The High Court has answered questions in a stated case brought by a common informer challenge to the capacity of a member of the House of Representatives elected at the July 2016 federal election. Section 3 of the Common Informers (Parliamentary Disqualifications) Act 1975 (Cth) provides that any person who has sat in Parliament ‘while he or she was a person declared by the Constitution to be incapable of so sitting’ is liable to pay ‘any person who sues for it in the High Court’ a sum of money. The defendant was declared elected as a member of the House of Representatives on 20 July 2016. On 7 July 2017, the plaintiff commenced proceedings under the Common Informers Act, contending that the defendant was incapable of sitting as an MP because he holds shares in a company that leased premises to Australia Post, contrary to s 44(v) of the Constitution. After a query about whether the High Court has jurisdiction to decide the anterior question of the defendant’s eligibility to sit as an MP, Bell J formulated the questions for the Full Court as follows:
(1) Can and should the High Court decide [in this proceeding] whether the defendant was a person declared by the Constitution to be incapable of sitting as a Member of the House of Representatives for the purposes of section 3 of the [Common Informers Act]?
(2) If the answer to question (1) is yes, is it the policy of the law that the High Court should not issue subpoenas in this proceeding directed to a forensic purpose of assisting the plaintiff in his attempt to demonstrate that the defendant was a person declared by the Constitution to be incapable of sitting as a Member of the House of Representatives for the purposes of section 3 of the Common Informers Act?
The Court unanimously answered Question 1 ‘no’, and consequently it was not necessary to answer Question 2.
The joint judges (Kiefel CJ, Bell, Keane and Edelman JJ) held that whether the defendant is incapable of sitting as an MP is a question to be determined by the House of Representatives, unless it resolves to refer the matter to the Court of Disputed Returns. This answer to Question 1 is determined by ss 46 and 47, and their relation to s 44, of the Constitution. Section 46 Continue reading