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

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

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

Attwells v Jackson Lalic Lawyers Pty Ltd

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

Nguyen v The Queen

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

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

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

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

Coverdale v West Coast Council

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

IMM v The Queen

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

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

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

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

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

Mok v DPP (NSW)

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

Fischer v Nemeske Pty Ltd

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

Zaburoni v The Queen

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

News: Obeid’s suppressed High Court application

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

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

News: Fast track for complicity law challenge

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

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

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

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

News: Chief Justice announces early resignation

The ‘News Room’ of the High Court’s website contains the following announcement:

Retirement of Chief Justice
The Chief Justice of the High Court has advised the Prime Minister of his intention to resign from office with effect from midnight on 29 January 2017. The resignation will take effect a few weeks ahead of the Chief Justice’s 70th birthday on 19 March 2017 in order that his successor may take up office at the commencement of the 2017 sittings on 30 January 2017.
Andrew Phelan.
Chief Executive & Principal Registrar. 23 Mar 2016

The Chief Justice’s resignation comes 47 days before the date mandated by the Constitution.

The publication of the Chief Justice’s retirement plan is a welcome development Continue reading

News: The High Court’s work during federal elections

An election is of obvious interest to the legislature and executive. However, it is also increasingly relevant to the work of the government’s third branch. Each of the last three federal elections has required the Court to resolve complex questions urgently:

  • two months prior to the 2007 election, the Court struck down legislation from 2006 barring all prisoners from voting.
  • two weeks before the 2010 election, the Court struck down legislation from 2006 removing the 7 day ‘statutory grace period’ allowing people to enrol after an election is called.
  • five months after the 2013 election, Hayne J, sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns,  declared the election of Western Australian senators void due to the loss of 1370 ballot papers.

The 2015 election, whenever it occurs, will continue this trend.

So far, two pre-election High Court cases have been announced. Continue reading

News: Court announces fewer oral hearings for special leave applications

The ‘News Room’ heading on the High Court’s website contains a notice from the Court’s Chief Executive titled ‘Changes to Special Leave’ that is mostly devoted to the following change:

In represented applications, a Panel of Justices will determine in the first place whether an oral hearing is warranted. If the Panel considers that no oral hearing is required, the application will be granted or refused special leave on the papers. If an oral hearing is required, the application will be listed for hearing as soon as practicable.

This announcement continues a decades long trend away from oral hearings in the Court’s function of determining its own appellate docket and brings the Court’s practices closer those in comparable courts in the UK, Canada and the US. In previous years, the Court moved from five-judge benches to three-judge and then the current two-judge benches, and generally stopped giving oral hearings to self-represented applicants. The current announcement indicates that there will now be up to two hearings for all special leave applications, one on the papers and then a possible second oral hearing. It seems that the first non-oral hearing will always involve a decision on whether or not to proceed to an oral hearing and, if there is to be no oral hearing, will also determine whether or not special leave will be granted.

There are a number of aspects of this new process that are not entirely clear from the notice. Continue reading

News: Six new cases as Morcombe matter ends

Friday’s High Court special leave hearings received particular attention in Queensland, with the Court rejecting an application for leave to appeal by Brett Cowan, who was convicted of murdering Sunshine Coast teenager Daniel Morcombe in 2011. The case drew attention because of the tragedy of a 13-year old’s violent death, the publicity given to police suspicions about Cowan at the coronial inquest, the oddity that Cowan was one of two otherwise unrelated child sex offenders who may have been in the vicinity when Morcombe vanished, and the playing out of the dispute about the Chief Justiceship of Tim Carmody during Cowan’s state appeal. Today’s hearing was attended by Morcombe’s parents, who were relieved that the matter was at an end and reportedly critical of the appeal process. However, the national Court’s refusal of leave will disappoint those who hoped it would revisit its earlier support for complex police stings such as the one used to obtain admissions from Cowan, especially given the recent revisiting of such operations by the Supreme Court of Canada, where the method originated.

The High Court nevertheless granted leave to appeal six cases, all of which are especially interesting: Continue reading

Moreton Bay Regional Council v Mekpine Pty Ltd

The High Court has allowed an appeal against a decision of the Queensland Court of Appeal on compensation for resumed land in the context of commercial tenancies. In March 1999 the Mekpine entered into a retail shop lease in respect of Lot 6 within a retail shopping centre, which, after an expansion of the area in 2007, led to amalgamation of Lot 6 with Lot 1 and newly named ‘New Amalgamated Lot 1’. In 2008 the Council resumed part of New Amalgamated Lot 1, which had previously been part of Lot 1. Mekpine then brought a claim for Continue reading

R v Independent Broad-Based Anti-Corruption Commissioner

The High Court has dismissed an appeal against a decision of the Victorian Court of Appeal on the powers of Victoria’s anti-corruption commission. IBAC sought to hold a public examination of the appellants, who are two police officers accused of assaulting a woman in custody and who face criminal charges in relation to that incident, pursuant to s 115 of the Independent Broad-Based Anti-Corruption Commission Act 2011 (Vic). The VSCA upheld the Continue reading

News: Gageler J on Victoria’s missing rights Charter

Today, the High Court unanimously rejected an appeal by two anonymous Victorian police officers who argued that they should not be publicly examined by Victoria’s anti-corruption commission about an alleged assault of a detainee in a Ballarat police station because they had been notified that they may be prosecuted for the assault. The Court held that its recent decisions on a common law rule obscurely named the ‘companion principle’, which prevents executive action that interferes with the accusatorial process unless it is allowed by clear legislative language, does not apply to people who are not yet formally charged with an offence. Six of the Court’s seven judges explained their reasons in the usual short format that characterises the French court. But Gageler J added a more interesting concurrence discussing a statute the majority didn’t mention: Victoria’s Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006. This prompts the question: why wasn’t Victoria’s landmark human rights statute addressed by the balance of Australia’s peak court in a major decision involving the human rights of Victorians under a Victorian law? Continue reading

Sham Self-Employment in the High Court: Fair Work Ombudsman v Quest South Perth Holdings Pty Ltd

By Dr Alysia Blackham

Quest South Perth Holdings Case Page

In Australia, workers may be engaged as employees or as self-employed independent contractors. Employees are entitled to a range of employment rights, but independent contractors are not — after all, they are not employees. ‘Sham self-employment’ is where individuals are supposedly engaged as independent contractors, but they are actually employees. Cases where employers have misrepresented employees as being independent contractors are increasingly prevalent, affecting well-known companies like Myer (here and here), Australia Post (here) and the MCG (here and here). This may significantly affect workers’ terms and conditions of work — for example, cleaners employed as ‘independent contractors’ at Myer (via cleaning contractor Spotless) alleged that they were paid less than casual employees, did not receive penalty rates and had to pay their own tax, superannuation and insurance (see here and here).

Sham self-employment has again come on to the political agenda, thanks to the High Court case of Fair Work Ombudsman v Quest South Perth Holdings Pty Ltd [2015] HCA 45, which was handed down on 2 December 2015. Under s 357(1) of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth), an employer ‘that employs, or proposes to employ, an individual must not represent to the individual that the contract of employment under which the individual is, or would be, employed by the employer is a contract for services under which the individual performs, or would perform, work as an independent contractor.’ Section 357(1) does not apply where the employer proves that, when the representation was made, the employer:

(a) did not know; and

(b) was not reckless as to whether;

the contract was a contract of employment rather than a contract for services (s 357(2)). Continue reading

Victoria v Tatts Group Ltd

The High Court has allowed an appeal against a decision of the Victorian Court of Appeal relating to state contracts on gaming operator’s licences in Victoria. After gaming machines were legalised in Victoria in 1991, the State created a duopoly between TAB (then a statutory corporation) and the trustees of an estate which would later become Tatts Group Ltd by issuing them with gaming licences. After TAB was privatised (becoming Tabcorp) and listed on the ASX, Victoria granted it a statutory right to a payment if new licences were granted after the expiry of its licence. Similar arrangements were made with the trustees, Continue reading

The Queen v GW

The High Court has allowed an appeal against a decision of the ACT Court of Appeal on unsworn evidence given by children. GW was convicted of several counts of committing acts of indecency upon or in the presence of R and H, his children. In a pre-trial hearing, pursuant to s 13 of the Evidence Act 2011 (ACT), Burns J ruled that R, a six year old, was not competent to give sworn evidence on the basis that while she said she understood the difference between truth and falsehood and the obligation to tell the truth, Burns J was ‘not satisfied’ that she had the capacity to understand that giving evidence involves the obligation to give truthful evidence. Defence counsel did not make any objection to Burns J’s statement or decision at the pre-trial stage, but requested at the trial stage before Penfold J that her Honour advise the jury that R was not giving sworn evidence. Continue reading

Tabcorp Holdings Ltd v Victoria

The High Court has dismissed an appeal against a decision of the Victorian Court of Appeal relating to state contracts on gaming operator’s licences in Victoria. After gaming machines were legalised in Victoria in 1991, the State created a duopoly between TAB (then a statutory corporation) and the trustees of an estate which would later become Tatts Group Ltd by issuing them with gaming licences. After TAB was privatised (becoming Tabcorp) and listed on the ASX, Victoria granted it a statutory right to a payment Continue reading

Scott Stephenson, Michael Crommelin and Cheryl Saunders on the Judgments in Plaintiff M68-2015 v Commonwealth

Plaintiff M68-2015 Case Page

This post collects three perspectives on the judgments of the High Court in Plaintiff M68/2015 v Commonwealth [2016] HCA 1 offered by Scott Stephenson, Michael Crommelin and Cheryl Saunders. These remarks emerged from a recent discussion of the case at a workshop by the Centre for Comparative Constitutional Studies at MLS convened by Adrienne Stone. Scott spoke on the joint judgment and the judgment of Keane J, Michael on Bell J and Gageler J’s opinions, and Cheryl on the dissent of Gordon J.

Scott Stephenson on the Joint Judgment (French CJ, Kiefel and Nettle JJ) and Keane J

Cheryl, Michael and I have divided our discussion of M68 by judgment. I will start by covering the joint judgment of French CJ, Kiefel and Nettle JJ as well as the judgment of Keane J. I imagine most people are somewhat familiar with the case and the facts, but let me provide a brief overview.

The case was a challenge to the legality of the offshore processing arrangements that operate on Nauru. The arrangements allow the Australian Government to transfer to Nauru non-citizens who arrive in Australia by boat without a valid visa and seek asylum. These persons remain on Nauru while their applications for refugee status are determined. In practice, the arrangements work as follows. The Australian Government intercepts an asylum seeker at sea, brings the person to Australia, and applies on behalf of the asylum seeker, and without their consent, to the Nauru Government for a regional processing centre visa. The Nauru Government grants this visa, allowing them to enter the country. The asylum seeker is transferred to Nauru and placed in a camp that is for the most part operated by Wilson Parking, a sub-contractor of Transfield. The asylum seeker remains in this camp while the Nauru Government determines their application for refugee status under Nauru law. Continue reading

News: Australian criminal law took a ‘wrong turn’, says UK’s top court

In a long-awaited and unusual joint judgment of two peak courts, the UK Supreme Court and the Privy Council, five judges yesterday ruled that the common law took a ‘wrong turn’ on the criminal law of complicity at least 19 years ago.The courts heard appeals by people convicted of murder after their partners in crimes –  respectively, an English domestic assault and a Jamaican taxi robbery –  instead stabbed the intended victims. At issue were rulings by the Privy Council in 1985 and the House of Lords in 1997, building on decisions by Australia’s High Court from 1980,  that such defendants could be convicted of murder if they were merely aware that their accomplices ‘might’ murder someone in the course of another crime. Yesterday’s unanimous judgment found that the twin decisions misunderstood the earlier authority, disregarded principle and, most disturbingly, ‘bring the striking anomaly of requiring a lower mental threshold for guilt in the case of the accessory’ – the accomplices’ awareness of the possibility of a murder -‘ than in the case of the principal’- the stabbers’ intent to cause serious harm. Accordingly, they overruled the 1985 and 1997 decisions, detailed a new narrower standard for liability and outlined ground rules for reviewing decades of potentially wrong convictions.

But yesterday’s ruling does not apply in Australia. Continue reading

News: A surprise death in a national court

Yesterday’s news of the death of United States Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia will dismay many, including those who agree with his views and many others who simply enjoyed reading his eloquent and witty judgments. The news also inserts a dramatic new dynamic into United States politics, given the Court’s outsized role in American political life, the sharing of the appointing role between an elected executive and a legislative house and Scalia J’s position as part of a recognisable (although far from invariable) conservative majority in the Court’s many 5-4 decisions. In all these respects, Australia differs from America. Indeed, on the latter point, as UNSW’s Professors Lynch and Williams reported last Friday at the Gilbert & Tobin Constitutional Law Conference, the current High Court now has fewer dissenting judgments than ever.

Deaths of sitting High Court judges are now a rarity, in part because (unlike in the US), appointments of Australian judges are no longer for life. While the last death of a sitting judge was Lionel Murphy’s in 1986, it was not a shock, coming six months after the announcement that he was suffering from inoperable colon cancer. Rather, the most recent surprise death was that of Keith Aickin in 1982, Continue reading

News: Slow start to special leave grants in 2016

The Court today held its first special leave hearings for 2016, in its Sydney and Canberra registries. All the Sydney applications were rejected, while in Canberra, the Court granted special leave in just one matter and also referred a pair of appeals to the full court [EDIT: connected to a matter granted special leave in November]. Matters where leave was refused include two further pre-trial challenges by alleged foreign incursion promoter, Hamid Alqudsi, and a high profile appeal by a farmer who lost his organic certification when genetically modified crops grown by his neighbour contaminated his land.

The lower court decisions to be considered by the Court are: Continue reading

News: Quick end to Alqudsi’s challenge to mandatory jury trials

Yesterday’s new decision on civil procedure and insurers is not the only significant ruling of the High Court this week. Wednesday’s day-long hearing of a pre-trial application by accused promoter of foreign incursions, Hamdi Alqudsi, ended with the following statement by French CJ:

At least a majority of the Court is of the opinion that the following order should be made:
1. The question “Are ss 132(1) to (6) of the Criminal Procedure Act 1986 (NSW) incapable of being applied to the Applicant’s trial by s 68 of the Judiciary Act 1903 (Cth) because their application would be inconsistent with s 80 of the Constitution”, should be answered “Yes”.
2. The motion is dismissed.
The reasons of the Court will be published at a later date.

The effect of these orders is that Alqudsi’s trial will be by a jury of his peers, rather than by judge alone as he preferred. The orders also strongly suggest a rejection by a majority of the High Court of an effort by Alqudsi, broadly supported by the Commonwealth and four states, to overturn or limit a thirty-year old 3-2 ruling by the High Court that effectively gave prosecutors, but not courts or defendants, the power to opt for a judge-alone trial of serious federal crimes.The Court’s majority holding in 1986’s Brown, although certainly a plausible reading of the bare text of s80 of the Constitution, is reviled by many as a perversion of one of the Constitution’s few apparent protections of human rights. However, we won’t know quite what the Court has said about s80 until the Court’s reasons emerge in next month or so.

Of more immediate interest is why the High Court opted to make its orders immediately Continue reading

News: Bell Group – the litigation that just won’t die

In September 2013, I reported that long-running and complex Bell Group litigation had settled immediately before an appeal to the High Court was to be heard. The litigation began in 1995, and related to loans given to Alan Bond’s Bell Group of companies. However, it seems that the litigation just won’t die.

As I noted just before settlement, the question of how the settlement sum was to be distributed was potentially controversial. The litigation had been funded by the WA State Government-owned Insurance Commission of Western Australia (ICWA). Western Australian motorists had to pay an annual levy of $50 on third party insurance from 1993 to 1996 to assist ICWA, known as the WA Inc levy. That promise of controversy has now been realised. Continue reading

News: Summarising High Court judgments

Wednesday saw the High Court’s first decision of 2016, concerning one of the most controversial issues in Australia: offshore immigration detention. The judgment is a blockbuster, consisting of five judgments and over 42000 words (not including the 339 footnotes), answering (or declining to answer) a special case consisting of fourteen multi-part questions. As is the Court’s practice since late 2002, the judgment was accompanied (and, online, preceded) by a one-page judgment summary, describing the proceedings and, in a single paragraph, its outcome:

The Court held, by majority, that the plaintiff was not entitled to the declaration sought. The conduct of the Commonwealth in signing the second MOU with Nauru was authorised by s 61 of the Constitution. The Court further held that the conduct of the Commonwealth in giving effect to the second MOU (including by entry into the Administrative Arrangements and the Transfield Contract) was authorised by s 198AHA of the Act, which is a valid law of the Commonwealth.

It is likely that this summary was responsible for speedy and accurate media reports that the challenge to the ‘Nauru solution’ had failed, in turn prompting fresh political debate about whether the federal parliament or executive should maintain or end the regime, and specifically the fate of 267 asylum seekers slated to return to Nauru.

However, as The Guardian observed on Wednesday evening, ‘High court decisions are not football matches: it’s not always clear who has won and by how much.’ Continue reading

Plaintiff M68/2015 v Minister for Immigration and Border Protection

The High Court has decided a constitutional matter on the detention of asylum seekers in the Nauru Regional Processing Centre, and upheld the validity of the scheme (see below table for the full order). The plaintiff, a former detainee at the Nauru RPC who is set to be returned to Nauru, contends that the contractual arrangements between the Commonwealth government and Transfield Services (Australia) Pty Ltd relating to that detention are not supported by a valid statutory provision — here, s 198AHA of the Migration Act 1958 (Cth) which relates to regional Continue reading

News: High Court circuit hearings reduced by budget cuts?

As the Canberra Times reports, the High Court has just released its Annual Report for 2014 – 2015, which contains an alarming warning about circuit hearings around the country in light of budget cuts imposed by government imposed ‘efficiency dividends’. In French CJ’s Overview, he says at page 16:

In the 2014-2015 year, income received by the High Court including from its principal source, namely parliamentary appropriations, was $16.336 million. Operating expenses including unfunded depreciation charges of $4.802 million amounted to a total of $21.167 million. The underlying deficit after taking out unfunded depreciation allowances was $29,334.

The High Court has a small administration. Its total staff comprises (not including Justices) 99 persons. Thirty-seven are full-time and part-time ongoing staff, 36 are full-time and part-time non-ongoing staff and 26 are casual staff. The Court operates nationally with extended logistical requirements and large fixed costs. Its level of funding is low compared with the Parliament and many parts of the Executive Government. Historically its appropriated revenues have not kept pace with unavoidable cost increases particularly in building related expenditure. Many of the Court’s administrative costs are fixed, for example, statutory charges for electricity to operate the building. Government imposed efficiency dividends affect core elements of the Court’s operations such as Registry and Library staffing. The Court has undertaken comprehensive reviews of its Registry and administrative processes and structures since 2008. The position continues to be that there is no material scope to reduce the Court’s administrative costs without cutting significant elements of its operations including circuit visits which it undertakes from time to time to Perth, Adelaide and Brisbane dependent upon the workload in those capitals.

[emphasis added]

It would not be positive if the High Court were no longer able to go on circuit to some capital cities (or, as the Canberra Times suggests, any other capital cities other than Canberra). The High Court is a court for all of Australia, and as such, it is important that it has a presence in all States and Territories of Australia.

Back in the days when I was a State judge’s associate, I became enraged by a government questionnaire which described the court as a “business unit.” Courts are not “business units”. They do not produce profits. While courts certainly should not waste money, and should have an efficient administration, it sounds like the High Court has already achieved this. Fundamentally, the High Court is an essential arm of government whose role it is to adjudicate disputes. What price justice?

News: Suppression applications in the High Court

A week ago, the High Court’s registry listed the following matter before Gageler J at 11am in the Court’s Sydney registry:

APPLICATION FOR NON-PUBLICATION
ORDERS
[NAME SUPPRESSED] v THE QUEEN

While it appears likely that this is a criminal law matter, no other information about it is public knowledge. Apart from insiders (and whoever else happened to be in the courtroom that day), no-one knows who the applicant is, who (or what) the non-Queen party was, what orders were already in place, what orders were sought, the grounds for the application, the arguments made, what orders (if any) were made and the reasons for Gageler J’s decision (if any.) In these respects, the High Court is similar to other Australian courts, where such opaque listings are commonplace. Thanks to its practice of publishing transcripts of its hearings online for free, the High Court is usually much more open than other Australian courts.  However, no transcript of any hearing from last Wednesday has been published.

However, transcripts from a different matter a week earlier are more illuminating. Continue reading

Endings and Fairness: The Clean Energy Act 2011 (Cth) and Queensland Nickel: Queensland Nickel Pty Ltd v Commonwealth

By Brad Jessup

Queensland Nickel Case Page

Australia’s first national laws to put a price on carbon were effective to their end; reportedly leading to reductions in Australia’s combined greenhouse gas emissions. In their absence it has been reported that increases in emissions have resumed. While our new Prime Minister grapples with how to rein in these emissions, the High Court last year confirmed that the carbon price laws were lawful, and through the prism of the Constitution fair, to their end. The history books will show, however, that politicians failed to make the case for a carbon price law, but they devised and crafted a successful, if complex though geographically unfair, legal policy. Over the past few days the protagonist in the High Court case, Queensland Nickel, with the business faltering, has brought claims of fairness into the political discourse around this business’ carbon intensive operations.

The Constitution and no interstate discrimination

In Queensland Nickel Pty Ltd v Commonwealth [2015] HCA 12, notable also as Nettle J’s first judgment, the High Court dismissed a claim by Queensland Nickel that regulations supporting the principal Act, the Clean Energy Act 2011 (Cth), were unconstitutional based on their geographic effect. Arguments relying on s 99 of the Constitution, the non-discrimination provision, that the regulations inadvertently and indirectly discriminated against the Queensland-based refinery business wholly owned by Clive Palmer MP, the federal parliamentary member for Fairfax, were rejected.

The High Court concluded that the additional financial liability imposed on Queensland Nickel relative to other refineries in Western Australia that triggered the case was not a cause of a difference or discrimination on the grounds of physical or jurisdictional geography but a result of past decisions made by Queensland Nickel on purely financial grounds. The effect of the laws as experienced by Queensland Nickel relative to its Western Australian competitors may have had an increased financial burden on Mr Palmer’s company, which has not been attributed to the company’s financial woes, but that burden was not attributable to the law; rather business decisions made by the company in its infancy.

In the High Court case, Nettle J adopted the plurality view in the Fortescue Metals case, and found that the particular parts of the carbon price regulation that set out liabilities for nickel refineries ‘did not discriminate between States. In terms, it applied equally to eligible persons carrying on the production of nickel regardless of the State of production’ (at [56]). Although Nettle J acknowledged a difference in practical effect of the laws for Queensland Nickel, he considered that ‘in this case it does not appear that any of the differences between the plaintiff’s and the Western Australian nickel producers’ inputs, production processes or outputs were due to differences between Queensland and Western Australia in natural, business or other circumstances’ (at [58]).

Instead, Nettle J focussed on past decisions about mining processes as giving rise to the different effect of the laws. The mining process adopted by Queensland Nickel was found to have been the reason for the greater financial burden under the laws. Although Nettle J conceded that the mining process decision ‘was informed by geographic considerations’ (at [61]), the decisions were ultimately based on delivering to each firm the greatest possible financial windfall at the time the decisions were made in the historical technological settings.

This conclusion, which eschews considerations of the geography of place, effect, and time in preference for considerations of financial autonomy offers an appropriate and consistent ending for the Clean Energy Act 2011, because financial interests trumped geographic interests and fairness throughout its invention, implementation and repeal.

Continue reading

News: Baden-Clay’s resentencing delayed until High Court hearing

One of the most closely watched High Court matters of 2016 is an application to appeal a Queensland Court of Appeal decision from December, concerning a high profile domestic homicide. In R v Baden-Clay [2015] QCA 265, the Queensland court (including the state’s new Chief Justice Catherine Holmes) rejected the Brisbane real estate agent’s complaints about the conduct of his homicide trial, but accepted his argument that the jury’s verdict of murder was unreasonable:

[T]here remained in this case a reasonable hypothesis consistent with innocence of murder: that there was a physical confrontation between the appellant and his wife in which he delivered a blow which killed her (for example, by the effects of a fall hitting her head against a hard surface) without intending to cause serious harm; and, in a state of panic and knowing that he had unlawfully killed her, he took her body to Kholo Creek in the hope that it would be washed away, while lying about the causes of the marks on his face which suggested conflict…

In consequence, the appeal against conviction must be allowed, the verdict of guilty of murder set aside and a verdict of manslaughter substituted. Counsel for the respondent should file and serve submissions as to sentence by 15 January 2016, with the submissions for the appellant to be filed and served by 22 January 2016.

Last week, Holmes CJ revisited the final sentence of that judgment on the application of Queensland’s DPP. In doing so, she addressed when a lower court should (and shouldn’t) change course in response to a planned High Court appeal. Continue reading

News: Counting High Court judgments

Today, the High Court issued its final judgment for 2015, number 53 in the media neutral citation list, one more than last year. Looking back over the Court’s judgments published on Austlii, these numbers are amongst the Court’s lowest. Out of the Court’s 113 years, there have been only fifteen with fewer than 53 (media neutral citation) judgments: 1903 (3), 1926 (52), 1928 (51), 1929 (46), 1930 (52), 1939 (41), 1940 (46), 1941 (43), 1942 (40), 1943 (50), 1944 (42), 1948 (50), 1983 (47), 2010 (49) and 2014 (52). The majority of these have ready explanations  – the Court’s truncated first year and the depression and war years – that the more recent years lack.

But such raw counts can easily mislead, as not all published judgments are equal. Continue reading

Wei v Minister for Immigration and Border Protection

The High Court has decided a special case challenge the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection’s decision to cancel a international student visa. The plaintiff completed a tertiary program at Macquarie University while on a student visa. The University, however, allegedly did not issue a confirmation of enrolment as required by s 19 of the Education Services for Overseas Students Act 2000 (Cth) until after the completion of the course, and the plaintiff’s enrolment was not recorded on the relevant system at the Department. Having recognised apparent grounds for cancelling the visa due to non-enrolment, the Minister’s delegate Continue reading

Plaintiff M64/2015 v Minister for Immigration and Border Protection

The High Court has decided a special case relating to a decision by the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection to deny a refugee and humanitarian visa to the family of an unaccompanied Afghan minor who was granted a protection visa in August 2011. The Minister’s delegate refused the ‘split family’ application on the basis that the delegate was not satisfied that there were compelling reasons for giving special consideration to granting the visa (as required by cl 202.222(2) of the Migration Regulations), and noted that only a small number of applicants could be successful under the government’s Special Humanitarian Programme and the ‘processing priorities’ of the policies associated with that programme. The plaintiff sought to Continue reading

Secret Votes in the High Court: Smith v The Queen

 To His Honour, The jury is still not in total agreeance.

– First formal vote was [redacted] for [redacted] against (Guilty)
– Second formal vote was [redacted] for [redacted] against

Thank you.

It was 4:30pm on a summer Monday afternoon in early 2014. Leslie Smith’s jury had been deliberating since 11am the previous Friday, with a generous break over the weekend. Asked if an 11:1 verdict would solve the impasse, the jury foreman said ‘[y]ou could probably give us about half an hour and we can [indistinct].’ It took them just eighteen minutes to return a majority verdict, so they were on their way home by 5pm.

In Smith v R [2015] HCA 27, the High Court considered whether the trial judge should have publicly divulged the full contents of the jury’s note before he allowed them to reach the verdict that started Smith’s five year sentence and ended a twenty-five year journey by the woman who said he had raped her.

A secret struggle

She said that she was calling from a public phone box and sounded distressed. She told [her boyfriend] that she had had to get out of [Leslie Smith]’s apartment. He could hear the sound of a motorbike in the background. Ms B told him that she would meet him in town.

It was 11:30pm on an autumn night in 1989 when his sixteen year old girlfriend called. He didn’t see her until the next morning. Afterwards, at Townsville’s casino, where he and Smith worked, Smith wanted to ‘explain’, but he said that there was no need. His girlfriend had told him not to be angry at Smith or to blame him. She was ‘fine’. Six months passed before she told him that Smith had dragged her onto his motorbike that night and raped her at his flat. He didn’t believe her. Nor did anyone else she told that year. It was another 18 years before she went to the police, aged 34.

Until recently, a case like this would never have come to trial.  Continue reading

News: Four more cases get special leave

In sittings today in Melbourne and Sydney, the High Court held its final special leave hearings for 2015, allowing appeals from the following four cases to proceed to the national apex court:

  • Betts v R [2015] NSWCCA 39, a sentencing appeal concerning an horrific instance of domestic violence, where Betts stabbed his former partner repeatedly over a lengthy period when she arrived at their flat to remove her belongings, intending that both would die together. The NSW Court of Criminal Appeal rejected Betts’s arguments that his offence was not aggravated by the extent of his partner’s injuries and was mitigated by his own extensive deliberate self-injuries (including injuries caused by his partner with his consent), but accepted his arguments that the trial judge wrongly aggravated his sentence because of his partner’s vulnerability and wrongly failed to mitigate his head sentence due to prison being especially onerous for him given his permanent self-injuries. However, the Court nevertheless let his sixteen-year sentence stand given the seriousness of his offending.
  • Cosmopolitan Hotel (Vic) v Crown Melbourne Limited [2014] VSCA 353, concerning a refusal by Crown to renew two leases at its Southbank Entertainment precinct, despite the tenant having been required to extensively renovate the premises in order to obtain an earlier renewal of the lease. The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal had found that a statement by Crown employees that it would ‘look after’ the tenants at the next renewal if the renovations were high quality was enforceable as a collateral contract. Victoria’s Court of Appeal held that a Supreme Court judge rightly overturned this finding on the basis that the the statement was not intended to be a promise and was too vague to enforce, but nevertheless remitted the case to the Tribunal to determine what remedy (short of renewing the lease or compensating the tenants for all the profits they might have made) Crown should give the tenants for breaking its promise to look after them.
  • Deal v Kodakkathanath [2015] VSCA 191, an appeal against the failure of a compensation claim by a primary school teacher for injuries to her knee that she sustained when she fell off a small step-ladder while removing unwieldy paper artworks from a wall. The majority held that, although the trial judge’s rejection of her claim that the school breached an occupational health and safety regulation concerning ‘hazardous manual handling tasks’ was premature, inadequately explained and involved some misreadings of the statute, it was nevertheless correct because that regulation did not cover injuries caused by falls.
  • R v Nguyen [2013] NSWCCA 195, an appeal concerning what were described as ‘unusual, even unique, factual circumstances’ presenting ‘a challenging sentencing exercise’ – the fatal shooting of one plain clothes police officer by another in response to a shot fired by Nguyen in excessive self-defence. The NSW Court of Criminal Appeal held that the trial judge was wrong to find that Nguyen’s offending was mitigated by his mistaken belief that the cops (who were executing a search warrant) were robbers, as that fact was already implicit in Nguyen’s conviction for manslaughter (rather than murder), and also that the trial judge was wrong to give Nguyen wholly concurrent sentences for the shot he personally fired (which wounded the police officer’s arm) and the shot the other police office fired (which killed the police officer), as each involved distinct consequences and criminality. Describing his offence as ‘a most serious example of the crime of manslaughter’ and noting the need to deter crimes against the police, the appeal court raised Nguyen’s total sentence from nine years and six months to sixteen years and two months.

Commissioner of Taxation v Australian Building Systems Pty Ltd (in liq); Commissioner of Taxation v Muller

The High Court has dismissed two appeals against a decision of the Full Federal Court on liquidators’ obligations to retain from the proceeds of sale an amount sufficient to pay tax on the sale of a property. The liquidators of ABS sold a property on which ABS made a $1.12m capital gain, which became part of ABS’s assessable income for that year. That assessment would be issued to ABS not the liquidators in their capacity as liquidators. The central issue was whether s 254(1)(d) of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1936 (Cth), which relates to Continue reading

Commonwealth v Director, Fair Work Building Industry Inspectorate; Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union v Director, Fair Work Building Industry Inspectorate

The High Court has allowed two appeals against a decision of the Full Federal Court on civil penalty provision ranges and the effect of the High Court’s decision early last year in Barbaro v The Queen [2014] HCA 2, in which the Court held that prosecution submissions on appropriate sentencing ranges are merely opinions and not submissions of law. Following unlawful industrial action by the second and third respondent unions, the first respondent, the building industry employment regulator, sought Continue reading

Allen v Chadwick

The High Court has allowed in part an appeal against two decisions of the Full Court of the Supreme Court of South Australia relating to the tort of negligence and statutory reductions for contributory negligence. Chadwick suffered catastrophic injuries after being thrown from a car driven by her partner, Allen, who had a blood alcohol reading of 0.22. The Full Court allowed an appeal against the trial judge’s decision to apply a 25 per cent reduction in damages Continue reading

McCloy Symposium: Anne Carter on Proportionality and Its Discontents

By Anne Carter

McCloy Case Page

In McCloy v New South Wales [2015] HCA 34 four members of the High Court endorsed, for the first time, a ‘uniform analytical framework’ of proportionality to determine whether the implied constitutional freedom of political communication had been infringed. Although there was broad consensus amongst the Court as to the result of the case (with Nettle J dissenting only in respect of the prohibition on donations from property developers), the Court divided in respect of the role of proportionality analysis. In this post I consider how the joint judgment’s approach refines — or perhaps rewrites — the traditional two-part Lange test, and I compare this with the approach of Gageler J. In addition, I make some observations about the possible implications of the decision.

The Lange Test: A ‘cumbersome and inexact phrase’?

Since the Court’s unanimous decision in Lange v Australian Broadcasting Corporation [1997] HCA 25 in 1997, the High Court has consistently confirmed, with only slight modifications, a two-stage test for assessing limitations on the implied freedom of political communication. This by-now familiar test contains two limbs. First, it asks whether the law effectively burdens freedom of communication about government or political matters either in its terms, operation or effect. Secondly, if the law effectively burdens that freedom, it asks whether the law is reasonably appropriate and adapted to serve a legitimate end in a manner which is compatible with the maintenance of the constitutionally prescribed system of representative and responsible government.

The prevailing view, in Lange and the cases which followed it, was that ‘proportionality’ was simply an alternative formulation of the ‘reasonably appropriate and adapted’ test. In Lange itself the Court noted that the relevant test had been expressed in different ways and that it was not necessary to distinguish between the two concepts (at 562). In a footnote the Court observed that there was ‘little difference’ between the two tests (at 572). This view, that the two expressions are simply alternative ways of expressing the same test, has continued to be influential. Chief Justice Gleeson in Mulholland v Australian Electoral Commission [2004] HCA 41, for instance, noted that ‘whichever expression is used, what is important is the substance of the idea it is intended to convey’ (at [34]).

Although the Court has continued to prefer the expression ‘reasonably appropriate and adapted’, this formulation has not been without its critics. In Mulholland Kirby J, building upon his reasons in Levy v Victoria [1997] HCA 31 and Coleman v Power [2004] HCA 39 critiqued the phrase ‘appropriate and adapted’ as being ‘inappropriate and ill-adapted to perform the constitutional function repeatedly assigned to it by members of this Court’ (at [247]). He considered that the expression ‘proportionality’ better captured the ‘actual process of constitutional reasoning’ (at [250]). Continue reading

Macoun v Commissioner of Taxation

The High Court has dismissed an appeal against a decision of the Full Federal Court on income tax on pensions from foreign retirement plans. The appellant worked as a sanitary engineer for the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, a sub-organisation of the World Bank, during which time he participated in the World Bank’s Staff Retirement Plan. Following his retirement, he received monthly payments from this plan which he initially declared as assessable income for tax purposes, though he later amended those assessments to exclude them. The Administrative Appeals Tribunal set aside the Commissioner’s decision Continue reading

Firebird Global Master Fund II Ltd v Republic of Nauru

The High Court has substantively dismissed an appeal against the decision of the NSWCA relating to the recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments and sovereign immunities. Firebird sought enforcement by the NSWCA of a Tokyo District Court judgment for ¥1.3 billion relating to Nauru’s refusal to honour its obligations as a guarantor of bonds issued through the Republic of Nauru Finance Corporation, most of which are held by Firebird, under the Foreign Judgments Act 1991 (Cth). The NSWCA declined to Continue reading

Fair Work Ombudsman v Quest South Perth Holdings Pty Ltd

The High Court has allowed an appeal from a decision of the Full Federal Court on employee and independent contractor indicia. The Fair Work Ombudsman applied for a penalty order against Quest South Perth for allegedly making a false statement that two of its housekeeping employees were independent contractors, contrary to s 357(1) of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth). The Full Federal Court held that while the housekeepers remained employees no penalty was payable because the misrepresentation was about the existence of a contract Continue reading

Tax and Power in the High Court: The Capital Cost of an Electricity Monopoly: Ausnet Transmission Group Pty Ltd v Federal Commissioner of Taxation

By Professor Miranda Stewart

Ausnet Case Page

State governments are keen to raise funds by privatising electricity networks, as has just been legislated in New South Wales, but a privatisation agenda can also cause an election loss, as shown in this year’s Queensland election. Electricity privatisation is controversial and the costs and benefits are hard to understand.

One of the less visible aspects of electricity privatisation is the tax treatment of the asset purchase for the private buyer. This year, one of the few High Court cases on income tax is about the privatisation of Victoria’s electricity transmission networks in the late 1990s. This is the case of AusNet Transmission Group Pty Ltd v Federal Commissioner of Taxation [2015] HCA 25.

AusNet is a listed electricity transmission company that, in its own words, is Victoria’s ‘largest energy delivery service’. According to its website, AusNet owns and operates $11 billion of electricity and gas distribution assets that connect to more than 1.3 million Victorian users in a network of ‘49 terminal stations, 13,000 towers and 6,500 kilometres of high-voltage powerlines’. It’s not surprising that when AusNet has a tax issue, it is similarly large.

AusNet loses case on tax deductibility

AusNet (at that time called SPI Powernet) paid more than $2.5 billion for electricity transmission assets that it purchased in 1997 from a Victorian State-owned company. The asset purchase was just one element in the massive exercise of electricity privatisation (for more, see the first instance decision). The purchase price included the physical assets and the electricity transmission licence which would permit AusNet to operate the network. The contract also required AusNet to pay charges under the Electricity Supply Act 1993 (Vic) of $177.5 million in the 1999, 2000 and 2001 tax years, as the new owner of the transmission licence.

AusNet sought to deduct these charges as current expenses under the general income tax deduction rule (s 8-1 of Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 (Cth)). The Commissioner denied the deduction, arguing that the charges were instead capital in nature. It took more than a decade for this argument, arising out of a complex tax audit, to make its way to the High Court, where AusNet lost.

Applying Australia’s 30 per cent company tax rate, the deduction of $177.5 million was worth about $53 million to AusNet. With interest expense on unpaid tax, AusNet owed a total of $91 million to the Tax Office, of which it had previously paid $30 million. AusNet lost the case in the High Court and announced its ‘disappointment’ to the market in an ASX release. Continue reading

News: Ken Parish on the tragedies surrounding Melbourne v R [1999] HCA 32

Legal academic Ken Parish has a post at Club Troppo marking the death of Roy Melbourne, the defendant in a 1999 High Court criminal appeal. The post is an especially poignant one, because Melbourne was convicted of murdering Parish’s mother-in-law, who was minding Parish’s daughter while they shopped for her seventh birthday present.

Parish’s post is a profound insight into the impact of High Court appeals (amongst other things) on people affected by tragedy. Parish recounts:

When the jury’s guilty verdict was delivered I was surprised to find myself sobbing uncontrollably, not through sorrow but relief that this part of our ordeal was over and we could get on with grieving and putting our lives back together. However I was wrong about that last part. Melbourne appealed unsuccessfully to the Court of Appeal and then again to the High Court. Special leave was granted but the substantive appeal failed, although only by a margin of 3:2. The legal ordeal lasted until August 1999.

And he also notes that the description of Melbourne’s crime by McHugh J (and also Callinan J) in the High Court appeal understated the horror of the event, including the fact that it took place in the presence of Parish’s daughter. These awful details stand in sharp contrast to the somewhat dry issue that was debated in the High Court: whether the jury should have been directed that Melbourne’s clean record for the 60-odd years prior to his crime (apart from a drink-driving conviction) was relevant to determining whether or not to believe his statements immediately after the killing, including not recalling the killing, believing that Parish’s mother-in-law was harassing him with late-night noises (actually a defective sprinkler system) and his medical history. A majority of the Court held that the direction was not needed, with Kirby J and Callinan J dissenting.

The most moving part of Parish’s post is his own response to Melbourne’s death, two weeks after he voluntarily returned to prison from parole:

This morning I received a phone call from a detective from the Major Crime Squad. Melbourne was found dead in his cell last night. The detective was careful in what he said, but it sounds like he committed suicide. After a few moments of shocked silence I thanked him and remarked that I almost felt sorry for him, though not quite. But I do feel sorry and so does Jenny Parish. What a dreadful tragedy from beginning to end, for everyone involved including a lonely embittered old man named Roy Melbourne. I’ve been sobbing again today, not out of relief this time but from grief for all that has been lost.

In a comment, Parish adds that Melbourne’s death reportedly followed his return from work release after a law and order controversy in the Northern Territory, which Parish had criticised in an earlier post.

News: Predictable special leave outcomes

Predicting which cases will get special leave to the High Court is generally difficult. Last month, two Victorian judges refused an injunction to preserve the subject-matter of a case that was the subject of a special leave application, stating that ‘we are not persuaded that the application for special leave enjoys sufficient prospects of success to warrant a stay’. The High Court granted special leave in that matter last Friday. But it is possible to make strong predictions during the hearing itself. For example, a clue came during the applicant’s argument that the case ‘is a matter of real importance’ when Keane J interrupted to say ‘I do not think you need to worry about how important it is.’ The applicant promptly stopped his argument, correctly predicting that special leave would be granted. This was confirmed when, at the conclusion of the respondent’s argument, French CJ said that ‘we need not trouble’ the applicant for a reply. An even clearer sign of success is when the High Court does not call on the applicant at all, for example in this matter in October.

More unusually, in two matters this month, a lawyer faced the prospect of arguing for a special leave result after the Court had already resolved the matter against his client. Continue reading

A Comment on Professor Finnis’s Praise of Australia’s High Court

In a recent lecture Judicial Power: Past, Present and Future, leading legal philosopher Professor John Finnis launched a strong critique of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, especially the famous decision of its predecessor, the House of Lords, in the Belmarsh case, that a provision permitting the detention of suspected terrorists was incompatible with Europe’s human rights convention. By contrast he was strongly supportive of the High Court, writing:

Australia, which has as a federal nation done entirely without constitutionally stated rights for 115 years, made the choice not to entrust this inappropriate kind of power to judges, but to trust themselves and the legislatures they elect. (Victoria and one small federal territory are the only exceptions and very novel ones.) Australia I would say has done easily as well as countries under judicially enforceable or even judicially declarable human rights, and has kept its legislative and judicial discourse authentic, largely uncluttered with this sort of make-believe and confusion of roles, responsibilities and competences.

Professor Finnis relied upon the High Court’s decision in Al-Kateb v Godwin [2004] HCA 37 (where Court upheld indefinite immigration detention in some circumstances) and reserved particular praise for Justice Heydon’s judgment in Momcilovic v The Queen [2011] HCA 34 (where he would have declared Victoria’s human rights law constitutionally invalid.)

Policy Exchange, which has published the lecture as part of its judicial power project, invited three leading constitutional scholars to comment. Adrienne Stone’s commentary — questioning his reliance on Al-Kateb and Momcilovic — is here: Continue reading

News: Six new administrative and criminal law cases

In sittings in Canberra and Sydney yesterday, the High Court granted special leave to appeal six decisions, consisting of two administrative law matters and four criminal law ones. As well, in the special leave hearing concerning R & M v IBAC, discussed here, French CJ continued the order Nettle J gave  suppressing the names of the two police officers who IBAC wants to publicly examine ‘until further order’, despite Nettle J’s earlier expressed ‘doubts as to whether publication of the name of either applicant at this stage of the proceeding would give rise to any real risk of prejudice to a fair trial, when and if they are ever charged with any offences arising out of the subject matter of the inquiry’.

The cases where the High Court will hear appeals (most likely early next year) are:

Continue reading

North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency Ltd v Northern Territory

The High Court has decided a matter relating to the constitutionality of the Northern Territory’s new police arrest and detention powers, holding by majority that the powers are not invalid. Division 4AA of the Police Administration Act (NT), inserted into the Act in December 2014, empowers a police officer to arrest a person without a warrant where the office believes, on reasonable grounds, that the person has committed, was committing, or about to commit an ‘infringement notice offence’: 35 different offences fall under this definition, many of which are minor or public order type offences. A person can be held for four hours (or longer if the officer believes the person is intoxicated) after which time they may be released unconditionally, released with an issue of an infringement notice, Continue reading

News: Special leave to appeal revoked in Fernando v Commonwealth

Fernando v Commonwealth purportedly raised the issue of what measure of damages were appropriate for a case of wrongful immigration detention where the plaintiff could have been lawfully detained in any event. However, the High Court has now revoked special leave on the basis that the appellant’s argument did not adequately raise that question.

Continue reading

Minister for Immigration and Border Protection v WZARH

The High Court has dismissed an appeal from a decision of the Full Federal Court relating to procedural fairness and merits reviewer procedures and replacements in the assessment of protection visas. WZARH, a Sri Lankan Tamil, entered Australia by boat in November 2010 and was classed as an offshore entry person. Following an adverse refugee status determination, WZARH sought independent merits review of the decision. A recording and transcript of an interview Continue reading

R v Pham

The High Court has allowed an appeal against the decision of the Victorian Court of Appeal on manifestly excessive sentencing in the context of a drug importation offence. Pham pleaded guilty to importing a marketable quantity of heroin and was sentenced to eight years and six months with a non-parole period of six years. The Court of Appeal allowed Pham’s appeal against the sentence on the basis that the initial sentence was outside the range reasonable open to a Continue reading

McCloy Symposium: Scott Stephenson on the Complications and Consequences of Constitutional Comparison

By Dr Scott Stephenson

McCloy Case Page

In McCloy v New South Wales [2015] HCA 34 for the first time a majority of the High Court (French CJ, Kiefel, Bell and Keane JJ) endorsed proportionality analysis as the appropriate framework for determining whether a law violates the freedom of political communication, an implication derived from the Australian Constitution. In doing so, the majority turned to comparative materials, especially comparative constitutional scholarship, to explain and justify its decision. In this post, I consider the complications and consequences of the Court’s comparative engagement, examining the difficulties associated with drawing on the scholarship in this field before considering some implications of the Court’s move. I suggest that it gives greater prominence to two dimensions of constitutional adjudication that are typically not accorded priority, namely the value in providing legislatures with clarity about the limits of their powers and making value judgments explicit.

Complications: The necessary yet difficult task of comparatively engaging with proportionality

The decision to endorse proportionality analysis requires careful consideration of comparative case law and scholarship to ascertain what, precisely, proportionality analysis entails. While it may be, as the majority suggest, a ‘uniform analytical framework’ (at [74]), that framework does not have a uniform formulation or application. Some jurisdictions adopt a three-stage test, while others adopt a four-stage test (see [79] fn 100). In some jurisdictions, the majority of laws that fail proportionality analysis do so at the ‘necessity’ (least restrictive means) stage, while in others it is at the ‘adequate in its balance’ (proportionality in the strict sense) stage (Grimm, 2007). Continue reading

McCloy Symposium: Joo-Cheong Tham Sounds a Cautionary Note on Political Equality as a Constitutional Principle

By Dr Joo-Cheong Tham

McCloy Case Page

In its 1974 decision, Buckley v Valeo, 424 US 1 (1975), the United States Supreme Court infamously ruled that:

the concept that government may restrict the speech of some elements of our society in order to enhance the relative voice of others is wholly foreign to the First Amendment.

Decades later, Buckley remains powerfully influential with the Supreme Court in McCutcheon v Federal Election Commission stating last year that:

No matter how desirable it may seem, it is not an acceptable governmental objective to ‘level the playing field’, or to ‘level electoral opportunities’, or to ‘equalize the financial resources of candidates’.

In McCloy v New South Wales [2015] HCA 34, the High Court emphatically rejected the approach of US Supreme Court as to the illegitimacy of political equality or fairness as a legislative objective. On the contrary, under the Commonwealth Constitution, ‘(l)egislative regulation of the electoral process directed to the protection of the integrity of the process is … prima facie legitimate’.

Central to the conclusion that political equality and fairness are legitimate legislative objectives was the High Court’s insistence that political equality was a constitutional principle. Yet, the latter was hardly necessary for the former conclusion. If elections are to be ‘free and fair’, it would seem absurd to deny Parliament the ability to regulate with the view to advancing electoral fairness, regardless of what the Constitution said about political equality. As McLachlin CJ and Major J observed in the Canadian Supreme Court decision in Harper v Canada [2004] SCC 33 — a decision favourably cited by the joint judgment and Gageler J:

Common sense dictates that promoting electoral fairness is a pressing and substantial objective in our liberal democracy.

Not only does logic fail to bind these two aspects of the High Court’s judgment in McCloy, they also carry quite different implications in terms of legislative ability to regulate elections. The High Court’s ruling that political equality and fairness are legitimate legislative objectives permits Parliaments to regulate elections for these purposes; political equality as a constitutional principle, on the other hand, will constrain the ability of Parliaments to regulate elections, even in situations when the purported justification is one of equality and fairness.

This post sounds a cautionary note on the elevation of political equality as a constitutional principle in McCloy. It does so by posing three questions, questions that alert us to the fact that political equality as a constitutional principle does not necessarily result in the realisation of political equality and, in fact, poses risks to the democratic project. Continue reading

News: Special leave granted on solicitor’s duty to will beneficiary

Yesterday, separate from the Court’s usual special leave schedule, the High Court granted special leave to appeal a ruling of the full court of the Supreme Court of Tasmania decided three months ago. (HT: Joel Townsend.) Having recently granted special leave in a NSW case to reconsider the scope and existence of advocates’ immunity from negligence suits in respect of their court work, the new Tasmanian grant raises the scope of solicitors’ liability in negligence for their non-court work, specifically their duty to the beneficiaries of wills they prepare.  Continue reading

R v Beckett

The High Court has allowed an appeal against the decision of the New South Wales Court of Appeal relating to perverting the course of justice and making false statements under oath. Beckett was committed for trial on indictment in the NSW District Court on a charge of perverting the course of justice (s 319 of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW)) and on an alternative charge of making a false statement Continue reading

News: Nettle J on open justice in Victoria

A procedural hearing on Tuesday hinted at Nettle J’s views on open justice in Victoria, an issue that has been recently debated in The Age. The matter concerns an effort by two police officers who are potentially facing criminal charges for misconduct to stop IBAC (Victoria’s anti-corruption commission) from publicly examining them about that misconduct. The pair’s argument, which rests on recent High Court decisions on whether Australian statutes allowing people to be compulsorily examined on matters that tend to incriminate them must give way to fundamental principles of accusatorial justice, failed in Victoria’s Court of Appeal late last month. The pair now wish to appeal to the High Court and Nettle J was asked to decide two urgent questions ahead of their application for special leave to appeal.

One issue was whether the pair could be named publicly ahead of the special leave application. Continue reading

McCloy Symposium: Lael Weis on Why Political Communication Isn’t an Individual Right in Australia

By Dr Lael Weis

McCloy Case Page

Much of the commentary about McCloy, the High Court’s recent decision upholding NSW’s ban on donations by property developers, will concern the disagreement among members of the Court about the appropriate method for analysing burdens on the freedom of political communication, and I will look forward to what my colleagues have to say. My own contribution to the blog symposium on this case focuses on a long-standing consensus point: namely, the idea that the freedom is not an ‘individual right’.

Although I imagine members of the public might feel somewhat scandalized if told the right of individuals to communicate political matters is a fake idea in Australia, this is something the Court seems firmly committed to. Each of the four judgments in McCloy affirms this proposition: at [29]–[30] (French CJ, Kiefel, Bell, and Keane JJ); at [119]–[120] (Gageler J); at [219] (Nettle J); at [316]–[319] (Gordon J).

This was also a consensus theme in Unions NSW [2013] HCA 58, the antecedent to McCloy that struck down a wider NSW ban on political contributions by people who are not on the electoral role, such as corporations and unions. In a joint judgment Continue reading

News: Five new appeals, one an enigma

In hearings yesterday in Brisbane and Sydney, the High Court granted special leave in five new matters, including two Queensland judgments where Holmes JA (who recently replaced Carmody CJ as chief justice of Queensland) was the lone dissent. We know what four of the five judgments being appealed are broadly about:

  • Fischer v Nemeske Pty Ltd [2015] NSWCA 6, a dispute about a family trust, where minutes of a 1994 meeting of directors indicated a distribution of $4M of assets to two beneficiaries. Since then, both beneficiaries, their daughter and all but one of the directors have died, without any transfer of property. The NSW Court of Appeal unanimously held that the directors duly exercised their powers in 1994,that an oral resolution a month before accelerating the vesting day didn’t affect the distribution, that the distribution placed the trust in debt to the beneficiaries and that a 2004 directors’ declaration acknowledging the earlier events extended the period for enforcing the debt (which otherwise would have expired in 2007) so that the estate’s claim could proceed.
  • Murdoch v The Queen [2014] NTCCA 20, an appeal by a man convicted of sexually abusing his step-grandchild on three occasions. The Northern Territory Court of Criminal Appeal unanimously held that the trial judge properly admitted evidence from the complainant’s friend and relatives of the revelation of the abuse, that a direction to the jury that her revelations ‘were some evidence that an offence did occur’ was appropriate (despite their generality), and that the trial judge properly admitted her testimony about a later incident where the accused allegedly ran his hand up her leg during a massage as evidence of the accused’s sexual interest in her. The latter issue may finally draw the High Court into a dispute between the NSW and Victorian courts as to the meaning of the key terms ‘probative value’ and ‘significant probative value’ in Australia’s uniform evidence legislation.
  • Mekpine Pty Ltd v Moreton Bay Regional Council [2014] QCA 317, an action by a shopping centre tenant for compensation for land that the Council resumed for road improvements in 2008. When the lease was signed in 1999, it was over a lot unaffected by the later roadworks, but a redevelopment five years later combined that lot with another lot that was affected. While the trial judge and Holmes JA would have rejected the tenant’s claim, a majority of the Queensland Court of Appeal held that the amalgamation gave the tenant an interest in both lots and that, anyway, a statutory provision giving commercial tenants rights over ‘common areas’ meant that the tenant had a compensable interest in the area that was resumed.
  • McDermott & Ors v Robinson Helicopter Company Incorporated [2014] QCA 357, an action by a survivor of a fatal helicopter accident near the Queensland/Northern Territory border, alleging that the chopper’s maintenance manual gave inadequate instructions on how to check for loose bolts (the cause of the accident.) While the trial judge and Holmes JA held that the manual was adequate in requiring that a tape on key bolts be routinely visually inspected for signs of twisting, a majority of the Queensland Court of Appeal held that the manual should have recommended physically testing each bolt’s tightness with a spanner. (Presumably, the High Court’s interest in the case is not about the law of helicopter bolt maintenance manuals, but rather the appropriateness of an appeal court reversing a trial judge’s factual findings in a negligence case.)

The fifth judgment is an enigma for now. Continue reading

PT Bayan Resources TBK v BCBC Singapore Pte Ltd

The High Court has dismissed an appeal against a decision of the Court of Appeal of the Supreme Court of Western Australia regarding Mareva asset freezing orders and prospective foreign judgments and whether the WASC’s powers are inconsistent with the Foreign Judgments Act 1991 (Cth) by the operation of s 109 of the Australian Constitution. The appellant Continue reading

Wright Prospecting Pty Ltd v Mount Bruce Mining Pty Ltd; Mount Bruce Mining Pty Ltd v Wright Prospecting Pty Ltd

The High Court has decided an appeal and cross-appeal arising out of two decisions of the New South Wales Court of Appeal relating to mining royalty liabilities, finding in favour of Wright Prospecting in both matters. In 1970, Mount Bruce Mining (MBM) entered into an agreement with Hanwright (a partnership formed by Wright Prospecting Pty Ltd and Hancock Prospecting Pty Ltd) to purchase Continue reading

D’Arcy v Myriad Genetics Inc

The High Court has unanimously allowed an appeal from the Full Federal Court on the validity of a gene patent. The patent relates to a particular DNA or RNA sequence named BRCA1 that has been isolated (or removed) from its ordinary cellular environment and is an indicator of breast or ovarian cancer. Dismissing the appeal from the trial judge’s decision, the Full Federal Continue reading

Alcan Gove Pty Ltd v Zabic

The High Court has unanimously dismissed an appeal against the decision of the Court of Appeal of the Northern Territory on the tort of negligence in the context of asbestos exposure and statute barring. Zabic was exposed to asbestos dust during three years of working for Alcan, and was recently diagnosed with terminal mesothelioma. Zabic claimed common law damages Continue reading

News: Court’s website now includes its judgments

In a seemingly unannounced change, which occurred somewhere between May and July this year, the High Court’s website now contains a database of its own judgments, consisting of all judgments since 2000, and also all ‘unreported’ judgments from 1924 to 2002. The site has its own (somewhat unfashionable) url –  http://eresources.hcourt.gov.au – and you can link to summaries and judgments via urls in this domain that incorporate the media neutral citation. The database is browsable and searchable, and provides copies of the judgments in .rtf and .pdf (but not html) format.  The website states that new judgments will be published ‘on the day they are delivered’, although presumably they will be up within the hour, as is typical on Austlii and Jade. For now, transcripts of the Court’s hearings are not available on the Court’s website.

This change brings Australia’s national court closer into line with the practice of comparable courts Continue reading

News: US anti-abortion activist fails in High Court bid to fight deportation

US anti-abortion activist Troy Newman has failed in his last minute High Court bid to challenge the revocation of his Australian visa. His visa was revoked days before he was due to tour Australia. Newman has espoused controversial views regarding abortion, suggesting in a co-authored book that persons who seek abortions and doctors who perform them should be executed for murder. Minister for Immigration Peter Dutton cancelled his visa pursuant to s 128 of the Migration Act 1958 (Cth). Section 128 allows the Minister to cancel a visa before the non-citizen holder enters Australia on the basis of the considerations set out in s 116. The relevant consideration in this case was s 116(e)(i): namely, that the presence of the visa holder in Australia might pose a risk to the health, safety or good order of the Australian community or a segment of the Australian community. Continue reading

News: Pfennig back in court

A long-running Adelaide mystery, the 1983 disappearance of 11 year-old Louise Bell, is currently being explored in a Supreme Court murder trial. The Advertiser reports a prosecutor’s description of an alleged conversation between prisoners at Mt Gambier Prison:

Pfennig started to talk about Michael Black, how he had murdered him,” she said. “He said he couldn’t tell anyone where Michael Black was ‘because there is a chick there’. “The other prisoner asked ‘what chick?’ and Pfennig replied ‘Bell’.”

If true, this amounts to an admission by Dieter Pfennig, not only to his responsibility for Bell’s death, but also to the correctness of a 1995 High Court ruling upholding Pfennig’s conviction for the murder of Black, who vanished near the Murray River in 1989. That judgment is arguably the Court’s most significant (and most controversial) ruling on evidence law. Continue reading

News: Prime Ministers who have appeared before the High Court

Malcolm Turnbull joins a select group: lawyers who have argued before Australia’s national court and then gone on to lead the nation. In 1988, the future Prime Minister capped his greatest success in his career as a barrister by successfully defending his lower court victories in the Spycatcher case in the High Court. The case famously concerned the UK government’s attempts to block the publication of a book by a former MI5 agent, Peter Wright. Having succeeded at trial in arguing that the book’s supposedly confidential contents was mostly already public overseas, Turnbull secured a majority ruling in the NSW Court of Appeal (consisting of two future High Court judges, Kirby P and McHugh JA) and then a unanimous victory in the High Court, which ruled that Australian courts applying the law of confidentiality ought not protect the security interests of an overseas government. Turnbull also succeeded as a junior barrister in an earlier case before the national court, when he defended Noel Chrichton-Browne in the Court of Disputed Returns.

A previous Prime Minister with a much more impressive record before the High Court is Robert Menzies, Australia’s longest serving leader. Continue reading

News: Bank fees action and three other cases granted special leave

Last Friday, the High Court granted special leave in four cases. One is especially newsworthy: the return of the long-running dispute about the validity of various bank fees to the High Court. As Katy Barnett outlines here,  the Court in 2012 held hat such fees are subject to the rule against contractual ‘penalties’ despite being expressed as contractual obligations, (rejecting a preliminary ruling by the trial judge in favour of the banks.)  This year, the Full Court of the Federal Court nevertheless ruled that none of the fees were penalties. As Katy Barnett predicted, that ruling will now be considered by the High Court. But not all of the Court: the trial judge (who wrongly ruled that the fees weren’t subject to the rule, but also held that late credit card payment fees were penalties) was Gordon J, who has since joined the national court. That almost certainly means that she won’t participate in the High Court’s new consideration of the case.

The other three cases granted special leave include one from the Tasmanian courts, ending a six year drought of Tasmanian cases in the national court. The three cases are: Continue reading

Astrazeneca AB v Apotex Pty Ltd; Astrazeneca AB v Watson Pharma Pty Ltd; Astrazeneca AB v Ascent Pharma Pty Ltd

The High Court has unanimously dismissed an appeal from a decision of the Full Federal Court relating to novelty and the inventive step in s 7 of the Patents Act 1990 (Cth). Astrazeneca holds the patent relating to a method of treating high blood cholesterol using a compound called rosuvastatin, marketed under the drug name Crestor. The respondent drug companies produce and sell Continue reading

Seeing the Wood for the Trees — Finding the Intention to Create a Trust: Korda v Australian Executor Trustees (SA) Ltd

By Paul Collins

Korda Case Page

Introduction

In a famous literary allusion, du Parcq LJ in Re Schebsman [1944] Ch 83 noted that an intention to create a trust can possibly be created by unguarded language, as in Molière’s Monsieur Jourdain who talked prose without knowing it, although he qualified this by saying that ‘unless an intention to create a trust is clearly to be collected from the language used and the circumstances of the case, I think that the court ought not to be astute to discover indications of such an intention’. In Jessup v Queensland Housing Commission [2001] QCA 312, McPherson JA added at [9] that if the purpose of the settlor was to inspire the poetry of trusts, it was odd that it chose to express itself in common law prose.

This very controversy often arises in the rather prosaic event of insolvency where a party contends that certain assets are not available to creditors because beneficial ownership is vested in a party other than the debtor by reason of a trust. Thus in Korda v Australian Executor Trustees (SA) Ltd [2015] HCA 6, the High Court of Australia examined the question whether a trust could be inferred from a contractual relationship. Continue reading

News: Dyson Heydon on the perceived email habits of High Court judges

In his decision yesterday rejecting an application to recuse himself from the Trade Union Royal Commission on the grounds of apprehended bias, Commissioner Dyson Heydon considered whether a reasonable bystander would think (contrary to Heydon’s own assertion) that Heydon would  read all of his email attachments (including one describing the nature of the function he had agreed to speak at.) The ACTU’s counsel, Robert Newlinds SC, argued:

People don’t get appointed to the High Court of Australia unless they are considered truly brilliant lawyers, and what the truly brilliant lawyers have over and above truly ordinary lawyers, they have that special ability to absorb incredibly quickly and distil facts, and an ability to retain facts so absorbed and distilled, so as to fit them into the wider picture of the particular legal problem at hand….  So, the reasonable hypothetical bystander is going to think you’ve read this email.

But the Commissioner countered that the reasonable bystander would have a quite different view of former High Court judges’ reading habits: Continue reading

News: Epilogue to the Beckett malicious prosecution case

In 2013, the High Court held that there was no requirement to prove innocence in malicious prosecution in the case of Beckett v New South Wales [2013] HCA 17. I wrote an opinion on the case here. Ms Beckett’s malicious prosecution case was then remitted back to the New South Wales Supreme Court for decision. Readers may be interested to hear that the New South Wales Supreme Court has now determined that case. Continue reading

News: Hon Ken Hayne to be commissioned for parliamentary inquiry into Victorian Auditor-General

Yesterday, both houses of Victoria’s parliament approved a motion to request that the Parliament’s Public Accounts and Estimates Committee ‘ inquire into and report no later than 20 October 2015 on allegations made against the Auditor-General, Mr John Doyle, in a formal grievance dated 12 August 2015, by a member of his staff’. Although the request does not detail the nature of those allegations, the Committee’s remit includes whether ‘the Parliament should give consideration to the removal of the Auditor-General from office’ under s. 94C(5) of Victoria’s Constitution. And, although also not detailed in the motion, it appears that the inquiry will be conducted by a very recently retired High Court judge (and current professorial fellow at Melbourne Law School.) Continue reading

News: Sitting in Memory of the Late Honourable John Leslie Toohey AC

The High Court holds ceremonial sittings to mark significant events: welcomes to judges, farewells to judges, appointments of Queen’s Counsel and Senior Counsel, first and final sittings of judges in particular cities, and final sittings in particular buildings. Such sittings are also held in memoriam for late judges.

On 10 August 2015, the High Court held a Sitting in Memory of the Late Honourable John Leslie Toohey AC in Perth. The transcript is now available here. The Court notes that Justice Toohey’s Western Australian predecessor, Sir Ronald Wilson, was similiarly honoured with a ceremonial sitting some ten years ago, at which Justice Toohey was present. A ceremonial sitting has also been held for the Late Honourable Sir Harry Gibbs in 2005. Presumably a ceremony will be held for Justice Jacobs, who also passed away this year.

Edelman J’s obituary for Justice Toohey was posted on the blog here.

News: Sir Anthony Mason mulls proportionality

Earlier this month Sir Anthony Mason presented the 21st annual lecture named in his honour at Melbourne Law School and hosted by the Law Students’ Society.

Sir Anthony offered a commentary on contemporary High Court jurisprudence on the relevance of the concept of proportionality in administrative and constitutional law. His focus was on the recent cases of Li, Monis, Unions NSW and Tajjour, which Sir Anthony presented as offering competing perspectives on the place and test for proportionality in Australian law. Sir Anthony did, however, reflect on some of the cases he was involved in from which he traced an historic attention to proportionality by the High Court. These cases included the bicentennial case, Davis v Commonwealth and the refillable bottle case, Castlemaine Tooheys.

Sir Anthony argued that Li represented “a more positive attitude to the use of proportionality” among this Court than past, and he seemingly endorsed the use of proportionality in judicial review to soften the extremely strict standard of Wednesbury unreasonableness.

On the constitutional law freedom of political communication cases of Monis, Unions NSW and Tajjour, Sir Anthony articulated three emergent approaches to proportionality. From Monis, he described Kiefel, Crennan and Bell JJ as grounding an extensive proportionality test (so called ‘structural proportionality’) from European developments. He also distilled competing limited proportionality tests by Gagelar J in Tajjour and by Keane J in the Unions NSW case that would reshape the Lange test for validity of laws that impede political communication if they were to be embraced by the court. As readers of the blog will know from the analysis of Professor Adrienne Stone, how the court resolves its grappling with proportionality might bring clarity to the extent and character of the Australian constitutional freedom of political communication.

A video recording of the lecture can be viewed online.

News: New Court cases include one touching on Triggs controversy

In today’s special leave hearings in Perth, the High Court granted special leave to appeal on two Western Australian matters. One of those – on a politically sensitive topic, damages for convicted criminals wrongly held in immigration detention – was relied on by Australian Human Rights Commission President Gillian Triggs to recommend $350,000 in damages for another immigration detainee and High Court litigant, John Basikbasik, resulting in attacks on her role and character earlier this year (as discussed here by Katy Barnett.)

The two matters where leave is granted are: Continue reading

News: Referendum on constitutional meaning of marriage

“The type of issue that could be canvassed under Section 51 of the constitution — simply at the moment, in Clause 21, it just says ‘marriage’,” Mr Morrison said. “You could equally put in there opposite- and same-sex marriage and clarify very clearly what the meaning of the constitution is on this question, and to reflect [what] some would argue has been a societal change since the constitution was first written.”

Mr Morrison acknowledged the High Court had already ruled on it. “Justices of the High Court have already expressed opinions on this issue, that’s fine, but what I am saying is I would prefer the Australian people decide this: not me, not [High Court Chief Justice Robert French], but the Australian people.”

Federal Minister for Social Services Scott Morrison here refers to Cth v ACT [2013] HCA 55, where six members of the Court said that ‘When used in s 51(xxi)’ of the Constitution, the federal Parliament’s power to make laws about marriage, ‘”marriage” is a term which includes a marriage between persons of the same sex.’ Attorney-General George Brandis later relied on the same case to declare that ‘No constitutional referendum is necessary in this case.’

Given the High Court’s 2013 holding, what would be the legal effect of the referendum? There are two possibilities to consider. Continue reading

Tomlinson v Ramsey Food Processing Pty Ltd

The High Court has allowed an appeal against a decision of the New South Wales Court of Appeal relating to issue estoppel in the context of employment law. Tomlinson was injured while working at an abattoir operated by Ramsey Food. Tomlinson claims he was an employee of another company, Tempus Holdings Pty Ltd, during the time of the injury. Ramsey argued Continue reading

News: Court takes a new appeal on advocates’ immunity

The High Court held another single location hearing of special leave applications last week in Sydney, ahead of a further day of hearings when the Court sits in Perth this week. Last Friday, the Court granted leave in just one case, while refusing leave in all others, including yet another matter addressing the Court’s trilogy of rulings on accusatorial justice, and a case addressing a major divergence between NSW and Victorian courts on the interpretation of the so-called ‘uniform evidence legislation’.

The judgment where leave to appeal has been granted is Jackson Lalic Lawyers Pty Limited v Attwells [2014] NSWCA 335, which concerns advocates’ immunity from negligence actions. Continue reading

News: Who would have standing to challenge the citizenship deprivation law?

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security is currently holding any inquiry into a Bill to deprive dual citizens of their Australian citizenship if they engage in particular sorts of conduct (including particular terrorist activities and foreign incursions and recruitment), defined by reference to offence provisions in the federal Criminal Code. In evidence before the Committee on Tuesday, Professor George Williams reportedly predicted a speedy High Court challenge to the Bill’s constitutionality:

UNSW professor George Williams told a Senate inquiry on Tuesday that it was the most “problematically drafted bill” he had ever seen, with more constitutional problems in it than any he had given evidence on. This included a law that allows ASIO to detain and question any Australian for up to a week and foreign fighter legislation aiming to restrain Australians returning from conflict zones in Syria and Iraq. Professor Williams had “no doubt” such a law would be challenged in the High Court and had already been approached by “prominent solicitors” who had clients facing charges that are included in the bill. “It’s such an obvious one to bring a challenge to; I don’t see why they wouldn’t to escape loss of their citizenship.”

But the High Court’s decision last year on Queensland’s bikie laws places a potential roadblock in the face of any such challenge: the requirement that the challenger have ‘standing’ to challenge the laws. Continue reading

Ausnet Transmission Group Pty Ltd v Commissioner of Taxation

Miranda Stewart, ‘Tax and Power in the High Court: The Capital Cost of an Electricity Monopoly: Ausnet Transmission Group Pty Ltd v Federal Commissioner of Taxation‘ (26 November 2015).

The High Court has dismissed an appeal from a decision of the Full Federal Court on the deductability of imposts. The appellant company held an electricity transmission licence in Victoria. Pursuant to an Order of the Governor in Council made under s 163AA of the Electricity Industry Act 1993 (Vic), as a ‘holder of a licence’ and as part of its acquisition of another company under a privatisation scheme, it was required to pay a series of imposts to the State. The appellant claimed that the imposts were deductible Continue reading

Smith v The Queen

The High Court has unanimously dismissed an appeal from a decision of the Queensland Court of Appeal on procedural fairness and majority jury verdicts. The appellant was convicted of rape by a majority jury verdict of 11:1. After several hours of deliberation on the issue of whether the appellant had an honest and reasonable mistaken belief as to consent, the jury disclosed to the Court its voting pattern, which the trial judge Continue reading

Police v Dunstall

The High Court has unanimously allowed an appeal from a decision of the Full Court of the Supreme Court of South Australia on judicial discretion to exclude evidence that was unfairly or improperly obtained. Dunstall was stopped by police while driving and failed a breathalyser test. A subsequent blood test, to which a person is entitled under s 47K(2a) of the Road Traffic Act 1961 (SA), was incorrectly administered at a nearby hospital, Continue reading

News: Federal parliament axes the Court’s crime commission cases

The federal Law Enforcement Legislation Amendment (Powers) Act 2015 (Cth) comes into force today. At the Bill’s second reading speech in March, Minister for Justice Michael Keenan explained that the Bill responds to a set of recent court decisions on the powers of crime commissions (as discussed by Anna Dziedzic here, here and here.) In its X7 decision from 2013, a narrow majority of the High Court held that the Australian Crime Commission could not use its compulsory examination powers to examine a person charged with drug trafficking offences about those offences, while a later decision overturned drug convictions where the trial prosecutors had been illegally given access to transcripts of compelled examinations by the NSW Crime Commission. According to Keenan, the effect of these decisions have been felt well beyond the world of drug prosecutions: Continue reading

Prove Your Own Contempt: CFMEU v Boral

Let’s just say that you and your neighbour really don’t get along. No-one can remember how the dispute started, but you’ve both done things you (sort of) regret. Towards the end, your neighbour even convinced a court to order you to not block her driveway. The sniping only ended when she moved away.

But that was when the real battle began. Your neighbour is back in court asking a judge to punish you for flouting its order. She has photos of a green Corolla parked across her driveway a few evenings before she moved. It’s not your car, but she’s pretty sure you must have put someone up to it and she wants you to be taught a lesson in civility. To prove her case, she asks the court to order you to provide your phone contacts, so she can check whether anyone you know owned or had access to a green Corolla.

Let’s just say that you’d really rather not hand over those contacts. Can a court make you help your neighbour prove that you should be punished for contempt? The High Court looked at this question in Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union v Boral Resources (Vic) Pty Ltd [2015] HCA 21. Its unanimous answer: it depends on who you and your neighbour are.

‘we’ve lost our keys’

In the High Court case, ‘you’ are the CFMEU, a trade union with over 120,000 members, especially builders, and a flashpoint in Australian workplace relations. Your ‘neighbour’ is Boral, a multinational founded in Australia with over $5 billion in annual revenue, specialising in construction materials.The ‘court order’ was rulings made by Hollingworth J in early 2013 barring the CFMEU from stopping Boral from supplying goods or services to any construction site in Victoria. Continue reading

News: Two grants of special leave, one fast-tracked

On its traditional special leave hearing day this session, the High Court held hearings at only one of its registries (Sydney, but with video-links to Melbourne and Adelaide), instead of the usual two. Of the nine matters heard, none were criminal and only one was granted. Much more unusually, the Court yesterday granted special leave in another matter, without any oral hearing. Both new cases are interesting: Continue reading

Plaintiff B15a v Minister for Immigration and Border Protection

Kiefel J has dismissed an application made on behalf of two infants — the father of whom was an unauthorised maritime arrival under s 5(1) of the Migration Act 1958 (Cth) and the mother of whom had entered Australia via the mainland and was not a UMA — for an order requiring the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection to show cause why a writ of certiorari should not issue Continue reading

News: AUSPUBLAW on Queesland v Congoo

Opinions on High welcomes auspulaw.org to the blogosphere:

AUSPUBLAW posts contributions from leading public law experts – including academics and practitioners – across Australia. The Blog seeks to promote greater engagement with public law issues and a national platform for informed debate about current issues in public law.

Because of the central role of Australia’s High Court in matters of public law, the subject-matter of the Australian Public Law blog, hosted by UNSW’s Gilbert and Tobin Centre for Public Law, overlaps with this blog, especially if the concept of public law is interpreted broadly.

An example is today’s AUSPUBLAW post on the High Court’s recent decision in Queensland v Congoo [2015] HCA 17 Continue reading