Brown v Tasmania

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

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

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

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

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

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

Koani v The Queen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KEANE J: It just does seem odd.

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

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

DPP v Dalgliesh

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

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

Wilkie v Commonwealth; Australian Marriage Equality Ltd v Cormann

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

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

News: What is happening in the MP eligibility cases?

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

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

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

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

News: Murphy J and the ‘Greek Conspiracy’

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

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

Chiro v The Queen

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

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

Hamra v The Queen

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

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

Dookheea v The Queen

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

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

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

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

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

The Queen v Holliday

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

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

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

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

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

News: The High Court returns to Melbourne

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

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

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

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

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

News: Parties and dates set for dual citizenship hearings

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

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

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

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

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

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

News: Four more High Court cases

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

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

Ramsay Health Care Australia Pty Ltd v Compton

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

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

The FCAFC unanimously held that the primary judge should Continue reading

Forrest and Forrest Pty Ltd v Wilson

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

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

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

Plaintiff S195-2016 v Minister for Immigration and Border Protection

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

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

News: High Court OKs a one-person law

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

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

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

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

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

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

Katanas v Transport Accident Commission

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

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

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

Knight v Victoria

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

News: The High Court revisits same-sex marriage

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

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

IL v The Queen

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

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

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

Commissioner of Taxation v Jayasinghe

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

Pressure, Influence, and Exploitation in Thorne v Kennedy

By Joanna Bloore

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

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

News: The High Court on dual citizen MPs

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

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

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

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

News: Historic Old High Court building in Melbourne

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

Image taken by Heather Turk

Continue reading

News: Rectification of buildings and the High Court

The High Court has handed down two important cases on rectification of building works, each of which suggest that the court places a high value on rectification. However, as discussed below, I could not have guessed that the High Court’s passion with regard to building rectification may have stemmed from its own experience. [Post corrected below]

Continue reading

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

By Dan Meagher

Aubrey v The Queen Case Page

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

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

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

News: Live tweeting the High Court

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

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

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

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

Rizeq v Western Australia

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

The High Court unanimously dismissed the appeal.

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

The Queen v Dickman

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

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

GAX v The Queen

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

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

News: Bell J on ‘The Individual Judge’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

News: Three private law matters granted special leave

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

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

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

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

News: High Court cases behind today’s contempt hearing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hughes v The Queen

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

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

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

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

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

So, what has changed now? Continue reading

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

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

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

News: Upcoming conferences include French court legacy

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

  • Non-Statutory Executive Power;

  • Proportionality after McCloy;

  • Restrospectivity and the Rule of Law

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

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

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

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

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

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

News: Bumper crop of special leave grants includes a sequel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aubrey v The Queen

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

The Queen v Afford; Smith v The Queen

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

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

News: Forest challenge stumbles into a factual thicket

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

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

Talacko v Bennett

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

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

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

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

Pickering v The Queen

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

News: Four new criminal cases

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

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

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

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

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

Re Day [No 2]

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

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

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

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

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

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

I agree with Edelman J.

Continue reading

Ecosse Property Holdings Pty Ltd v Gee Dee Nominees Pty Ltd

The High Court has allowed an appeal against a decision of the Victorian Court of Appeal on contract clause amendments and liability for rates and land taxes. The respondent is the current tenant on an ambiguously amended old-form 99-year lease, concluded between an earlier landlord and tenant in 1981, over farmland now owned by the appellant. Clause 4 of the lease stated, and was amended by striking through, that: ‘all rates taxes assessments and outgoings whatsoever excepting land tax which during the said term shall be payable by the Landlord or tenant. A majority of the VSCA held that this clause left the landlord liable for those payments including land taxes levied upon the landlord. Kyrou JA, in dissent, held that this interpretation was not tenable because of the existence of cl 13, which required the tenant to pay the entire 99-year rent in advance, Continue reading

Kendirjian v Lepore

The High Court has allowed two appeals against a decision of the New South Wales Court of Appeal on advocates’ immunity. The appellant was the plaintiff in a car accident matter. The appellant sued his solicitor (Lepore) and barrister (Conomos) for professional negligence after they informed him that a settlement offer had been made just before trial, but allegedly failed to tell him the amount ($600,000). Instead, the appellant claimed the respondent lawyers rejected the offer without seeking instructions on the basis that it was too low, and advised him that his claim was worth twice as much. Upon the claim succeeding, the appellant received only $300,000. The NSWCA held that the advice or omission to advise was out of court conduct that led to the continuation of Court proceedings, and consequently fell within the scope of advocate’s immunity. After the NSWCA’s judgment, the High Court handed down its judgment in Attwells v Jackson Lalic Lawyers Pty Ltd [2016] HCA 16, holding that advocate’s immunity does not extend to negligent advice that leads to a settlement between the parties. On appeal to the High Court, the appellants contended that Continue reading

News: Kiefel CJ describes and defends her Court’s judicial method [updated]

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

News: Three grants of leave

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 [2016] 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 $10,000,000 [EDITED: see comments] 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 [2016] 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 [2016] 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.

Prior v Mole

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

Kumar v Minister for Immigration and Border Protection

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

Perara-Cathcart v The Queen

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

Bondelmonte v Bondelmonte

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

News: The High Court splits three ways on three-way splits

Today’s decision in Perara-Cathcart v The Queen [2017] 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

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