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

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

News: Chief Justice French before the New South Wales Environmental Defenders Office

Fresh on the heels of his visit to Melbourne Law School, later this month Chief Justice French will be speaking at the fundraising dinner celebrating the 30th Anniversary of the New South Wales Environmental Defenders Office (NSW EDO). He will do so at a time when government funding cuts for the nation’s environmental community legal centres mean that they are under threat (including of late in the NT and WA). The NSW EDO appears to be withstanding national funding cuts and those by the NSW government in 2013 (see this piece by Amelia Thorpe from UNSW) and continues to work on national and local matters – particularly case law, capacity building and reform. Continue reading

News: A century of dissents

Last week, UNSW’s Gilbert and Tobin Centre for Public Law held a workshop on Great Australian Dissents. The  judgments nominated by the attendees were tweeted during the proceedings and included thirteen High Court dissents from 1915 to 2013:

Although my own nomination was Deane J’s anguished dissent in the Chamberlain case, my workshop paper identified a forgotten judgment from exactly one hundred years ago as arguably the greatest dissenting judgment of all time. Continue reading

News: A reprieve in the High Court

Yesterday, in Isbester v Knox City Council [2015] HCA 20, the High Court unanimously quashed a 2013 decision by a local council ordering that the plaintiff’s dog, Izzy, ‘be destroyed’, observing that the decision:

affects the owner of the dog. Whether one describes an interest in a dog as a property right, or acknowledges the importance of a domestic pet to many people, the appellant is a person who may be affected by a decision which will require her interests to be subordinated to the public interest.

The Court held that, because the panel the Council formed to decide Izzy’s fate included a council employee who had prosecuted the plaintiff for the offence of owning Izzy when the dog bit a person’s finger (a ‘serious injury’ under Victoria’s Domestic Animals Act 1994), her involvement in the later decision about Izzy’s destruction created a risk of apprehended bias. Izzy’s fate now depends on a fresh decision by the council, made without any involvement by the earlier decision-makers or the prosecutor.

The case is an unusual illustration of how a final court of appeal like the High Court can sometimes be required to make decisions about life and death. Continue reading

News: Vale Sir Kenneth Jacobs

Sir Kenneth Jacobs, former Justice on the High Court from 1974 to 1979, has passed away aged 97. The High Court noted his passing and his contributions to the court in a media release:

The Court notes with sadness the recent passing, in the United Kingdom, of Sir Kenneth Jacobs KBE, who served as a Justice of the Court from 1974 to 1979. Sir Kenneth, who was born in Sydney in 1917, graduated from Sydney University with a Bachelor of Arts in 1938, served with the Australian Imperial Forces during the Second World War and on his return to Australia graduated in 1947 with a Bachelor of Laws with First Class Honours and the University Medal. He practised as a barrister in New South Wales and was made Queen’s Counsel in 1958. He served as a Judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales form 1960 to 1974, including eight years on the Court of Appeal culminating in his service as its President from 1972 to 1974. He was appointed to the High Court in 1974 and retired on 6 April 1979. His judgments in the Court, which are still quoted, made an important and lasting contribution to the development of a number of areas of public and private law.

Fuller biographical details are available via the Court’s website here.

An obituary in The Australian provides further details about the circumstances of his retirement from the Court in 1979 and his later life:

Sir Kenneth Jacobs, a self-described liberal who resigned from the High Court in 1979 after being misdiagnosed with stomach cancer, has died aged 97….  Then chief justice Garfield Barwick didn’t want Jacobs to resign, but Jacobs, then aged 61, felt the prognosis was so dire that he would be a drain on the court and left on April 6, 1979. When he did not suffer the predicted downturn in his health, Jacobs consulted another specialist who told him that he had only suffered a painful condition called diverticulitis.

Jacobs considered suing his first doctor, but decided against it and left Australia for England in the early 80s with his British-born wife Eleanor. He settled in Wiltshire and took up bookbinding — and later printing — as he settled into village life .After Lady Eleanor died in 2002, he went back to school and completed a Masters in Classics at London University.

Wikipedia lists the date of his death as 24 May 2015. Our condolences to his family.

Thanks Melissa Castan (@MsCastan) for alerting us.

News: Swearing in Female Judges

In advance of the swearing-in of Michelle Gordon as the 52nd justice of the High Court on 9 June 2016, ABC’s Radio National has spoken about the ceremonial speeches of female judges with ANU’s Heather Roberts. These are events that Dr Roberts describes for the uninitiated as having ‘a bit of a ring of a combination between a eulogy for the living and an Academy Award acceptance speech’. And there are discernible differences in the events and between the speeches given in the past for the inauguration of men and women: one of the central topics of the Radio National program. Continue reading

News: French CJ gives Harold Ford Memorial Lecture on Trusts and Statute

Melbourne Law School was honoured to hear French CJ give the 2015 Harold Ford Memorial Lecture. This year’s topic was “Trusts and Statute”, a fitting nod to the late Professor Ford and his expertise in both trusts law and corporate law. Chief Justice French discussed the history of trusts and the way in which statute intertwined with trust law from a very early stage. He also discussed the impact of legislation on trust law in various different areas, including charities law, tax law and corporate law. His comments on the need for coherence, and on the difficulties and advantages of statutory intervention were of particular interest.

His Honour’s presentation was videoed and is available for viewing here.

News: New ICAC challenge goes directly to the High Court

At a hearing on Monday, Gageler J ordered the ‘removal’ to the High Court of a NSW matter challenging the constitutionality of recently enacted NSW legislation retrospectively validating some past actions by that state’s Independent Commission Against Corruption. The Judiciary Act permits the High Court to move any current constitutional or federal dispute in any Australian court directly to the High Court if one or more parties (or an Attorney-General) applies. Last Tuesday, Gageler J agreed to expedite the request to move the application and ordered the parties to provide written submissions. According to Monday’s reasons, those submissions (which are not publicly available) were persuasive:

I am persuaded to take this course having regard, in particular, to the potential for an early resolution of the constitutional issue by this Court to result in a significant saving of time in the hearing and disposition of the proceeding between the present parties that is now pending in the Court of Appeal, as well as to the resolution or substantial resolution of a number of other proceedings now pending in the Supreme Court of New South Wales in which the same issue arises, or is likely to arise.

Indeed, the removal was supported by the party challenging the legislation and was not opposed by ICAC. (By contrast, see here on unsuccessful applications for removal.)

The current ICAC matter has close ties to two separate High Court judgments that were brought down on April 15 this year. Continue reading

News: The High Court takes on seven new cases

Friday’s special leave hearings marked Hayne J’s final sitting as a judge, ending his seventeen year run on the High Court bench. The Melbourne hearings where Hayne J sat only granted leave in three matters (two closely linked), while the simultaneous Sydney hearings added a further four. The cases the High Court will eventually hear appeals from are: Continue reading

Selig v Wealthsure Pty Ltd

The High Court has unanimously allowed an appeal from a decision of the Full Federal Court relating to the scheme for proportionate liability under pt 7.10 divs 2–2A (ss 1041H–1041S) of the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth). The appellants were victims of a Ponzi scheme that their financial advisers Continue reading

News: The High Court splits evenly again

Today, the High Court issued its judgment in the last of three six-judge decisions heard in the months before Crennan J’s retirement. As I discussed in this piece in The ConversatIon last December, even-numbered benches are a sporadic, but persistent, by-product of the Court’s composition:

This same problem arises each and every time a High Court judge approaches retirement. Indeed, it’s happening right now. The Court is scheduled to hear six judge cases in important matters through to June next year because two High Court judges are retiring in succession. Any one of them could be another tie. Cases already at risk of being resolved, perhaps irreversibly, by a tie breaker include regulatory action over Sydney’s radio hoax tragedy, a native title claim over a World War Two training ground, and the aftermath of the collapsed tourism, property and finance group, Octaviar bankruptcy.

The radio hoax and bankruptcy cases were resolved unanimously. However, as I feared last year, today’s native title decision was a tie, Continue reading

Queensland v Congoo

Jeremy Gans, ‘News: The High Court Splits Evenly Again’ (13 May 2015).

The High Court has dismissed an appeal from the decision of the Full Federal Court, in which the FCAFC held that military orders made during the Second World War did not extinguish native title rights.The Court split 3:3, which, due to s 23 of the Judiciary Act 1903 (Cth), means the FCAFC’s decision dismissing Queensland’s appeal stands. Continue reading

News: Over a dozen High Court holdings abolished in Victoria

Yesterday, Victoria’s Parliament passed a law that overturns over a significant number of High Court holdings on the law governing criminal trials. The notes to the Jury Directions Bill 2015 state that it ‘abolishes’ (or confirms the prior abolition of) rules stated by the High Court in the following cases:

  • Pemble v R [1971] HCA 20,  Gilbert v R [2000] HCA 15 and R v Nguyen [2010] HCA 38, on jury directions on defences, offences and bases for complicity that were not argued by the prosecution or defence.
  • Edwards v R [1993] HCA 63 and Zoneff v R [2000] HCA 28, on jury directions on so-called ‘consciousness of guilt’ evidence.
  • Longman v R [1989] HCA 60Crampton v R [2000] HCA 60 and Doggett v R [2001] HCA 46, on jury directions on how the defence may have been disadvantaged due to the time elapsed between an alleged offence and the trial
  • Weissensteiner v R [1993] HCA 65Azzopardi v R [2001] HCA 25 and Dyers v R [2002] HCA 45, on jury directions on the defendant’s failure to explain evidence or to call particular witnesses at the trial
  • Kilby v R [1973] HCA 30 and Crofts v R [1996] HCA 22, on jury directions on the credibility of rape complaint evidence
  • Shepherd v R [1990] HCA 56, on the proof of facts that are indispensable to the prosecution case.

The BIll also refines other aspects of the law on jury directions that have repeatedly been addressed in the High Court, including directions on so-called ‘similar fact’ evidence, identification evidence and the meaning of ‘proof beyond reasonable doubt’.

The sheer number of cases addressed by the BIll is only part of the story. Continue reading

Uelese v Minister for Immigration and Citizenship

The High Court has allowed an appeal against a decision of the Full Federal Court on new information presented to a tribunal. Uelese was born in Samoa, moved to New Zealand when he was three and became a citizen. After moving to Australia in 1998, he was granted a temporary visa entitling him to remain in Australia provided he remained a Continue reading

A Statutory Exception to Immediate Indefeasibility Explained: Cassegrain v Gerard Cassegrain & Co Pty Ltd

Cassegrain case page

Tolstoy famously starts Anna Karenina with the line: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” There is nothing quite so unhappy as a dispute between family members which ends up in court. In Cassegrain v Gerard Cassegrain & Co Pty Ltd, the dispute was between siblings who all had interests in the family company, Gerard Cassegrain & Co. The dispute before the High Court was the latest in a long line which began when the family patriarch, Gerard Cassegrain, died in 1993. Gerard and his wife had six children. Gerard’s second child, Claude, was the appellant in this case. The dispute involved certain land which Claude had registered in his and his wife’s name, and then solely in his wife’s name.

In Australia, we have Torrens title. Torrens title is often said to have the benefit of indefeasibility, which means that when a person becomes the registered proprietor of land, that title is not subject to any unregistered interests which may have existed before registration. This means that a person who becomes the registered proprietor of a Torrens interest can be secure about their transaction; they will not be subject to any unknown pre-existing interests. However, it may operate unfairly to those who have pre-existing interests in the land. Consequently, there are a number of limited exceptions to indefeasibility, including the fraud exception. This was the exception which was considered in Cassegrain. Continue reading

News: July constitutional law conference will include focus on Hayne J

One of the many traditions when the guard changes at the High Court is reviews of the outgoing judge’s contribution to the law. At his final special leave hearing in Sydney two Fridays ago, members of the NSW profession spoke to Hayne J’s role, and further similar occasions will doubtless follow in Melbourne and Canberra. Alongside such ceremonial efforts, some (but not all) High Court judges also find themselves the topic of a conference or panel. In Hayne J’s case, such an examination will occur as part of a constitutional law conference to be held by Melbourne Law School’s Centre for Comparative Constitutional Studies on July 23 and 24.

The conference will include two events specific to Hayne J. Continue reading

News: Four new special leave grants

In sittings on Friday, the High Court granted special leave to appeal the following four decisions:

  • Commissioner of Taxation v Australian Building Systems Pty Ltd (in liq) [2014] FCAFC 133 concerns the taxation obligations of liquidators. The full court of the Federal Court held that a liquidator who sold a bankrupt company’s property was not required to withhold an amount from the proceeds to pay the company’s capital gains tax, because the liquidator had not received an assessment requiring it to pay the tax.
  • R v Smith [2014] QCA 277 is an appeal against Smith’s conviction for a 1990 rape. The Queensland Court of Appeal dismissed all of Smith’s complaints, including the trial judge’s decision to permit the jury to reach a 11:1 majority verdict. It held that the trial judge was not obliged to disclose to the parties information from the jury about the state of their deliberations prior to permitting a majority verdict, characterising a recent Victorian decision to the contrary as clearly wrong.
  • State of New South Wales v Fuller-Lyons [2014] NSWCA 424 concerns a tragic accident from 2001 where an 8 year-old with a cognitive impairment fell out of a train travelling at 100 km/h. The NSW Court of Appeal overturned the trial judge’s finding that the accident was due to the train station attendant’s failure to notice the child’s arm protruding from a door as it pulled away from Morisset station, holding that the evidence was equally consistent with the child propping open the door with a less visible object.
  • WZARH v Minister for Immigration and Border Protection [2014] FCAFC 137 concerns the obligation to provide an oral hearing to an applicant for a protection visa. The full court of the Federal Court held that the applicant, who had been given an oral hearing before an independent merits reviewer, had a legitimate expectation to a further oral hearing after a new independent merits reviewer was appointed.

News: Justice Michelle Gordon’s unsurprising appointment

A long rumoured appointment to the High Court was announced yesterday:

Today, his Excellency the Governor-General accepted the advice of the Government to appoint the Honourable Michelle Marjorie Gordon, a Judge of the Federal Court of Australia, as the next Justice of the High Court of Australia. Justice Gordon will replace the Honourable Justice Kenneth Hayne AC, who will reach the statutory retirement on 5 June 2015.

Very much like Hayne J’s own appointment in 1997, Gordon J’s is entirely orthodox given the usual criteria of merit and geographic (and, in Gordon J’s case, gender) diversity on the Court. Like Hayne J (whose appointment by the Howard government was also ‘not unexpected in legal circles’), Gordon J’s appointment is perceived by some to be  consistent with the federal government’s conservative politics. In contrast to the recent novelty of Nettle J’s status as the Court’s oldest appointee, Gordon J (aged 50) is the Court’s youngest appointee since Gaudron J (aged 44 in 1987), a distinction held until now  by Hayne J (appointed at age 52.)

Justices Gordon and Hayne have one more thing in common: Continue reading

Cascade Coal Pty Ltd v New South Wales; Duncan v New South Wales; NuCoal Resources Ltd v New South Wales

The High Court has decided three related matters each challenging the constitutional validity of sch 6A of the Mining Act 1992 (NSW) on various bases. Following a finding by the Independent Commission Against Corruption that directors and shareholders of Cascade Coal Continue reading

Independent Commission against Corruption v Cunneen

A majority of the High Court has dismissed appeal from the decision of the NSWCA relating to the powers of the Independent Commission against Corruption (ICAC) under the Independent Commission against Corruption Act 1988 (NSW). Following a motor vehicle accident, the first and second respondents allegedly advised the third respondent to pretend Continue reading

A short obituary of John Toohey by Justice James Edelman

I was in Brisbane on 10 April 2015 this week when I heard the heart-wrenching news that the Honourable John Leslie Toohey AC QC had passed away the previous evening. Although I knew his death was imminent I was still overwhelmed with sadness. John Toohey was a humble and gentle man from whom, and about whom, I never heard an ill word spoken. He was a gentleman in every sense. He talked with crowds and kept his virtue.  He walked with Kings but never lost the common touch.

I had barely graduated from university when I began work for John in 1997.  It was, and remains, for me, an unimaginably fortunate start to a legal career. John had an extraordinary intellect. He was a wonderful teacher. And most of all, he had a human touch without match. In court this manifested itself in a deep respect for his colleagues, for counsel and for his staff. I came to work for him as a fresh-faced graduate.  His intellectual ability, his legal knowledge and his judgement intimidated me. But for the 12 month period of my associateship he treated me, as he did all of his law graduate associates, as an equal. For the two decades that followed, he and his incredible wife, Loma, remained mentors and confidants, and treasured friends.

When Dr Barnett asked me to write this short obituary to honour John Toohey, I accepted un oeil qui rit et un oeil qui pleure. The laughter was prompted by my knowledge that John had already read much of the obituary that I would write. Following his retirement in 1998, Natalie Gray and I wrote a short biography of him for the Journal of Judicial Administration. We had just completed a year as his final associates. John had retired from the High Court and we wanted to express our sentiments of the extraordinary esteem in which we held him, our pride in his powerful sense of service, and our respect for his empathy and compassion. He sent us a warm note of thanks. With his usual dry wit he told us that he was particularly grateful to be given the privilege of reading his obituary. Natalie and I returned to the subject again for the entry we authored on John Toohey in the Oxford Companion to the High Court of Australia. With his wry smile he made another remark about our calling as obituary writers. Continue reading

News: Bank fees back to High Court

In December 2013, I predicted that the now long-running case involving bank fees would end up again before the High Court. That prediction appears to be about to come true.

In February 2014, after the High Court’s earlier decision in Andrews v Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Limited [2012] HCA 30, Federal Court judge Gordon J decided that most of the disputed fees were not penalties, apart from late credit card payment fees (as I posted here). Yesterday, in a resounding victory for the banks, the Full Federal Court in Paciocco v Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Limited [2015] FCAFC 50 held that none of the fees were penalties, including the late payment fees. Moreover, none of the fees were unconscionable or unfair.

The Full Federal Court overturned her Honour’s judgment with regard to the late payment fees on the basis that she incorrectly looked at whether the fees paid by Mr Paciocco and his company were ex post (after the event) exorbitant and extravagant, rather than looking at the greatest ex ante (predictable) loss which could have flowed from the breach and assessing the reasonableness of the fees in that light (see [51]-[52] of Allsop CJ’s judgment, with which Besanko J and Middleton J agreed in separate judgments). In light of yesterday’s decision, the plaintiffs have indicated that they intend to appeal to the High Court. The Age reports today:

After ANZ’s appeal was allowed on Wednesday, Maurice Blackburn’s national head of class actions, Andrew Watson, who is representing customers, said he would appeal against the Federal Court’s ruling in the High Court:”Obviously we’re still digesting the details of what’s a very large decision, but based on what we’ve read, we think there are grounds for appeal and we will be making an application for special leave to appeal to the High Court,” he said.

“It is perhaps appropriate that Australia’s largest consumer class action will ultimately be determined by Australia’s highest court, and as a result of today’s decision, that’s where we’re headed…”

Meanwhile, the banks are hoping that their latest win will signal the end of the litigation. I predict that there’s scant chance of that.

News: Nettle J’s first judgment

Today, in his first judgment on the High Court, Nettle J explained why a federal incentive scheme for reducing greenhouse gas emissions was constitutional, a conclusion that most constitutional lawyers would have predicted. Even non-lawyers could have readily predicted what the remainder of the bench would say:

FRENCH CJ. I agree with the answers given by Nettle J to the questions posed in the Special Case for the reasons which his Honour gives.
HAYNE J. I agree with Nettle J.
KIEFEL J. I agree with Nettle J.
BELL J. I agree with Nettle J.
GAGELER J. I agree with Nettle J.
KEANE J. I agree with the judgment of Nettle J.

Queensland Nickel Pty Limited v Commonwealth of Australia [2015] HCA 12 is the latest in a tradition of sorts, where the High Court periodically forgoes its usual practice of presenting judgments where multiple judges agree (and have nothing further to add) as jointly authored by all of them, in favour of one judge presenting the judgment and the rest giving individual pro forma concurrences.

Although seemingly never officially acknowledged, the practice appears to be a way for the Court’s judges to mark the arrival of a new judge on the bench.  Continue reading

Communications, Electrical, Electronic, Energy, Information, Postal, Plumbing and Allied Services Union of Australia v Queensland Rail Ltd

The High Court has decided a constitutional matter involving members of ten Queensland unions who were employed by Queensland Rail Ltd. Those unions had concluded two industrial relations agreements with Queensland Rail Ltd under Continue reading

News: Report that Bell J recused herself from Cunneen case

This Wednesday, the High Court held an all-day hearing on the closely watched dispute between the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption and prosecutor Margaret Cunneen over the legality of the former’s inquiry into allegations that the latter perverted the course of justice in a traffic matter involving her son’s girlfriend. Reports during the day emphasised criticisms from the bench of ICAC’s barrister, but of more interest is an early morning report in the Sydney Morning Herald early that focused on the composition of the bench itself:

When the High Court convenes to hear the hotly anticipated legal battle between the NSW corruption watchdog and Crown prosecutor Margaret Cunneen on Wednesday, one judge will not be on the bench. Fairfax Media understands Justice Virginia Bell will not be part of the five-judge bench hearing the Independent Commission Against Corruption’s challenge to a ruling shutting down its inquiry into the silk because she has previously made a ruling unfavourable to Ms Cunneen.

The transcript for Wednesday’s all-day hearing shows that the five-judge bench consisted of French CJ , Hayne J, Kiefel J, Gageler J and Nettle J. Justice Hayne’s presence is something of a surprise, given that he must retire in three months (in apparent contrast to Crennan J, who heard her last full bench matter over three-and-a-half months before her retirement.) On the other hand, Bell J’s absence from the bench was seemingly no surprise, a fact that raises two interesting issues about the High Court itself. Continue reading

Australian Feminist Judgments: Righting and Re-Writing Law: Book Review

By Professor Ann O’Connell

Do women think differently to men? Do women lawyers think differently to their male counterparts? More importantly, do women judges judge differently to male judges? A new book, the product of an Australian Research Council grant, seeks to deal with this question. The book is Australian Feminist Judgments: Righting and Re-Writing Law, edited by legal academics Professor Heather Douglas, Dr Francesca Bartlett, Dr Trish Luker and Professor Rosemary Hunter. The book draws inspiration from similar projects in the United Kingdom and Canada, but, as its title indicates, the focus is on Australian judicial decisions. The purpose of the project is to investigate the ‘possibilities, limits and implications of a feminist approach to legal decision making’.

The Australian project involved 55 (mainly) academic lawyers who were tasked with revisiting and rewriting significant decisions in their chosen field which were ‘influenced by, or alternatively, offended feminist principles’. Most, but not all the contributors are women. Most, but not all of the judgments are High Court decisions. The oldest judgment is from 1963 but the majority are more recent cases: 17 of the 26 decisions being handed down since 2000. This is significant because the task was not about updating the judgments to reflect contemporary social mores, but rather it was to step into the shoes of the judge (or judges) as if deciding the case afresh but at the time of the original decision.

The book contains 26 rewritten judgments covering a range of legal subjects. Some of the areas covered might be regarded as covering predictable ‘feminist’ subjects — family law, sexual offences and discrimination law — but the book also deals with less obviously feminist areas of law such as immigration, tort law, taxation, constitutional law, environment and indigenous issues. Four themes were identified to group the judgments: public law; private law; crime and evidence and interpreting equality. The contributors comprised a ‘judge’ (or ‘judges’) who rewrote the judgment and a commentator who provided the context for the original decision and a discussion of the rewritten judgment. Continue reading

Plaintiff S297/2013 v Minister for Immigration and Border Protection; Plaintiff M150/2013 v Minister for Immigration and Border Protection

The High Court has issued a writ of peremptory mandamus commanding the Minister to grant the plaintiff a permanent protection visa. In June 2014, the High Court upheld a challenge to the validity of the Migration Amendment (Unauthorised Maritime Arrival) Regulation 2013 (Cth), known as the PPV Regulation, in two related matters. The Court held the Minister’s determinations in relation to Plaintiffs S297/2013 and M150/2013 were invalid and issued a writ of mandamus in each instance directing the Minister to consider and determine each visa application according to law. Continue reading

News: Nettle J joins the bench

On Tuesday morning, the High Court held a ceremonial sitting for the swearing-in of Nettle J as the Court’s fiftieth judge, attended by all six of his future colleagues, thirteen of his former colleagues on the Supreme Court of Victoria, nine of Australia’s eleven Chief Justices and a multitude of senior lawyers and former judges. Video of the ceremony (the first such to be posted on the High Court’s website under its new audio-visual policy) captures the moment when Nettle J strode directly up to French CJ and announced his commissioning by the Governor-General. He  took an oath of allegiance and of office – a choice also taken by every other new High Court judge in the past two decades bar one - and then his seat on the bench. As in all High Court ceremonies, the bulk of proceedings were taken up with speeches from senior lawyers lauding the new judge, beginning with federal Attorney-General George Brandis, who said that he ‘can scarcely remember an appointment to this Court which was so seamless, so free of controversy, and so universally appraised.’

While the bulk of the ceremony looked to Nettle J’s past, its last fourteen minutes provide a glimpse of the Court’s future. Two parts of Nettle J’s swearing-in remarks are especially illuminating. Continue reading

News: Furore over AHRC President

Recently, Australian Human Rights Commission President Gillian Triggs has been under intense criticism, particularly by The Australian newspaper for her handling of an AHRC report involving a West Papuan man called John Basikbasik.Two points should be made at the outset. First, Triggs is not a judge, and accordingly her decision was not binding. The report contained recommendations which could be rejected by the Minister. Secondly, the Minister did in fact reject President Triggs’ recommendations in May 2014. Mr Basikbasik remains detained and will not receive the recommended compensation.

As these two recent articles in The Australian indicate, the criticisms are being made in the context of a wider furore about the timing of Triggs’ AHRC report into children in detention. Indeed, Richard Ackland has claimed that The Australian newspaper is focusing on the Basikbasik case for this reason. Academic opinion about the Basikbasik case has generally been on Triggs’ side, as prominent Australian international law scholars and others have written to express their support of Triggs’ determination in the Basikbasik case. Professor Mirko Bagaric of Deakin University was a rare exception, and expressed the view that the determination was in error because it took into account the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (‘ICCPR’). On Friday last week, The Australian published an article by Professor Ben Saul of Sydney University which was strongly in favour of Triggs. As Professor Saul points out, the definition of the “human rights” under s 3 of the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 (Cth) expressly mentions the ICCPR as a source of such rights.

There is a High Court link to the furore, as the Basikbasik case came before the High Court in 2013, although he was called SZOQQ. Continue reading

News: Crennan J’s solo judgments

Justice Susan Crennan’s imminent retirement from the High Court inevitably invites reflections on her contribution while on the bench. According to Jane Needham SC, Crennan J ‘delivered 316 judgments’ in her nine years at the national court. However, only five of those judgments (two early judgments on wrongful life actions, and three constitutional judgments on elections and executive power) were mentioned in recent ceremonial sittings to mark her retirement. The key difficulty in assessing Crennan J’s contribution was alluded to in the judge’s own remarks at the Sydney ceremonial sitting:

From time to time, there is speculation about the authorship of joint judgments from this Court. Naturally, it is not always accurate. Earlier this year, Justice Kiefel on my right remarked of judgment writing, “Collegiality is not compromise”. In that spirit, may I take the goodwill expressed toward me this morning as an appreciation of the work of the Court as a whole.

By my count, Crennan J issued 28 sole-authored judgments while on the High Court, easily less than 10% of her total. In an extreme contrast, the last High Court judge to retire, Heydon J, issued twice that many such judgments in a single year on the bench (as part of a seventeen-month period where he never joined a judgment.)

Here is my list of Crennan J’s solo High Court judgments: Continue reading

CPCF v Minister for Immigration and Border Protection

Jeremy Gans, ‘Sri Lankan Case Becomes Less Urgent’ (29 July 2014).

Jeremy Gans, ‘News: Progress in Two Major Upcoming Cases’ (25 July 2014).

Jeremy Gans, ‘News: Court Reportedly Issues Interim Injunction in Sri Lankan Asylum Matter’ (7 July 2014).

The High Court has decided a special case relating to the Government’s attempt to return up to 153 asylum seekers to Sri Lanka. On 7 July 2014 Crennan J issued an injunction to prevent Continue reading

Mind the Gaps! High Court Confirms Negligence Will Not Protect Economic Interests where Contractual Protection is Available

By Matthew Bell, Wayne Jocic and Rami Marginean

Brookfield Case Page

The central issue in Brookfield was one which is especially important given the proliferation of multi-use, multi-storey developments around Australia’s major population centres. This was whether the builder of an apartment complex owes a duty of care in negligence to protect the Owners’ Corporation (as agent for the owners of apartments in the building) from pure economic loss arising from latent defects in the common property of that building where those defects were structural, constituted a danger to persons or property in the vicinity or made the apartments uninhabitable. The High Court found that the builder owed no such duty, reversing the decision of the NSW Court of Appeal.

This result may be surprising to lay people or those not versed in construction law. For the reasons we set out below, we think that the Court’s approach is, to a certain extent, based on flawed assumptions as to the availability of legal protection for building owners by way of contractual negotiation or legislation. That said, the decision reflects the greater trend in Australian law in the past ten years to reverse the expansion of the duty of care in negligence, and to leave the question of liability to contract or legislative schemes. Moreover, the Court’s continued backing away from tortious liability is consistent with the view expounded by the Court’s most recent appointee, Justice Nettle, in a 2004 Continue reading

News: Man Haron Monis in the High Court

Opinions on High extends our condolences to those affected by this morning’s events in Sydney, especially the bereaved. In the aftermath of this tragedy, there will undoubtedly be close scrutiny of Man Haron Monis, the man said to be the assailant in the Lindt Cafe. As part of its initial analysis, today’s Sydney Morning Herald notes Monis’s recent litigation before the High Court of Australia:

It has been Monis’ ongoing legal battle over his conviction for penning the poisonous letters to the families of dead Australian soldiers between 2007 and 2009 that has consumed him. It is understood Monday’s siege followed an unsuccessful, last-ditch attempt in the High Court on Friday, December 12, to have the conviction overturned.

This post outlines the various hearings the High Court has held relating to Monis’s argument that the federal crime he was charged with – using a postal service to cause offence – is invalid under the Constitution’s implied freedom of political communication. Continue reading

News: High profile cases considered for special leave

On Friday, the High Court held its last special leave hearings for 2014. The media  reports that French CJ has referred a closely watched case, Cunneen v Independent Commission Against Corruption [2014] NSWCA 421, where a majority of the NSW Court of Appeal stopped a corruption inquiry into allegations against a NSW prosecutor, to a full court hearing next year. However, various media reports have highlighted the Court’s refusal to hear appeals in three other high profile matters:

In Friday’s hearings, the Court granted special leave in just two matters:

Continue reading

Argos Pty Ltd v Minister for the Environment and Sustainable Development

The High Court has partly allowed an appeal from the ACT Court of Appeal on whether corporate appellants have standing to bring an application under the s 5(1) of the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1989 (ACT). Continue reading

News: Justice Geoffrey Nettle’s surprise appointment

Today brings an end to recent speculation about the next appointment to the High Court.  The Australian reports:

GEOFFREY Nettle, a “brilliant” judge of the Victorian Court of Appeal, has been named as the Abbott government’s first appointment to the High Court. Justice Nettle will replace Justice Susan Crennan, who will retire from the bench on February 3, five months ahead of schedule. Attorney-General George Brandis made the announcement this morning at Parliament House in Canberra. He walked out of the room immediately after making the announcement without taking questions.

Justice Nettle’s appointment is unsurprising in many respects: he is a Victorian (replacing another Victorian, Crennan J), a graduate of the ANU, Melbourne Law School and Oxford (see Katy Barnett’s discussion of High Court judges’ education), a sitting judge (like most recent appointments) and (in my and many others’ opinions) one of the best judges in Australia. He is also male, meaning that the High Court’s number of female judges will drop to just two out of seven, but that number may be short lived depending on who replaces Hayne J next year.

And yet, the recent speculation about Crennan J’s replacement discounted Nettle J as a possibility for just one reason: his age. Justice Nettle’s wikipedia page states that he was born in 1950 (but does not specify a birthday), meaning he will be either 64 or 65 when he first sits, easily the oldest ever appointee to the High Court. Continue reading

Commissioner of Taxation v MBI Properties Pty Ltd

The High Court has unanimously allowed an appeal from a decision of the Full Federal Court on ‘increasing adjustments’ and the meaning of ‘supply’ under s 135-5 of the A New Tax System (Goods and Services Tax) Act 1999 (Cth). Continue reading

News: Unsuccessful High Court litigants succeed at the UN

Last week brought news that NSW prisoners Bronson Blessington and Matthew Elliot succeeded in a complaint to the United Nations Human Rights Committee. Now in their forties, the pair were teens when they raped and murdered Janine Balding in 1988 and were in their thirties when the High Court rejected their appeals against their life sentences in 2007. The Human Rights Committee’s finding – that a NSW law that barred their parole until they were near death violated their right against cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – was foreshadowed by Kirby J ten years ago during a constitutional challenge to similar laws:

At the time of the offence for which Mr Blessington was convicted and sentenced, he was 14 years of age…. On a true construction of the impugned law, Mr Blessington’s “possibility of release” is, in my view, a chimera, and deliberately so. If that is the case, the impugned law is in conflict with binding international obligations expressing universal human rights and fundamental freedoms.

However, Kirby J was the only High Court judge to hold that the laws were invalid. In 2012, the High Court unanimously rejected a challenge to even stricter laws to largely prevent the parole of Elliot, Blessington and eight other New South Wales prisoners, the subject of the Committee’s recent finding.

The UN Committee’s finding does not overturn or even bring into question the High Court’s rulings. Continue reading

No Duty to Detain Individuals with Severe Mental Health Problems: Hunter and New England Local Health District v McKenna

By Professor Bernadette McSherry

McKenna Case Page

Mental health practitioners may be breathing a sigh of relief that the High Court has unanimously held that a New South Wales hospital and a psychiatrist in its employ held no duty of care to the relatives of a man who was killed by a recently discharged patient. While the judgment is confined to a consideration of the effect of a statutory provision on whether or not a common law duty of care exists, the finding has repercussions for the movement in modern mental health care towards a focus on recovery and human rights rather than purely on preventive detention.

Risk assessment and risk management of those with severe mental health problems is now a core part of mental health practice. Mental health laws in Australian states and territories generally enable the involuntary detention and treatment of those with mental health problems on the basis that the individual concerned needs to be prevented from causing serious harm to him or herself or to others.

The question of how mental health practitioners ought to determine whether someone is at risk of harming him or herself or others is subject to a vast amount of literature and debate: see here, here and here. It remains the case, however, that it is exceptionally difficult to predict whether a specific individual may be at risk of harming another, particularly when there has been no history of violent behaviour. Forensic psychiatrists Andrew Carroll, Mark Lyall and Andrew Forrester pointed out in a 2004 article that ‘[n]o method, clinical, actuarial or combined, achieves anywhere near 100% predictive power, whether short or long term risk is considered.’ (at 413).

The deaths of Stephen Rose and Phillip Pettigrove
Phillip Pettigrove was born in 1962 and had a long history of mental health problems. Continue reading

News: Crennan J stops hearing cases ahead of retirement

This week, Australians found out about Crennan J’s pending retirement in the usual way: a column by UNSW’s George Williams speculating on her replacement. (See here for Katy Barnett’s commentary.) Although there has been no official announcement, her decision to retire was clearly known to some members of the NSW legal profession, who organised a farewell for her last Friday. Close watchers of the Court will also have noticed two 6-member benches (all the Court’s judges other than Crennan J) in significant hearings last week concerning the Today FM nurse hoax and bankruptcy procedure. That is consistent with the usual practice where High Court judges stop hearing new cases months ahead of retirement. Justice Crennan will spend her remaining time on the bench hearing procedural and special leave applications, and writing opinions in her three outstanding reserved matters.

While Australians are well used to such goings-on every time a High Court judge retires, Canadians’ experience is quite different.  Continue reading

News: Thoughts on new judges for the High Court

This morning, George Williams has a piece in the Sydney Morning Herald, noting that Crennan J and Hayne J will soon retire, and that Crennan J intends to step down from the Court on 2 February 2015. It is natural to predict who will replace the outgoing judges, although as Williams notes:

Every High Court appointment leads pundits to forecast who will be selected. Doing so can be fraught. The most worthy candidates often miss the cut, while others prove a surprise. As I have said elsewhere, predicting the next High Court justice is like trying to pick the winner of the Melbourne Cup, but without knowing who is in the field.

Williams notes that diversity, gender, ethnicity and geography are often taken into account in making new appointments. There has to be a balance between the judges from different States of Australia, and as the two outgoing judges are Victorian, it seems that at least one of the replacements is likely to be Victorian. Consequently Williams concludes:

If you were wanting to place a bet on Australia’s next High Court judge, the smart money would be on a serving judge from Victoria, aged 60 or under, with impeccable legal credentials. The person would also be favourably regarded in conservative circles and would not have a background of supporting the states. Beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess.

Continue reading

News: The High Court issues a partial verdict on Qld’s ‘bikie’ laws

Today’s judgment in Kuczborski v Queensland dismissed a challenge to a package of laws passed over a year ago as the Queensland government’s response to a ‘brawl’ between two motorcycle gangs in the Gold Coast suburb of Broadbeach. The case definitively resolves (by a solid 6-1 majority) that a key part of the Queensland scheme (borrowed from a narrower regime in NSW) that subjects participants in (to date, 26) ‘declared’ criminal organisations to criminal laws limiting their public behaviour (including bans on public gatherings of participants, bans from particular addresses; and barring everyone from licensed premises if they are wearing particular clothes or patches) leaves Queensland’s courts’ ‘integrity’ intact.

However, the case does not resolve a number of other issues about the Queensland laws: Continue reading

Kuczborski v Queensland

Jeremy Gans, ‘News: Qld Bikie Laws Challenge Set for Lengthy Hearing in September’ (30 June 2014).

The High Court has decided a special case on the constitutional validity of Queensland’s Vicious Lawless Association Disestablishment Act 2013 (Qld) and related provisions under various other law enforcement statutes dealing with restrictions on public association, licensing and clothing aimed at motorcycle clubs. Continue reading

Minister for Immigration and Border Protection v SZSCA

James C Hathaway, ‘The Conundrum of Concealment: Minister for Immigration and Border Protection v SZSCA‘ (9 November 2014) (reposted from Reflaw)

A majority of the High Court has dismissed the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection’s appeal against the decision of the Full Federal Court in SZSCA. SZSCA fled Afghanistan after the Taliban threatened to kill him in retaliation for working as a truck driver for various aid agencies. Continue reading

The Conundrum of Concealment: Minister for Immigration and Border Protection v SZSCA [2013] FCAFC 155

The High Court’s decision in Minister for Immigration and Border Protection v SZSCA will be handed down on 12 November 2014. In expectation of the judgment we wanted to share this piece by Melbourne Law School Professorial Fellow and former Dean and current professor at Michigan Law School, James C. Hathaway, on the December 2013 Full Federal Court decision in the case. This post has been republished with permission from Reflaw.

By Professor James C. Hathaway

The Full Federal Court of Australia recently considered the refugee status of an Afghan who had worked for nearly a quarter century as a jewelry maker in Kabul, before deciding in 2007 to work instead as a self-employed truck driver. Initially, his work consisted of transporting such goods as wood, animal skins, and food across the country. But starting in January 2011, he agreed to begin hauling building materials from Kabul to Jaghori in order to supply reconstruction projects being undertaken by the government and international aid agencies. He took on this new work because “he was paid more” [21], noting that “there was not a lot of work and he had to support his family” [22]. When the Taliban threatened to kill him if he continued to transport building materials used in reconstruction, he fled Afghanistan and advanced a refugee claim in Australia.

The claimant reasonably argued that an adverse political opinion had been imputed to him by the Taliban, and that the Afghan government could not be counted on to shield him from the Taliban’s death threats. The Australian government contended, however, that he could avoid the risk by giving up truck driving and returning to his prior career as a jeweler. Counsel for the applicant countered that the applicant could not be compelled to give up his preferred work, and that if that work gave rise to a risk of being persecuted for reasons of an imputed political opinion, his refugee status should be recognized.

The majority of the Full Federal Court of Australia agreed with the applicant. Understanding the High Court of Australia to have ruled in S395 that a decision-maker “cannot require an asylum seeker to behave in a particular manner” [61] – the only relevant question being “whether an asylum seeker would not in fact behave in a particular matter upon his or her return” [61] – it was held that there was a duty to grant refugee status given the applicant’s unwillingness to resume his work as a jeweler in Kabul.

This decision continues a no doubt well-meaning, but analytically flawed, approach. Continue reading

News: Chief Justice writes to law deans about inappropriate communications

Justinian has posted what purports to be a copy of a letter French CJ wrote to the current head of the Council of Australian Law Deans ‘to express a concern about recent incidents in which legal academics have provided to the Court copies of papers which relate to matters pending before the Court’.  In 2012, the Chief Justice publicly expressed ‘reservations’ about academic articles ‘produced with a view to influencing the development of the law in a pending case’, remarking: ‘I am not saying that this is improper but its value may be discounted to the extent that it smacks of advocacy.’ By contrast, the concern expressed in the present letter is not with whether or why such articles are written, but rather when and to whom they are communicated: ‘providing materials which are not accessible to the parties, a fortiori after the Court has reserved its decision, are inappropriate and inconsistent with the transparency of the judicial process’.

As French CJ noted in his 2012 speech, dialogues between courts and academics are sometimes made difficult by ‘differences of purpose, perspective and methodology between judicial reasoning and legal scholarship’. Continue reading

News: New appeals on liquidation and deportation

The two new special leave applications granted last Friday were from the following decisions:

  • Fortress Credit Corporation (Australia) II Pty Ltd v Fletcher [2014] NSWCA 148, like another NSW matter that was granted leave in August, concerns the bankruptcy of the Octaviar investment group and a court’s power to extend the time limit for a liquidator to apply to void some of a company’s pre-bankruptcy dealings. In this case, a five-judge bench of the NSW Court of Appeal affirmed its own 2003 ruling permitting ‘shelf orders’ extending the time limit generally (rather than for specific dealings) and upheld the trial judge’s addition of the applicants (parties to some of the transactions with the bankrupt companies who were not present when the shelf order was made) to the proceedings to void the transactions.
  • Uelese v Minister for Immigration and Citizenship [2013] FCAFC 86 concerns the statutory obligation to consider the interests of a non-citizen’s children in immigration decision-making.  The federal Administrative Appeals Tribunal, affirming a decision to deport a New Zealand citizen with criminal convictions, only considered the interests of three of the man’s five Australian-resident children. The full court of the Federal Court held that a federal statute barred the Tribunal from considering the interests of his remaining two children, because their existence only emerged during the oral hearing and hence was not notified to the Minister in advance.

Amongst matters refused special leave was the issue of interim injunctions to stop Melbourne’s planned East-West Link, discussed here.

Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union v BHP Coal Pty Ltd

A 3:2 majority of the High Court has dismissed an appeal from a decision of the Full Federal Court relating to the dismissal of an employee engaged in industrial action who held a sign that read ‘No principles, SCABS, No guts’ which was deemed to be ‘offensive’ and contrary to BHP’s code of conduct. Continue reading

News: East West Link High Court case explainer

On Friday the project that has been the subject of much recent commentary in the context of the forthcoming Victorian parliamentary elections will return to the High Court in the case of Murphy v State of Victoria. Murphy is opposing the East West Link road and tunnel tollway. His substantive claim is that the State of Victoria and the statutory authority charged with administering the project has engaged in misleading or deceptive conduct contrary to the Australian Consumer Law. Murphy alleges that the State government’s claims and calculations about the economic benefit of the project are misleading or deceptive. He asserts that the project should therefore not proceed. The Victorian Court of Appeal found that the Murphy’s claims should be tried before the Supreme Court. The trial preparation process is expected to result in the Victorian government disclosing the document containing the so called ‘business case’ for the project, which continues to be kept secret. Continue reading

News: Reflections on Tampa and CPCF at the Constitutional Reform Unit

We recently came across this excellent post at the University of Sydney’s Constitutional Critique blog on the upcoming case, CPFC v Minister for Immigration and Border Protection:

First came the victory, when in Pape it was held to authorise laws governing stimulus payments during the GFC. Then came the defeat, when in Williams (No 1) it was denied the capacity to authorise funding for chaplains in schools. Now non-statutory executive power (NSEP) is poised to make a comeback, in its most controversial and politically-charged instalment yet, CPCF v Minister for Border Protection and the Commonwealth. But whereas in previous cases the stakes were measured in dollar terms, this time the consequences of the alleged exercise of NSEP have a human face.

It will be very interesting to see whether the High Court takes the opportunity to consider the scope of non-statutory executive power (NSEP), or whether the unresolved issues in the Tampa case with regard to the Commonwealth’s NSEP will remain in that state.

Brookfield Multiplex Ltd v The Owners — Strata Plan No 61288

Matthew Bell, Wayne Jocic and Rami Marginean, ‘Mind the Gaps! High Court Confirms Negligence Will Not Protect Economic Interests where Contractual Protection is Available’, 17 December 2014.

The High Court has unanimously allowed an appeal against the decision of the NSW Court of Appeal, in The Owners — Strata Plan No 61288 v Brookfield Australia Investments Ltd. Continue reading

Tajjour v State of New South Wales; Hawthorne v State of New South Wales; Forster v State of New South Wales

The High Court has held that s 93X of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) is not invalid. That section makes it an offence for a person to continue to ‘habitually consort’ with convicted offenders after receiving an ‘official warning’, either verbally or in writing, from a police officer. Continue reading

News: Death of alleged victim in Perry v R

This weekend saw the death of Kenneth Perry, thirty-two years after the High Court quashed his wife’s conviction for attempting to murder him. Perry died as he had lived for decades, staunchly maintaining that his wife played no role in several bouts of arsenic poisoning he suffered in the late 1970s. Emily Perry was never retried by South Australian prosecutors, while a further charge for the murder of her first husband laid by Victorian prosecutors was dropped in 1986.

The High Court’s judgment in Perry v R is famous for its bold stand against convictions based on so-called ‘similar fact’ evidence. Continue reading

News: Migration Bill targets High Court rulings

Last Thursday, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison introduced the Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment (Resolving the Asylum Legacy Caseload) Bill 2014 into the federal Parliament. While the headline issue is the return of temporary protection visas,  the Bill contains many other provisions. Indeed, the Explanatory Memorandum observes that the ‘Bill fundamentally changes Australia’s approach to managing asylum seekers’. As  asylum seeker law is regularly considered by the High Court, the Bill inevitably responds to a number of the Court’s decisions and is intended to reverse several of them.

The major change is contained in Schedule 5 (‘clarifying Australia’s international law obligations’), which is intended to reverse ‘a series of High Court decisions which have found that the Migration Act as a whole is designed to address Australia’s non-refoulement obligations’, Continue reading

News: Legal threat to state drug laws recedes

In last Friday’s hearings, the High Court refused special leave to two criminal defendants challenging the validity of NSW’s main drug offence: supplying, or knowingly taking part in the supply of, a prohibited drug. In refusing leave, the Court mostly put to rest doubts that have arisen in recent years about the continued operation of most state drug laws (and a number of other state criminal laws) that overlap with federal criminal laws.

The source of the recent doubts was a 2010 ruling by the High Court Continue reading

News: Supreme Court blog and Harold Ford Memorial Lecture

First, last year, we mentioned the possibility that the Victorian Supreme Court was going to start a blog. The blog has come to fruition and has just published its first substantive post, ‘The many challenges of modern common law litigation’ by Forrest J. The post appears to be further the court’s ambition of ‘creating greater community understanding’ about the law, as it is clear, (relatively) non-technical, conversational, and offers plenty of context about the issues discussed.

Secondly, for those interested in corporate law and securities regulation, Hayne J gave this year’s Harold Ford Memorial Lecture hosted by the Centre for Corporate Law and Securities Regulation. His lecture was entitled Directors’ Duties and a Company’s Creditors. The video is available on the CCLSR’s website here and on the University’s youtube channel. Hayne J’s paper has been accepted for publication in volume 38(2) of the Melbourne University Law Review which will be published before the end of 2014.

Commonwealth Bank of Australia v Barker

Adriana Orifici, ‘High Court to Examine Whether There is an Implied Term of Mutual Trust and Confidence in Australian Employment Contracts’ (28 January 2014).

The High Court has allowed an an appeal from the decision of the Full Federal Court which recognised the existence in Australian law of an implied term of mutual trust and confidence between employers and employees. Continue reading

Injuries and Workplace Misadventure: Comcare v PVYW

By Clare McIlwraith

Comcare v PVYW Case Page

Imagine your employer sends you to a conference interstate. Your travel, expenses and accommodation are all organised and paid for. Your 9-to-5 days and dinners are occupied with conference events. But what of all the other time you have on your hands? It is the stuff of folklore and Hollywood movies (like the 2011 movie Cedar Rapids) that those other times are filled with adventure. But for Australian employees there now exists a limit on what can be done out of the office that will be protected under workplace insurance schemes.

In October 2013 the High Court, by a 4:2 majority, allowed an appeal by the federal government’s workplace insurer, Comcare, denying the Commonwealth government employee respondent, known by the identifier ‘PVYW’, workers’ compensation under the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 (Cth) (SR&C Act).

PVYW had been sent to visit a regional office, and was required to stay overnight at a motel booked by the employer. While staying overnight at the motel, PVYW was struck in the face by a glass light fitting on the bed when it was pulled off the wall of the motel during sexual intercourse with a local acquaintance. Following the incident, PVYW claimed compensation for physical and subsequent psychological injuries under the SR&C Act.

The majority of the court held that the injury suffered by PVYW was not suffered ‘in the course of’ employment. This was because it was not caused through an activity encouraged or induced by the employer or was not considered ‘referable’ to a hotel stay. This last conclusion is perhaps surprising given the mythology of work trips and sex in hotel stays or because as Counsel for PVYW noted that sex is a universal incident of human life ([2013] HCATrans 169).

Although the SR&C Act only applies to Commonwealth government employees the decision will be relevant to all employees subject to workers compensation schemes because each scheme limits insurance recovery in similar (though in some cases more restrictive) ways (see [2013] HCATrans 114). Continue reading

News: Court takes on new native title case

The High Court has spent this week in Brisbane, hearing the constitutional challenge by Hells Angels member Stefan Kuczborkski to various Queensland laws targeting ‘bikie gangs’ and an employment law appeal concerning a man who was dismissed after he held a sign attacking ‘scabs’ during industrial action concerning a coal mine. As well, the Court heard six applications for special leave to appeal from Queensland matters and granted leave in one of them. Continue reading

Expert Evidence and Unreliability in the High Court: Honeysett v The Queen

By Andrew Roberts

Honeysett v The Queen Case Page

The question of how and by whom the reliability of expert testimony should be evaluated is problematic. For many, the prevailing approach in Australia is a cause for concern. However, the recent case of Honeysett v The Queen [2014] HCA 29 presented the High Court with an opportunity to grasp the nettle. In that case, the issue was whether and how a jury could be assisted in comparing the image of the accused taken at a police station to an armed robber captured on a CCTV image whose head was covered by a hood by an anatomy professor pointing out similarities in the images and the absence of any differences.

In criminal trials witnesses are generally prohibited from expressing opinions on matters that are to be determined by the jury. Witnesses are generally expected to testify only to the facts. The drawing of inferences from those facts is the exclusive province of the jury. Opinions offered by witnesses are excluded because they are superfluous. The prohibition is subject, however, to significant exceptions, one of which permits an opinion to be expressed by a witness who possesses ‘specialised knowledge’ — provided that the opinion is ‘wholly or substantially based’ on that knowledge. Such witnesses are allowed to express opinions because the jury is thought to lack the knowledge and experience that would enable it to draw rational and reliable inferences. In such circumstances, the expert’s opinions are required to ensure that verdict returned by the jury is the product of sound reasoning.

Why reliability matters
What then of the issue of reliability? If the justification for allowing experts to offer opinions is that the jury lacks the competence required to draw the inferences drawn by the expert, is the idea that evaluation of the reliability of expert opinion should be left to the jury plausible? Continue reading

News: David Eastman conviction quashed

The Supreme Court of the Australian Capital Territory today quashed David Eastman’s conviction for the 1989 murder of the Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police, Colin Winchester. This result followed a wide-ranging report into the safety of his conviction by former Northern Territory Chief Justice Brian Martin that concluded that his conviction was unsafe for a combination of reasons, the primary one being a finding of flawed science and bias by a ballistics expert. The Supreme Court agreed with Martin’s conclusion, but not his further view that any retrial would be impossible. Today’s decision is a lengthy and complex one raising difficult questions about judicial inquiries into the safety of finalised convictions, including matters such as whether the court is limited to inquiring into doubts about guilt (as opposed to the fairness of the trial), whether the court can have regard to material that is kept confidential from the parties, whether an otherwise strong circumstantial case becomes unsafe because of doubts about forensic evidence and whether retrial should be ordered so long after the original 1995 trial.

It may be that questions about these issues will be appealed to the High Court. If so, it will be the latest of many High Court rulings on Eastman’s prosecution, including Continue reading

News: New Zealand Supreme Court follows High Court on political charities

A charity or a trust with a ‘political purpose’ has traditionally been held not to have charitable status (sometimes called the Bowman principle). In Bowman v Secular Society [1917] AC 406, Lord Parker said at 442:

a trust for the attainment of political objects has always been held invalid, not because it is illegal, for every one is at liberty to advocate or promote by any lawful means a change in the law, but because the Court has no means of judging whether a proposed change in the law will or will not be for the public benefit, and therefore cannot say that a gift to secure the change is a charitable gift.

This has been subsequently upheld in English case law in cases such as McGovern v Attorney-General [1982] Ch 321 and Hanchett-Stamford v Attorney-General [2009] Ch 173. The latter case held that while a new Charities Act had been enacted in 2006, this did not change the fundamental principle that charities with political purposes were not charitable.

By contrast, in 2010, a majority of the High Court of Australia declined to follow the English case law in Aid/Watch Incorporated v Commissioner for Taxation [2010] HCA 42. At [45]–[46], French CJ, Gummow, Hayne, Crennan and Bell JJ noted that agitation of political and public debate could be a societal good, and that the court did not have to decide on whether the political purposes furthered by the charity were legitimate.

Now, in In re Greenpeace [2014] NZSC 105, a majority of the New Zealand Supreme Court has decided to follow the High Court’s lead. Following the decision of the New Zealand Court of Appeal in Molloy v Commissioner of Inland Revenue [1981] 1 NZLR 688, the Charities Commission in New Zealand had refused to register Greenpeace as a charity on the basis that two of its purposes were political, namely the promotion of disarmament and peace and the agitation of change to government policy and legislation. The Australian approach was an important influence on the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the political purpose exemption (see [66]–[71] of In re Greenpeace). As with the High Court decision, the New Zealand Supreme Court was not unanimous and there were two dissenting judges. As the majority noted, there is still a possibility that Greenpeace will not qualify as a charity in light of arguments that it furthers illegal purposes by endorsing trespass and other such activities when advocating “non-violent direct action.” Now the question of Greenpeace’s status as a charitable entity has been remitted back to the Charities Commission for reconsideration in light of the New Zealand Supreme Court decision.

News: Tasmanian anti-environment protest laws back before Parliament

Tasmania’s upper house of Parliament will soon debate proposed laws that create new offences for conducting protests in a manner that disrupt business activities, including conducting protests on business premises or that impede access to the location for business activities.

The Workplaces (Protection from Protestors) Bill 2014 passed the Tasmanian lower house in late June 2014. On 19 August 2014 it was read for the first time in the Tasmanian Legislative Council. The Bill continues to generate protest and opposition from within parliament and beyond. The proposed bill creates new definitions of protest and business that, should the bill pass, will be much analysed by judges. However, as Melbourne Law School’s Professor Adrienne Stone has noted, the law may ultimately be subject to a constitutional challenge on the ground that it is inconsistent with the implied constitutional freedom of political communication. The limitation on protestors might be unreasonable or disproportionate to the desired purpose of the law – to protect businesses from disruption. Should a challenge to the law be brought before the High Court, it will add to the opportunities presented to the court last year in the cases of Monis and Corneloup and already this year in the Unions NSW case to develop jurisprudence on the implied freedom.

 

The DNA, the Handshake and the Didgeridoo: Fitzgerald v The Queen

By Professor Jeremy Gans

Fitzgerald v The Queen Case Page

On 19 June 2011 at around 6 am, a group of men carrying makeshift weapons poured from two cars into an Adelaide suburban home. The resulting horror left 23 year-old Kym Drover dead and 25 year-old Daniel Fitzgerald serving a minimum twenty year term for his murder. Just two pieces of evidence linked the two: a handshake the previous evening (between Fitzgerald and the only other person convicted of the attack on Drover) and a didgeridoo found the next morning next to Drover (containing Fitzgerald’s DNA).

Two months ago, on the crime’s third anniversary, the High Court unanimously, correctly and — after his counsel noted his otherwise clean record — summarily freed and acquitted Fitzgerald, exemplifying the national court’s role as a last ditch avenue of appeal for the wrongly convicted. But the case should never have got that far. Fitzgerald should never have been charged. He should never have been found guilty. He should have easily won his appeal in South Australia. The High Court’s slight reasons in Fitzgerald v The Queen [2014] HCA 28 do too little to address the risks arising from the criminal justice system’s overuse of DNA evidence. Continue reading

News: New Court matters include case about tragic radio hoax

This week, the High Court decided three criminal law cases, declined to proceed with a fourth following a full hearing, awarded additional costs to the victor in an earlier matter and held two case management hearings: one, in the ongoing litigation about the Commonwealth’s powers to detain asylum seekers en route to Australia and another in a constitutional challenge to a NSW law revoking mining licences following a corruption inquiry.

As well, today, the High Court  granted special leave to appeal in three commercial investment matters and a regulatory dispute involving a very high profile tragedy. Continue reading

Pollentine v Attorney-General (Qld)

The High Court has decided a special case and upheld the validity of s 18 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1945 (Qld), which relates to continued detention of child sex offenders after the expiry of sentence, ‘at her Majesty’s pleasure’, on the grounds that the ‘offender is incapable of exercising proper control over the offender’s sexual instincts’. Continue reading

News: Big trouble for crime boss scenario evidence

Seven years ago, a majority of the High Court in Tofilau v R [2007] HCA 39 upheld four Victorian convictions founded on an unusual criminal investigative method. The method (known in Australia as ‘scenario’ evidence) is for undercover police officers to recruit suspected criminals into fake criminal gangs and then trick them into confessing real crimes by telling them that such confessions are a requirement for membership. After further prompts (such as staged inquiries from real police and promised aid from ‘corrupt’ police), the scenario culminates in a detailed, videotaped interview with the gang’s ‘boss’, after which the sting is revealed to the stunned suspect. This astonishing method (whose details can only be published thanks to a 2005 High Court ruling rejecting a publication ban) was developed in Canada, and the High Court in 2007 relied heavily on its repeated endorsement by the Canadian Supreme Court in upholding its use here.

However, last week, Canada’s top court unanimously changed its mind Continue reading