unable to care for him or herself, may intimidate, alarm or cause substantial annoyance to people, or is likely to commit an offence. The appellant was acquitted on a charge of disorderly behaviour, Continue reading
The High Court has allowed an appeal against a decision the Federal Court of Australia on the extension of time limits on visa applications that fall on a weekend. The appellant received the respondent’s application for a temporary student visa on a Monday and rejected it on the basis that the applicant must hold a temporary graduate visa, which for the respondent had expired on the Sunday immediately before. North J allowed the applicant’s appeal, holding that s 36(2) of the Act Interpretation Act 1901 (Cth), which provides that where an act ‘requires or allows a thing to be done’ and the ‘last day’ for doing it is a Saturday, a Sunday Continue reading
Jeremy Gans, ‘News: The High Court Splits Three Ways on Three-Way Splits’ (1 March 2017).
The High Court has dismissed an appeal against a decision of the Full Court of the Supreme Court of South Australia on the use of evidence of illegal drug dealing within a rape trial. A jury convicted the appellant of rape and making a threat to kill against K. During the trial the prosecution led evidence from K and her boyfriend J that the appellant had supplied them with methylamphetamine prior to the rape and death threat incident, and marijuana at a later date. The SASCFC held that both K and J’s evidence was admissible in the appellant’s trial because they cast light on both the prosecution’s claim that the rape Continue reading
The High Court has dismissed an appeal against the Full Court of the Family Court on whether teenage children removed from Australia in breach of a parenting order must return despite their expressed unwillingness to do so. Following the Bondelmontes’ separation in 2010, the Family Court made equal shared parenting orders with living arrangements to be decided by the parties and the children. In 2016, the father removed the two teenage boys to the United States, where they stayed for more than 14 days, in breach of the parenting orders. A majority of the Full Court of the Family Court upheld the trial judge’s order Continue reading
Today’s decision in Perara-Cathcart v The Queen  HCA 9 reviews a split decision in the Full Court of South Australia’s Supreme Court, which Gageler J’s judgment usefully describes with a table:
This combination raises a long-standing puzzle about the judgments of multi-member courts that have to decide two different issues in a particular case and manage to produce a three-way split. Continue reading