The High Court has dismissed an appeal against a decision of the Full Federal Court of Australia regarding the principles governing the causal link required for the imposition and calculation of an account of profits where profits were made by a knowing participant in a dishonest and fraudulent breach of fiduciary duty, and has allowed a cross-appeal by a majority, holding that there was no reason to restrict the profits recoverable to five years. Consequently a knowing assistant of a dishonest and fraudulent breach of fiduciary duty was required to disgorge the total capital value of the business it acquired by reason of the breach.
The High Court has allowed an appeal against a conviction for possessing cannabis with intent to supply. After executing a search warrant at the accused’s home in the Perth suburb of Madeley, police found almost a kilogram of cannabis head material inside the home and three cannabis plants behind the house. The accused’s case was that the cannabis was for personal use and was harvested from two of the three plants. Anticipating that evidence, the prosecution called Detective Sergeant Andrew Coen, who testified that a cannabis plant typically yields 100 to 400 grams of cannabis and that ‘head material’ at the upper range is rare. Following his conviction, the accused appealed, relying on new information that Coen had testified in two earlier trials that cannabis plants typically yield 300 to 600 grams of cannabis head material. After hearing evidence from Coen as to why he had changed his view prior to the accused’s trial, a majority of Western Australia’s Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal.
The High Court (Kiefel CJ, Bell, Keane, Nettle & Gordon JJ) unanimously allowed the appeal. The joint judgment held (at ) the factors relied on by the Court of Appeal to dismiss the appeal – that the accused bore the onus of proof on the question of intent, and that the accused had not called his own expert testimony, or objected the Coen’s trial testimony, or that the prosecution’s non-disclosure of Coen’s testimony were understandable – were ‘irrelevant to whether there was a significant possibility of a different verdict if the new evidence had been before the jury’. Nothing turns on whether only Coen’s earlier testimony or also Coen’s testimony at trial is treated as fresh evidence (); either way, Coen’s earlier testimony was ‘distinctly apt’ to improve the accused’s prospects of a favourable verdict. Continue reading
A week ago, Associate Justice Verity McWilliam of the ACT Supreme Court pondered a real-life law exam problem:
The plaintiff in these proceedings was born in a leap year, on 29 February 2000. She has been charged with committing certain criminal offences on 28 February 2018, being a common year (or non-leap year). The question on this judicial review application is whether, at the time she allegedly committed those offences, she was 17 and therefore a child at law, or 18 and therefore an adult.
To find that the plaintiff committed her alleged offences when she was (just) a child, McWilliam AJ distinguished not just The Pirates of Penzance but also a High Court judgment. In 1961, a majority of the High Court held that alleged car accident victim Charles John Prowse’s ‘coming… of full age’ occurred at the start of the day before his 21st birthday, citing a strange common law rule. As Dixon CJ explained:
In the anonymous case mentioned in argument in Nichols v. Ramsel the question was in a devise whether the testator was of age or not. The report says “and the evidence was that he was born on the first day of January in the afternoon of that day and died in the morning of the last day of December: and it was held by all the judges that he was of full age; for there shall be no fraction of a day”.
The result was that Prowse, who sued for negligence on the day before his 27th birthday, found his case (just) barred by a six-year statute of limitations that started after his majority.
Justice Windeyer’s judgment in Prowse commenced:
In measuring lapse of time the common law eschews metaphysics. Nevertheless some nice questions have arisen for the courts. In one of the first references to the topic, Dyer’s note of Thomas Somerset’s Case in 1562, it is said “ceo fuit un narrow pinche in le case”. There have been narrow pinches since then.
The High Court has dismissed an appeal against a decision of the Supreme Court of South Australia regarding the principles governing the doctrine of part performance (namely, when an otherwise unenforceable oral contract over land can be recognised by the court because of acts of part performance of the agreement, so as to support an award of specific performance). The question raised was whether the requirements of the doctrine of part performance should be relaxed in line with the liberal test proposed by the House of Lords in Steadman v Steadman  AC 536, which merely required that the acts pointed on the balance of probabilities to the formation of a contract. The Australian test has hitherto reflected that expressed in Maddison v Alderson (1883) 8 App Cas 467, which requires the acts of part performance to be unequivocally referable to some such contract as alleged. The High Court confirmed that the Australian position remains the same, and declined to adopt Steadman v Steadman.
The High Court has allowed a Crown appeal against a decision of Victoria’s Court of Appeal that had quashed the defendant’s convictions on 18 counts of sexual offences. When he was first tried in 2014, the defendant was charged with 37 counts against five complainants related to events between 1967 and 1998 and convicted of 33 of those. However, the Court of Appeal quashed those convictions in 2015, criticising the prosecution for overloading the indictment. The defendant then faced a series of separate (and in five instances aborted) trials relating to the three of the complainants and was acquitted in relation to two of them. The High Court appeal concerns the defendant’s 18 convictions a 2016 trial in relation to the third complainant, his foster daughter, for alleged sexual offending between 1988 and 1998, when she was aged between 4 and 15 and the defendant was between 42 and 53.
In 2017, the Court of Appeal quashed the defendant’s convictions for the second time and ordered a new trial, on three broad grounds. First, that the jury should not have been shown a recording of the complainant’s evidence at a previous trial, because her expressed strong preference not to testify was not sufficient to justify such a step. Second, that the jury should not have been told of evidence of uncharged sexual offences by the defendant against the complainant, because such evidence did not satisfy the requirement of ‘significant probative value’. Third, that the jury should not have been told that the complainant described the accused’s offending to a school friend in 1998, as there was no evidence that the events were ‘fresh in her memory’ when she described them and her description was too generic to have any probative value.
The High Court (Kiefel CJ, Bell, Gageler, Keane, Nettle, Gordon & Edelman JJ) unanimously allowed the Crown’s appeal, rejecting all three grounds of appeal relied upon by the Court of Appeal. Continue reading
In the middle of Wednesday’s criminal appeal decision by the High Court, The Queen v Dennis Bauer (a pseudonym)  HCA 40 is the following remarkable paragraph:
[P]revious decisions of this Court have left unclear when and if a complainant’s evidence of uncharged sexual and other acts is admissible as tendency evidence in proof of charged sexual offences. That is due in part to differences of opinion between members of the Court in HML – and in subsequent tendency evidence decisions, most recently IMM – as to the rationale of admissibility of tendency evidence in single complainant sexual offences cases. It is unsatisfactory that trial judges and intermediate courts of appeal should be faced with that problem. It is also unsatisfactory that the issue should continue to be attended by as many complexities as have thus far been thought to surround it. The admissibility of tendency evidence in single complainant sexual offences cases should be as straightforward as possible consistent with the need to ensure that the accused receives a fair trial. With that objective, the Court has resolved to put aside differences of opinion and speak with one voice on the subject.
And speak with one voice the seven justices did, issuing a unanimous joint judgment to resolve all of the many issues raised by the appeal. While unanimous joint judgments have become commonplace in the High Court of late, child sexual abuse appeals have been a notable exception, with narrowly divided decisions on the topic in 2001, 2006, 2008, 2012, 2016 and 2017, the last four with 4-3 splits.
Still more remarkable is that the Court’s new ‘one voice’ is at odds with the voices of five justices from just two years ago, including four current justices. Continue reading
The High Court has now released its business list for its sitting in the middle two weeks of October.The delayed publication is likely due to the recent vacation of a hearing date for a trust dispute involving Gina Rinehart and the settlement of the constitutional challenge to the Murray/Darling Royal Commission, both cases that had previously been scheduled for hearing during those two weeks. Although there are eight matters listed, in reality there are only three the Court now says it plans to hear:
- Clubb v Edwards; Preston v Avery are two criminal appeals raising constitutional challenges to laws in the ACT and Victoria creating ‘zones’ around abortion providers that bar some sorts of behaviour. The cases are high profile ones with seven Attorneys-General intervening and four further parties recently given leave to act as friends of the court.
- Grajewski v DPP (NSW) likewise concerns the law about protesting, but here it is the statutory interpretation issue of whether the action of a person suspending himself from machinery counts as the offence of damaging property.
- ASIC v Lewski; ASIC v Wooldridge; ASIC v Butler; ASIC v Jaques; ASIC v Clarke are civil penalty proceedings against five directors of a failed aged care and retirement trust concerning whether they breached their duties when they amended the trust’s constitution.
The recent changes mean that one constitutional case has been replaced by another, and Grajewski has replaced Rinehart, leaving the scheduled workload unchanged at three cases. While three matters in a sitting is notably fewer than usual, it does happen occasionally. Indeed, it happened last October, when the Court spent its first sitting week hearing the Citizenship 7 case, and its second hearing two quite short matters.
The scheduling of the coming October sitting is more unusual, however. Continue reading
When he isn’t penning legal advices for the ALP on the possible disqualification from parliament of prospective Prime Ministers, Bret Walker SC is currently in charge of the Murray/Darling Basin Royal Commission. Established by the previous government of South Australia in January this year, this state-based inquiry into a Commonwealth-administered scheme raises some difficult questions about the interaction between state investigations and the federal government. Unsurprisingly, this June saw a directions hearing on the question of whether or not Walker can apply his statutory powers (including powers to search premises, demand documents and jail non-compliant witnesses for contempt) to the Commonwealth and relevant federal entities and officers (and also interstate residents.)
Alas, for those who wanted to see these issues explored, and most likely for the Roysl Commission, the case of Commonwealth v Walker is no longer before the High Court. Continue reading
Two-thirds of this sitting’s six special leave grants concern cases on federal commercial statutes, with the remainder involving the balance between judges and juries. The six cases that the Court will hear later this year are: Continue reading
The High Court has allowed an appeal against a decision of the Supreme Court of Nauru on the construction of derivative refugee status provisions. In September 2014 the Secretary of the Department of Justice and Border Control denied the appellant’s application for refugee status. In March 2015, the Nauruan Refugee Status Review Tribunal affirmed that decision, and the appellant appealed to the Supreme Court. In April 2016. the appellant married a man who had been recognised as a refugee. The appellant’s lawyers made an application for derivative refugee status on the basis of her dependency on her husband’s status, which was granted in August 2016, and for which she was granted a ‘Refugee Determination Record’ stating that the Secretary had determined the appellant was ‘recognised as a refugee’ (at –). In December 2016, the process for acquiring derivative status was changed, including s 31(5), which was deemed to have commenced in May 2014, and provided that ‘[a]n application made by a person under section 31(1)(a), that has not been determined at the time the person is given a Refugee Determination Record, is taken to have been validly determined at that time’.
In June 2017, the Supreme Court held that the Tribunal had made an error of law in failing to adjourn its hearing to allow the appellant to Continue reading
The High Court has dismissed an appeal against a decision of the Full Federal Court on jurisdictional error and errors of law in the context of partner visa applications. Hossain, a Bangladeshi citizen, was refused a partner visa on the basis that the criteria in the Migration Regulations 1994 (Cth) had not been met. The Administrative Appeals Tribunal affirmed that decision on its merits, ruling that Hossain had not met the requirements of submitting an application within 28 days of ceasing to hold a previous visa, unless the Minister was ‘satisfied that there are compelling reasons for not applying’ this requirement, and that he did not have outstanding debts to the Commonwealth. Hossain then applied to the Federal Circuit Court for judicial review of the Tribunal’s decision (by which time he had met the debt payment criteria) on the basis of jurisdictional error. In those proceedings, the Minister conceded that the Tribunal had erred in addressing whether there were compelling reasons not to apply the timing criterion as at the time of the application for the visa: it should have examined whether those compelling reasons existed at the time of its own decision. The FCCA rejected the Minister’s contention that this was nonetheless not a jurisdictional error because the public debt criterion had still not been met. The FCAFC majority (Flick and Farrell JJ) agreed with the FCCA that the error was jurisdictional, but ultimately agreed with the Minister that this error had not removed the Tribunal’s authority to affirm the delegate’s decision (at ). Mortimer J, in dissent, also held that the error was jurisdictional, but concluded that because Hossain had repaid the debt, the public interest criterion would no longer be an issue for the Tribunal, and the relief he sought could be granted (see ff).
The High Court (Kiefel CJ, Gageler and Keane JJ, Nettle J, Edelman J) unanimously dismissed the appeal. The joint judges held that the Tribunal’s error in relation to timing did not rise to the level of jurisdictional error. Edelman J (with whom Nettle J agreed), also held that the error was not jurisdictional because it was neither a fundamental error nor one that could have affected the Tribunal’s decision: the ‘lack of materiality’ meant the error was not jurisdictional.
After reviewing the facts and decisions below, the joint judges turned first to conceptual debates about the term ‘jurisdiction’ (see –), noting that the High Court in Kirk v Industrial Court (NSW)  HCA 1 had picked up Jaffe’s emphasis on jurisdiction goes to the gravity of an organisational procedural error when it ‘express[ed] the constitutionally entrenched minimum content of the Continue reading
The High Court has allowed an appeal involving an appellate court differing with findings of fact made by a sentencing judge. DL was convicted in 2008 of a 2005 murder involving the repeated stabbing of a teenager for no apparent motive. At his sentencing in 2008, the trial judge found that ‘there was much irrationality about what occurred’, that it was not established that DL intended to kill the teen and that he was probably acting under the influence of psychosis. Holding that the offence was less serious than the median range murder and that NSW law provided that 25 years was the standard non-parole period for a mid-range murder, he sentenced DL to a 17 year sentence with a 12 year non-parole period. At his appeal against sentence in 2016, all parties agreed that a subsequent High Court judgment disapproving of this use of standard non-parole periods meant that the Court of Criminal Appeal needed to resentence him, that subsequent sentencing law changes meant that the standard non-parole period no longer applied to him and that the Court’s resentencing could take account of new facts since the sentence. A majority of the Court of Criminal Appeal, observing that all parties had been given an opportunity to be heard on all aspects of the resentencing and finding that DL was not affected by psychosis and did intend to kill, dismissed the appeal, holding that no lesser sentence was warranted.
The joint judgment (Bell, Keane, Nettle, Gordon and Edelman JJ) unanimously allowed the appeal. The joint judgment (at ff) held that the majority’s holding that all parties had been given the opportunity to be heard on resentencing was the result of two ‘misconceptions’: Continue reading
The High Court has allowed a Crown appeal concerning the prosecution’s use of evidence of large amounts of cash found at the defendant’s premises to support charges of trafficking cannabis. The defendant was charged with possessing and cultivating cannabis for sale at two properties. His defence was that the cannabis was for his personal use or for gifts to others. The prosecution presented evidence of $120,000 in cash hidden at his home address. The jury convicted him of cultivating cannabis for sale at one of the properties and possessing it for sale at another. However, his appeal to Victoria’s Court of Appeal was allowed on the basis that the cash could not be properly used to convict him, because (a) ‘insofar as the evidence of the possession of the cash was admitted on the basis that it was evidence of past trafficking, it was irrelevant and therefore inadmissible’ (VSCA at ) and (b) if it is relevant, ‘such probative value must be low, in circumstances where the risk of the misuse of the evidence is undoubtedly high.’ (VSCA at ). On further appeal to the High Court, the Court unanimously allowed the Crown’s appeal at the conclusion of the hearing, with reasons to follow.
The joint judgment (Kiefel CJ, Bell, Keane, Nettle & Gordon JJ) reviewed lower court rulings on the use of cash as evidence in drug trafficking prosecutions (at -), commencing with a 1989 ruling by the Northern Territory Court of Appeal. The joint judgment observed that that ruling by an Australian intermediate court was not followed by other Australian intermediate courts and instead it was the dissenting ruling in that case that ‘has ultimately prevailed in subsequent authority’ (at ). Turning to the relevance of the cash in the case before it, the the joint judgment held that the trial judge’s and dissenting judge’s rulings that the cash was admissible was ‘plainly correct’ (at ). Continue reading
The High Court’s return from its winter break includes a slight, but important, change in the Court’s sitting practice. Each of this week’s main sitting days has commenced at 10am, rather than the usual 10.15am. Chief Justice Kiefel explained the purpose of the early start yesterday:
The parties would be aware in accordance with the new trial practice we will be adjourning at 11.15 for 15 minutes.
While no explanation was given for the mid-morning adjournment, its utility is obvious. Perhaps coincidentally, the change follows an impromptu ‘short adjournment’ of six minutes during a June matter, after the defendant’s counsel, called on to address the court 102 minutes into the morning session, sought ‘the indulgence of the Court of a brief comfort break’.
Otherwise, however, yesterday’s Court was not in a generous mood. Continue reading
The High Court has allowed one appeal, partly allowed a second appeal, and dismissed two appeals from a decision of the Full Federal Court on the taxation of franked distributions from trusts. In 2006 to 2008, the trustee (Thomas Nominees Pty Ltd) of a trust (the Thomas Investment Trust), received franked distributions within the meaning of div 207. Division 207 of pt 3-6 of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 (Cth) lays out the tax implications of trust income that includes franked distributions. In those years, the trustee passed resolutions that sought to distribute the franking credits between the trust’s beneficiaries separately from, and in different proportions to, the income that comprised the franked distributions (see details at ff). The trustee referred to this as the ‘Bifurcation Assumption’, and lodged tax returns on the basis that this was legally effective under div 207. In 2010, the Queensland Supreme Court issued ‘directions’ to the Trustee that those resolutions did give effect to the Bifurcation Assumption, and that this was legally effective under div 207.
Two of the beneficiaries (the taxpayers) filed appeals in the Federal Court under pt IVC of the Taxation Administration Act 1953 (Cth), arguing that the Bifurcation Assumption was not legally effective under div 207 (see at ff). The central issue before the High Court was whether the FCAFC was bound by the directions given by the QSC and its holding that the Bifurcation Assumption was in line with div 207, and, if the FCAFC was not so bound, how div 207 should apply to the trustee’s resolutions.
The High Court (Kiefel CJ, Bell, Keane, Nettle, Gordon and Edelman JJ, and Gageler J) unanimously held that the FCAFC erred in holding that it was bound to follow the QSC ruling. The FCAFC ‘misunderstood and misapplied’ the central case on directions, Continue reading
It seems that the High Court’s extraordinary run of cases on the qualifications of federal MPs has ended at last, with no new referrals in (or likely to be added to) the pipeline. Nevertheless, the very first of this term’s thirteen referrals is now back before the High Court. Yesterday, Kiefel CJ heard an application from Rob Culleton to reopen his referral (which led to his disqualification) on the basis that the Senate lacked quorum when it sent his election to the Court of Disputed Returns. The relevant Hansard reads:
I just raise—and I may be out of order—that I spoke to Senator Culleton a few minutes ago and he indicated to me in very broad terms that he was looking at seeking leave to move an amendment. I wonder, out of fairness to him, if that is what he is still intending to do, whether we ought to draw attention to the state of the chamber. I just do not want to be seen as being unfair to Senator Culleton. I want to be fair to the man.
The PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Xenophon. You have drawn to my attention that he chamber may not be quorate, so we shall bring the bells. (Quorum formed)
(As it happens, both parties to this conversation, Senators Xenophon and Parry, were later the subject of their own referrals!) Apparently, parliamentary video shows that there were fewer than the required 19 senators present when the chamber voted to refer his position to the Court of Disputed Returns, some three minutes later.
So, what should the High Court do? Continue reading
The High Court has allowed an appeal from the Victorian Court of Appeal with regard to an order for costs arising from litigation between former business partners about a transfer of shares in a tyre recycling company, VR Tek Global Pty Ltd. The case concerned a stay of proceedings where the appellant was impecunious and his action would effectively be terminated by a stay.
Mr Rozenblit brought proceedings in the Supreme Court of Victoria in which he alleged that the first respondent, Michael Vainer, had fraudulently, and without his knowledge or consent, transferred shares owned by him to the second respondent, Alexander Vainer (the first respondent’s father) and that the now-liquidated company’s assets were subject to a trust in his favour. After pleadings had closed, Mr Rozenblit sought leave to amend his statement of claim in three separate summonses. While leave to amend pursuant to the third summons was granted, the judge stayed Mr Rozenblit’s claim pursuant to r 63.03(3) of the Supreme Court (General Civil Procedure) Rules 2015 (Vic) until the interlocutory costs orders with regard to the first and second (unsuccessful) summonses were paid. Rule 63.03(3) provided:
“Where the Court makes an interlocutory order for costs, the Court may then or thereafter order that if the party liable to pay the costs fails to do so—
(a) if that party is the plaintiff, the proceeding shall be stayed or dismissed;
(b) if that party is a defendant, the defendant’s defence shall be struck out.”
The High Court has allowed an appeal in part from the Full Court of the Supreme Court of South Australia on the part of the appellant, Amaca Pty Ltd, and dismissed the cross-appeal of the respondent, Mr Latz. The case concerned an entitlement to damages reflecting the loss of an entitlement to a superannuation pension and an age pension as a result of a reduced life span.
Orders were pronounced on 11 May 2018, although reasons were published a month later on 13 June 2018, because of the parlous state of Mr Latz’s health. Mr Latz had contracted malignant mesothelioma at some time in 1976 or 1977 as a result of inhaling asbestos fibre while cutting and installing fencing which had been negligently manufactured by Amaca Pty Ltd. The mesothelioma did not become symptomatic until 2016. In October 2016, Mr Latz’s condition was diagnosed as terminal. He had retired from his job in the public service nine years earlier, and was receiving a superannuation pension under the Superannuation Act 1988 (SA) Part 5, and an age pension under the Social Security Act 1991 (Cth) Part 2.2. It was found that the mesothelioma had cut his life expectancy by 16 years. Mr Latz sought compensation for the reduction to his superannuation pension and age pension, which he would have continued to receive for a further 16 years but for the negligence of Amaca Pty Ltd.
The High Court has allowed an appeal against a decision of the Victorian Court on Appeal on whether a search engine can be held liable for defamation from the results of a search. The appellant sued the respondent search engine company after results of searches such as ‘Melbourne criminal underworld photos’ showed images of him with various convicted Melbourne criminals, as well as articles and links which imputing he was associated with those criminals. Moreover, typing his name into the search bar led to autocomplete results that associated him with various criminal figures. The defendant sought to summarily dismiss the pleadings on the basis that (i) that it did not publish the images matter or the web matter; (ii) that the matters in issue were not defamatory of Mr Trkulja; and (iii) that Google was entitled to immunity from suit. The trial judge held that the appellant’s defamation proceeding should not be set aside. However, on appeal to the VSCA, it was held that the primary judge should have struck the case out on the second basis that the search results could not be defamatory because the results were produced by algorithm, and because a reasonable internet user would understand that the plaintiffs’ images appeared alongside other, clearly non-criminal, people.
The High Court set aside the VSCA’s findings. In a unanimous judgment, Kiefel CJ, Bell, Keane, Nettle and Gordon JJ dealt with two issues: the question of whether Google was a publisher (and the relevance of defences in that determination), and the question of the test for whether the search results were capable of conveying the defamatory imputations.
The High Court has dismissed an appeal against a decision of the Full Court of the Supreme Court of South Australia concerning the adequacy of a judge’s reasons for convicting the accused of the offence of persistent sexual exploitation of a child. The complainant alleged that the accused, his uncle, abused him between the ages of 5 and 15, including showing him pornographic videos at the age of around 7, masturbation while the complainant used a computer in a bedroom, an oral sex at various locations (a shed and a property where he grew cannabis, a house owned by a woman the accused was having an affair with, and before the complainant rode the accused’s motorbike.) The uncle denied all the claims of sexual abuse and disputed some other details of the accused’s claims, including the location of the computer and when the complainant visited the shed and other locations. The accused was charged with the following offence:
An adult person who, over a period of not less than 3 days, commits more than 1 act of sexual exploitation of a particular child under the prescribed age is guilty of an offence.
Maximum penalty: Imprisonment for life.
The trial was before a judge without a jury. The judge said the complainant presented as ‘a man endeavouring to tell the truth’ and ‘described real events’, while he was ‘unimpressed with the [accused’s] presentation.’ He wrote:
I also accept [the complainant] as a reliable witness as to the core allegations. I have scrutinised his account very carefully. Some of his estimates of his age when events occurred were not reliable (for example, when he rode the motorbike or being ‘stoned’), but they were not sufficient to cause me to doubt either his truthfulness or reliability. Any exaggeration was not deliberate. As reflected in cross-examination, he had trouble remembering the process whereby statements were taken from him, who he told beforehand, who he was with and when he made particular allegations. My comments above should not be overlooked and it should not be forgotten that the conduct alleged took place many times over many years.
After further discussion, he concluded:
I have considered whether the attributes of [the complainant] as a person and the various criticisms of his evidence caused me to have a reasonable doubt and they do not. I reject the evidence of the [appellant] on substantive issues where he denied the alleged sexual conduct. I find that the [appellant] sexually assaulted [the complainant] on numerous occasions over a period of some years. The sexual assaults mainly took the form of indecent assaults and mutual oral sexual intercourse.
As Nettle J put it (at ), ‘That was it.’ The accused lost his appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeal, but made a new argument in the High Court of Australia that the trial judge’s reasons were inadequate in light of the requirement that the court find at least two acts of sexual abuse by the accused proved beyond reasonable doubt.
A 3-2 majority of the High Court (Kiefel CJ, Keane and Edelman JJ, with Bell J and Nettle J dissenting) held that the trial judge’s reasons were adequate. Continue reading
The High Court has allowed an appeal against a conviction for manslaughter in a case concerning the proviso that permits an appeal court to dismiss a criminal appeal despite an error of law if there was no substantial miscarriage of justice. The defendant was charged with murder after an altercation outside a hotel in Casino, NSW left a man with head injuries, from which he died nine days later. CCTV showed that the man fell twice: the ‘first fall’ after he approached the defendant and then retreated with the defendant in pursuit, falling backwards and striking his head; the ‘second fall’ after he rose and faced the defendant and then fell backwards again, leaving him unconscious. Although the Crown initially argued that the accused was responsible for the second fall, it changed its case – after its expert said that either fall could have caused the man’s death – to arguing that the accused was responsible for both falls. The accused did not seek to argue that the first fall both caused the man’s death and was not the accused’s responsibility. The jury acquitted the accused of murder but convicted him of manslaughter. He was sentenced to a minimum of six years four months imprisonment. On appeal, the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal unanimously held that the trial judge erred by failing to tell the jury that they needed to be unanimous not just on their verdict but on which act of the accused was the basis of his criminal liability. However, a majority nevertheless dismissed the appeal because the the evidence was insufficient to establish that the accused caused the first fall.
A unanimous High Court (Kiefel CJ, Bell, Keane & Edelman JJ, and Gageler J concurring) held that the appeal ought to have been allowed. Continue reading
The High Court has answered the questions in a special case on parole orders for prisoners who murdered a police officer, and its applicability to the plaintiff. The plaintiff was convicted of the murder of a police officer in a bombing in Russell St, Melbourne, and sentenced to a non-parole period of 28 years. After that non-parole period expired in September 2016, the plaintiff applied for parole, and that application proceeded through the parole review through October 2016. On 14 December 2016, s 74AAA was inserted into the Corrections Act 1986 (Vic), and provided new conditions for making parole orders for prisoners who murdered a police officer. It provides:
(1) The Board must not make a parole order under section 74 or 78 in respect of a prisoner convicted and sentenced (whether before, on or after this section comes into operation) to a term of imprisonment with a non-parole period for the murder of a person who the prisoner knew was, or was reckless as to whether the person was, a police officer, unless an application for the parole order is made to the Board by or on behalf of the prisoner.
Sub-section 3 provides that the Board ‘must have regard to the record of the court in relation to the offending, including the judgment and the reasons for sentence.’ Sub-section 6 defines ‘police officer’ to include an officer who was performing the duties or exercising the powers of a police officer at the time of the murder, or a murder that ‘arose from’ or ‘was connected’ with the officer’s role as a police officer, regardless of whether the officer was performing the duties or exercising the powers of a police officer at the time of the murder.
The plaintiff had commenced proceedings before the High Court in January 2017, seeking declarations that s 74AAA did not apply to him or his parole application (see ). In December 2017, s 127A was inserted into the Corrections Act, which purports to make s 74AAA applicable to Continue reading
Yesterday’s four judgments from the High Court broke with some recent patterns in the Court’s reasons. In one case, involving a compensation claim for lost pensions due to an early death, two judges dissented. That is only mildly unusual, but the dissenting judges’ identity is much more surprising. Chief Justice Kiefel gave her first dissent in over two years, while Keane J gave his first in over a year. It’s been over three-and-a-half years since the only previous matter where both judges dissented, a 2014 case about patent extensions. In a different break with recent tradition, two of the three other unanimous cases had separate concurrences. Again, the identities are the surprise. The main judgment in each case was from Gordon & Edelman JJ, while the Court’s most routine joiners, Kiefel CJ, Keane & Bell JJ, gave concurrences, yielding one case with three judgments and (in a first, and perhaps last) a Nauru case with a concurrence.
The High Court has allowed an appeal against a decision of the Supreme Court of Nauru on the ‘internal relocation principle’ in refugee status determinations. The appellant, a Sunni Muslim from the ‘K District’ in the province of Punjab, moved to Karachi in 2004, departed Pakistan in 2013, and applied for asylum in Nauru in 2014. The appellant claimed he held a well-founded fear of persecution by the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) for the imputed political opinion of opposing MQM, and feared harm from them throughout Pakistan. The Secretary of the Department of Justice and Border Control refused the application. On appeal, the Nauruan Refugee Status Review Tribunal found that the appellant had a well-founded fear of persecution in Karachi, it affirmed the Secretary’s decision because the appellant could return to K District where he would not face a reasonable possibility of persecution. The NRSC upheld the Tribunal’s determination.
The High Court unanimously allowed the appeal. The joint judges (Gordon and Edelman JJ) held that the Tribunal fell into error in applying the principles on internal relocation, and hence the NRSC should have allowed the appeal. After laying out the provisions of the Refugees Act (at ff), the joint judges turned to the internal relocation principle, reiterating that where a person claiming refugee status on the basis of a well-founded fear of persecution, and there is an area within their home country in which they would not have that fear, and the person could reasonably be expected to relocate there, then that person is not outside their home country due to a well-founded fear of persecution (see ). Continue reading
Last week, the High Court hosted a directions hearing before Nettle J for a coming appeal concerning compensation for loss of native title. The native title in question is around Timber Creek, in the northwest of the Northern Territory, but the hearing was held in Melbourne, some 4000km away. Its main purpose was to make orders about who can see gender-specific evidence relevant to the case, as outlined in this earlier post. Justice Nettle held that the evidence can be seen by the seven High Court justices (male or female), court staff (including associates) who any justice determines can hear the evidence (again, male or female), lawyers and experts who need to view the evidence (but only if they are men) and anyone else (but only with a court order after notice to the parties.) In passing, he noted that the case would be heard before all seven judges of the Court.
At the hearing’s conclusion, Nettle J made a further announcement:
Finally, lady and gentlemen, I should announce that subject to final confirmation, which will not be before the second week of June, it is intended that the appeals be heard in Darwin in the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory on 3 to 6 September of this year.
In Friday’s oral hearings, the High Court granted leave in four matters in Sydney (and none in Melbourne), but that is only the half of it. A week earlier, the Court also granted leave in four matters on the papers. Two are immigration matters (concerning anonymised applicants, as usual) while the others are… well, who knows?:
12. AB v CD & Ors (M183/2017)
13. EF (a pseudonym) v CD (a pseudonym) & Ors (M185/2017)
The published registry list does not name the lower court judgments that are under appeal. We don’t know who any of the parties are (though we know that at least CD and EF aren’t their real names.) We don’t know what either matter is about. We don’t know what the issues are. We don’t know why they’re secret. We don’t know if the two cases raise the same or different issues. As usual (for matters dealt with on the papers), we don’t know why they were granted leave. The brief special leave transcripts disclose a smidgen more in their titles, revealing that AB and EF are respectively parties for the actions they aren’t named in, and that the federal Director of Public Prosecutions and Victoria’s human rights commission are parties in both. And maybe (or maybe not) there’s a connection to a High Court transcript from late last year of a directions hearing before Nettle J between all the same parties, where ‘AB ‘was represented by Victoria’s government solicitor, ‘CD’ (the first respondent in both matters) was represented by Victoria’s solicitor for public prosecutions and ‘EF’ was represented by a commercial law firm.
All will eventually be revealed. Or will it? The same day it granted leave to those two cases, the Court held a final hearing in a matter (also from Victoria, Australia’s suppression order capital) involving four pseudonymous people facing federal prosecution for charges that are secret. At least in that case, we can read the judgment below and the parties’ submissions so that we know what the general issues are. Perhaps something similar will happen with the mysterious dispute between AB, CD, EF and co. But, for now, I can only summarise three-quarters of the matters where Australia’s apex court granted leave this month. Sometime later this year, the Court will hear appeals from the following six, published decisions: Continue reading
The High Court has dismissed an appeal against a decision of the Supreme Court of Nauru on refugee status and complementary protection. The appellant is a Nepali whose family were all members of the pro-royalist political group known as the RPP(N), which he joined in 2008 and in which he was active as an official. The appellant’s family had suspected that their brother had been disappeared by the Nepali Maoists (the NCP-M), and the appellant claimed that, from 2011 onwards, the NCP-M began to persecute him and both threatened and physically attacked him and his family in several separate incidents (at ff). The Nauruan Refugee Status Review Tribunal found that the appellant had suffered serious harm amounting to persecution, but ruled that because the harm was ‘localised’, the appellant could reasonably be expected to relocate elsewhere in Nepal and live a normal life without hardship, and was thus neither a refugee nor entitled to complementary protection (at ). The NRSC upheld that ruling, holding that the Tribunal had not erred in applying a reasonable internal reloaction test, and had not failed to take into account all matters relevant to the appellant’ complementary protection claim, including the reasonably practicality of relocating within Nepal, and that the Tribunal had not failed to afford him procedural fairness (at ).
The Court (Kiefel CJ, Gageler and Nettle JJ) dismissed the appeal. Their Honours began by noting that the relevant statutory and treaty provisions are set out in CRI026 (at ). The Continue reading
The High Court has dismissed an appeal against a decision of the Supreme Court of Nauru on refugee status and complementary protection. The appellant was a Sunni Pashtun from who sought refugee status or complementary protection on the basis of a well-founded fear of persecution by the Taliban in Peshawar for his actual or imputed political beliefs, based on series of attacks against him and his family members by the Taliban, the most recent of which related to extortion and coercion attempts, which the appellant refused to submit to (see ff). The Nauruan Refugee Status Review Tribunal found that the appellant faced a real threat of harm, but that he could also relocate to another area in Pakistan to avoid that harm, and consequently he was neither a refugee nor owed complementary protection by Nauru (at ). The NRSC upheld the Tribunal’s decision, holding that it had not erred in applying a reasonable internal relocation test, and did not fail to take into account the interests of the appellant’s children in finding that relocation was reasonable (at ).
The High Court (Kiefel CJ, Gageler and Nettle JJ) dismissed the appeal. Their Honours noted that the relevant statutory and treaty provisions were outlined in CRI026 (at ), and rejected DWN027’s arguments on ground one, on the relevance of the ability to relocate to the entitlement to complementary protection, as being ‘substantially the same’ as those given in CRI026, and rejected for the reasons given in that matter (at ).
Turning to Ground 2, that the Tribunal failed to take into account Nauru’s international obligation to give primary consideration to the best interests of the Continue reading
The High Court has dismissed an appeal against a decision of the Supreme Court of Nauru on refugee status, complementary protection obligations, and internal relocation. The appellant is a Pakistani national who had spent much of his life in Karachi, but also lived in a range of other districts in Pakistan. He arrived in Nauru and claimed refugee status on the basis of fears that he would be harmed by members of the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), whose leader he had injured at a cricket game in Karachi. He claimed that MQM viewed him as a political dissident, and could harm him anywhere in Pakistan, and that the government could not protect him due to its connections with and support for MQM. The Nauruan Refugee Status Review Tribunal accepted that there was a real possibility that he may be harmed if returned to Karachi, but only for reasons of personal revenge and not for his political beliefs, and that the appellant could avoid that harm by relocating to one of the areas in which he had family connections and where MQM had little support (see ff, ). The Nauruan Supreme Court dismissed an appeal against that decision, holding that the Tribunal had not erred in applying a reasonable internal relocation test to the appellant’s claim (at ).
The High Court (Kiefel CJ, Gageler and Nettle JJ) unanimously dismissed the appeal. Their Honours briefly noted the Nauruan statutory provisions: that s 4 of the Refugees Act provides that Nauru must not return a refugee to the frontiers of territories where that person would be persecuted, or return any person to a frontier in breach of its international obligation; that Nauruan law incorporates the definition of refugee from the Refugees Convention; and that ‘complementary protection’ applies to people who are Continue reading
Yesterday’s decision by the High Court (sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns) in Re Gallagher means that there will have to be a recount of Territorians’ votes in the 2016 federal election to determine a new (hopefully eligible) Senator. Such recounts are relatively cheap things, as they are done electronically. The same is not true for the four by-elections that the decision’s reasoning indirectly prompted after four lower house MPs resigned. By-elections cost around $2M each. Together with the three other by-elections prompted to date and the $11.6M identified as post-budget ‘legal expenses – constitutional matters’ December’s mid-year statement, the cost to taxpayers of the dual citizenship issue so far as roughly $26M. These costs can’t, of course, be attributed to the High Court – the mere umpire in these matters.
But Tuesday’s annual budget – somewhat overshadowed by yesterday’s decision and its aftermath – reveals more about how much the High Court costs taxpayers. Continue reading
The High Court, sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns, has decided a matter referred to it by the Senate on s 44(i) eligibility. Section 44(i) of the Australian Constitution provides that any person who is ‘is under any acknowledgment of allegiance, obedience, or adherence to a foreign power, or is a subject or a citizen or entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject or a citizen of a foreign power … shall be incapable of being chosen or of sitting as a senator or a member of the House of Representatives’. Senator Katy Gallagher (who first became a senator by filling a vacancy in 2015), lodged her nomination for the 2016 election on 31 May and was duly elected on 2 July 2016. At the date of nomination, she was a British citizen and thus was a citizen of a foreign power within the meaning of s 44(i). In August 2016, the UK Home Office acknowledged her renunciation of that citizenship. In December 2017, the Senate referred questions over Senator Gallagher’s eligibility to the Court of Disputed Returns.
The Court (Kiefel CJ, Bell, Keane, Nettle, and Gordon JJ, Gageler J, Edelman J) held that Gallagher was not eligible to be chosen by reason of s 44(i), and consequently there was a vacancy in the representation of the ACT which should be filled by a special count of the ballots.
The joint judges (Kiefel CJ, Bell, Keane, Nettle and Gordon JJ) first reiterated the principles laid down by the Court in Sykes v Cleary  HCA 60 and Re Canavan  HCA 45 (see ff). Section 44(i) disqualifies foreign citizens from being chosen as a Senator or MP, and has this effect regardless of that person’s knowledge of that status or intention to act on the duty of allegiance to a foreign power. Foreign citizenship, and the ability to renounce that citizenship, is determined by reference to the laws of relevant country. In Re Canavan, the Court recognised an implicit qualification to s 44(i) arising from the ‘constitutional imperative’ underlying that section: that no Australian citizen could be ‘irremediably’ prevented by foreign law from participating in Australia’s representative government, and that, at least, this could be so where that person has taken all reasonable steps under the foreign law to renounce that citizenship (see ). Gallagher’s submission here was that British law should be read as operating in exactly this way (at ).
Turning to the details of British renunciation law, the joint judges noted that the British Nationality Act 1981 (UK) allows a person to renounce British citizenship, and on registration of that declaration by the Secretary of State, that person ceases to be a British citizen (at ). The renunciation must be made in a particular form, Form RN, documents proving British citizenship must be provided, and a fee must be paid (at ). Gallagher completed the form on 20 April 2016, provided her birth certificate and Australian passport, and credit card details, which was debited on 6 May 2016 (at [16ff]). But in July 2016 the Home Office requested documents showing that she was indeed a British citizen (here, her parents’ birth and marriage certificate), which she did: sometime before 30 August 2016, the Home Office advised Gallagher that the declaration had been registered (at ).
Before the Court of Disputed Returns, Gallagher contended that by 20 April 2016, or at the latest by 6 May 2016 (the date of debiting), she had taken all steps required under British law that were ‘within her power’ to renounce her citizenship: it was then for the Secretary of State to choose the time and manner to perform the duty under that law, and that discretion was an ‘irremediable impediment’ to Gallagher’s participation in the 2106 election (see ). The Commonwealth Attorney-General contended that it is not enough for a person to merely take steps to renounce, unless the foreign law provides an irremediable impediment to renunciation: British law does not do so as it does not make it impossible or not reasonably possible to renounce (at ).
The joint judges accepted the Commonwealth’s argument as clearly reflecting the law stated in Sykes v Cleary and Re Canavan (at ). The constitutional imperative is narrowly focused on foreign laws that prevent a person from ever ‘freeing’ himself or herself of the citizenship of that foreign country, thus preventing them from lifting the disqualification in s 44(i) (at ff). Foreign laws that require particular steps be taken will not ‘irremediably prevent’ renunciation: it must rather be an insurmountable obstacle, or a process that was unreasonable for, for example, putting the renouncer at personal risk (at ff). The joint judges also explicitly rejected Gallagher’s submission that it is not sufficient that a person only take all steps reasonably required for the exception to s 44(i) to apply: the foreign law must also itself ‘irremediably prevent’ renunciation (at ff). The joint judges added that the requirement of taking all those steps, even where the law prevents renunciation, is required by s 44(i)’s concerns about the duty or allegiance to a foreign power: taking those steps is a manifestation that the person has done all they can (at ). Gallagher could not identify any aspect of British law that would constitute an irremediable impediment, and that a decision might not be made in time for a particular person’s nomination for an election does not constitute an irremediable impediment (see ff).
Gageler J agreed with the responses given by the joint judges, and with their reasons, adding further reasons explaining his Honour’s view of the constitutional imperative. Gageler J emphasised that the implied exception avoids rigidly operating in a way that undermines the system of responsible and representative government that it aims to protect; namely, that arbitrary or intransigent foreign laws cannot frustrate the ability of Australian citizens to participate in Australian government (at ). Specifically, it aims at allowing Australian citizens who irremediable retains foreign citizenship; who have attempted to renounce but are prevented from doing so (at ). It is not engaged merely because a person has taken all reasonable steps and is awaiting the completion of that process: ‘Retention of foreign citizenship can hardly be said to be irremediable while it remains in the process of being remedied’ (at ). Instead, the implied exception can only be engaged if and when the process of renunciation turns out, for practical purposes, to be one that will not permit renunciation, ‘requiring if not that an impasse has actually occurred then at least that an impasse can be confidently predicted’ (at ). Gallagher remained a citizen of a foreign power (at ), and the precise timing of the 2016 election has no bearing on the disqualification requirements in s 44 (see at ff).
Edelman J also agreed with the responses given by the joint judges, agreeing with ‘generally those [reasons given] in the joint judgment’ (at ), and offered his own reasons on the constitutional imperative and non-recognition of foreign laws. Edelman J first noted that foreign laws will generally not be recognised where they are inconsistent with local policy or the maintenance of local political institutions (at ). This rule has been applied to foreign laws on citizenship, notably by Brennan J in Sykes v Cleary, who used recognition as an ‘anterior question’ to be considered prior to the application of s 44(i): ‘that whether a person was a subject or citizen of a foreign power was a question for the law of that foreign power, subject to exceptions recognised by international law as well as exceptions sourced in public policy derived from both common law and the Constitution‘ (at ), such as a ‘mischievous’ foreign statute conferring citizenship on all Australians to disqualify them from their own Parliament (at ). Edelman J noted that it was unnecessary in this matter to consider if any further exceptions should exist: while Gallagher’s arguments suggested that parts of the British law should not be ‘recognised’ she did not focus on the anterior question and instead ‘correctly assumed that none of the existing, limited exceptions applied to prevent recognition of the foreign law’: at ).
Turning, then, to the implied constitutional qualification, Edelman J saw s 44(i) against the backdrop of other limitations on participation in government in the Constitution, and as focusing on preventing foreign laws from ‘stultify[ing] a persons’ qualified ability to participate’ (at ). The ‘irremediable’ aspect includes situations where the foreign law would make participation permanently impossible (at ), though it also extends to laws that have the practical effect of imposing unreasonable obstacles to renunciation (at ). Edelman J rejected Galalgher’s submission that the British law here involved unreasonable obstacles, specifically, the action of a foreign official: while some circumstances might involve foreign officials making unreasonable requests, or unreasonably refusing to exercise discretion, that is not clear in this situation (see at ff, and ):
Ultimately, perhaps the most fundamental difficulty for Senator Gallagher’s submission that actions of foreign officials should be automatically excluded by the implication is that the submission shears the constitutional implication from its rationale of ensuring that an Australian citizen not be irremediably prevented by foreign law from participation in representative government. The submission treats as an ‘unreasonable obstacle’ falling within the implication any foreign law that does not irremediably prevent participation, but which might have an arbitrary or discriminatory effect. This would require a different implication, one which is lacking in any textual or structural constitutional foundation.
Gallagher’s vacancy will be filled by a special count of the ballots. The directions needed to give effect to that count will be made by a single Justice (Answer to Question (b)).
|High Court Judgment|| HCA 17||9 May 2018|
|Result||Vacancy in the Senate for the representation of the ACT for which Gallagher was returned, to be filled by special count|
|High Court Documents||Re Gallagher|
|Full Court Hearing|| HCATrans 46||14 March 2018|
|Hearings, Kiefel CJ|| HCATrans 14||12 February 2018|
| HCATrans 1||19 January 2018|
The questions referred to the Court of Disputed Returns by the Senate be answered as follows:
If the answer to Question (a) is “yes”, by what means and in what manner that vacancy should be filled?
The vacancy should be filled by a special count of the ballot papers. Any direction necessary to give effect to the conduct of the special count should be made by a single Justice.
What directions and other orders, if any, should the Court make in order to hear and finally dispose of this reference?
Unnecessary to answer.
What, if any, orders should be made as to the costs of these proceedings?
Unnecessary to answer.
The High Court has allowed an appeal by a man convicted of four counts of sexual offences, including rape, alleged to have been committed in January 2000. The complainant, then aged 19, answered a newspaper ad for a nanny to accompany the accused, then aged 61, his partner and child on a sailing trip, After an initial interview, the complainant returned for a further interview a week later. According to the complainant, at around 11pm on the yacht, she had a shower and was then shaved and raped by the accused. The prosecution case included comments she made the next morning to a friend and her mother the next morning, and the results of a police search warrant on the yacht two weeks later that found a razor with her DNA on it. At the trial, the accused formally admitted that he and the complainant had had sex on the yacht that evening.
At the trial in 2014, the complainant’s mother testified that, on the morning after the alleged rape, the complainant ‘phoned me to tell me that she had been raped’. In cross-examination, she was given a transcript of evidence that she she gave at the accused’s committal in 2007, where she had said that the complainant had told her that morning that ‘I think I have been raped’ and that ‘I had some wine and I felt funny and I don’t remember every – anything after a certain time’. Asked if she agreed that she gave that evidence, she said that she did. This part of the cross-examination concluded:
When you gave evidence back on the 21st of September 2007, was better than it is now? Yes. I would say so, yes.
And when you gave that evidence, that was the best recollection you could give to the court of what she said to you? Yes. I would say so, yes.
The trial judge directed the jury on this exchange as follows:
That inconsistency between what the mother told the committal court seven years ago and what she told today, depending upon your view of it, impacts, potentially upon the mother’s credibility and reliability. But what the mother said to the committal court seven years ago is not evidence of the fact that the complainant said those things to her. It’s not evidence of the truth of the contents of the statement if you can follow that logic. It impacts upon the particular witness’s credibility who’s giving the evidence.
On appeal, the Queensland Court of Appeal accepted that the trial judge’s direction was incorrect, but dismissed the appeal on the ground that the misdirection caused no substantial miscarriage of justice to the accused.
The High Court (Kiefel CJ & Bell, Keane & Gordon JJ, Edelman J concurring) first considered whether or not the trial judge misdirected the jury. Continue reading
I love portraits: one of my favourite galleries is the National Portrait Gallery in London. In Australia, we have the Archibald Prize, an annual award for the best portrait, ‘preferentially of some man or woman distinguished in art, letters, science or politics, painted by any artist resident in Australasia’. It is judged by the Trustees of the Art Gallery of New South Wales.
Last week, the High Court published two unanimous judgments and announced a third, bringing its total of unanimous decisions so far this year to 15, out of 17 to date. At this early stage, the Court is tracking ahead of its past rates of unanimous assent in orders.* On my count of the last five years (since Gummow and Heydon JJ left the bench and Gageler and Keane JJ joined), the Court’s judges unanimously asesnted to the court’s orders in 75% (2013), 76% (2014), 81% (2015), 76% (2016) and 67% (2017) of three-or-more judge cases.This average unanimity rate of 76% over the past five years is – according to data compiled and generously supplied to me by regular blog commenter Matan Goldblatt – well ahead of earlier multi-year periods where unanimous orders made up 67% (2007-2012), 54% (2003-2007) and 61% (1998-2003) of High Court decisions. The backdrop (and possible explanation) of the current institutional unanimity rate is each judge’s personal rate of assenting to the Court’s order. From 2013, my count of those rates is: French CJ: 95.5%; Hayne J: 91.9%; Crennan J: 94.8%; Kiefel J/CJ: 97.7%; Bell J: 96.7%; Gageler J: 87.0%; Keane J: 97.1%; Nettle J: 91.1%; Gordon J: 90.0%; and Edelman J: 88.9%.
These figures show that the current court is characterised, not just by its lack of ‘Great Dissenters’ – Gageler J’s outlier of 87% is barely comparable to the likes of Kirby J (around 60%, dropping to 52% in 2006) and Heydon J (55% in his final year) – but perhaps especially by its run of ‘Great Assenters’ Continue reading
The April sittings saw the High Court rejecting all of the special leave matters heard on the papers, including Valve’s high profile argument that its Steam gaming platform is not subject to the Australian Consumer Law. But the Court granted half of the (six) matters it heard orally on Friday, all criminal appeals, including one on the topical question of how to establish whether or not cannabis found at someone’s home was harvested from two plants.
The three cases that the Court will visit on appeal are: Continue reading
The High Court has dismissed five appeals stemming from to a decision of the NSW Court of Appeal on anti-discrimination complaints made across State borders. Burns, a resident of NSW and an anti-discrimination campaigner, made complaints to the Anti-Discrimination Board of the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal about statements made by Corbett and Gaynor, who were, respectively, residents of Victoria and Queensland. At issue there was whether ss 28(2)(a) and (c), 29(1) and 32 of the Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act (NSW) (the NCAT Act), which lay out the general and appellate jurisdiction of NCAT, gave NCAT jurisdiction to hear cases between residents of different states (known as ‘diversity matters’). Hearing the various appeals stemming from these matters together, the NSWCA held that the NCAT had no diversity jurisdiction, and that only State courts, and not Tribunals, could hear such complaints under the High Court’s diversity jurisdiction.
The High Court unanimously dismissed the appeals. Four judges (Kiefel CJ, Bell and Keane JJ and Gageler J) held that the Constitution contains an implied limitation that prevents State parliaments from conferring diversity jurisdiction on State tribunals.
The Joint Judges (Kiefel CJ, Bell and Keane JJ)
Kiefel CJ, Bell and Keane JJ began by laying out the appeal as raising two issues: whether the Commonwealth Constitution precludes State parliaments from conferring jurisdiction in diversity matters on a tribunal that is not one of the ‘courts of the States’ referred to in s 77 (the ‘implication’ issue); and, if it does not, whether a State law purporting to do so is inoperative by virtue of s 109 of the Constitution, as inconsistent with a federal law covering the same issue, here, s 39 of the Judiciary Act 1903 (Cth) (the ‘inconsistency’ issue). The joint judges held held that the implication issue should be resolved affirmatively, and thus it was unnecessary to resolve the inconsistency issue (at , and see  on the distinctness of the issues). For the joint judges, the text, Continue reading
The High Court has dismissed an appeal from a decision of the Supreme Court of Nauru on the denial of procedural fairness and the consideration of country information in a refugee status determination. The appellant, an Iranian of Faili Kurdish ethnicity, arrived on Christmas Island in 2013 and was transferred to Nauru, where he applied for refugee status under Nauru’s Refugees Convention Act 2012 (Nr). The Secretary of the Department of Justice and Border Control refused that application: that decision was affirmed by the Refugee Status Review Tribunal. Before the High Court, the appellant contended that the Tribunal erred in failing to deal with the country information he provided, specifically, that if returned to Iran as a failed asylum seeker, he risked being imputed with political opinions for which he would be persecuted. The appellant also sough to amend his notice of appeal to include a second ground of denial of procedural unfairness in not putting to him the nature of the country information it did rely upon in considering whether he might suffer persecution on the grounds of ethnicity (at : neither ground was raised before the NRSC).
The High Court rejected both grounds as being without merit and dismissed the appeal. Regarding the first ground, the Court noted that the Tribunal had received and considered the appellant’s information (at ), that it did not seem to have ignored it, but that, in any case, much of that information did not require the Tribunal’s comment: Continue reading
Nearly four weeks ago, on Tuesday 13th March, the High Court’s jurisdiction apparently shrank. We know this because the media has reported that the High Court registry informed parties to a criminal matter in Nauru (which had previously reached the High Court last October) that:
The agreement between Australia and Nauru that gave the High Court of Australia jurisdiction was terminated as at 13/3/18.
The agreement in question is a treaty between the governments of Australia and Nauru signed in 1976, around six years after Nauru’s independence from Australia. Article 1 of the treaty states that ‘appeals are to lie to the High Court of Australia from the Supreme Court of Nauru’ in some cases. Article 6.1 provides that ‘this Agreement shall continue in force until the expiration of the ninetieth day after the day on which either Government has given to the other Government notice in writing of its desire to terminate this Agreement’. So, presumably, one government gave the other notice on or about Wednesday 13th December 2017, which happens to be the date of the High Court’s most recent judgment on Nauru law (ruling that Nauru’s immigration authorities denied procedural fairness to an asylum seeker transferred to Nauru in 2013.) Continue reading
So, first of all, smokin’s bad. You shouldn’t smoke. And uh, alcohol is bad, you shouldn’t drink alcohol. And as for drugs, well, drugs are bad, you shouldn’t do drugs. M’kay, that about wraps up my introduction, now are there any questions? Yes, Stan?
The many problems of drugs — and of the ‘war on drugs’ — are well known. This post concerns a less discussed drug problem: the criminal law of drugs. No-one has adequately solved the legal puzzle of how to prohibit the market in bags of powder — in particular, how to reliably and fairly connect identifiable people to those bags of powder,
The criminal law of drugs is bad. Even the simplest drug situations routinely raise vast problems for police, lawyers and judges. The common scenario of someone flying into an airport with a suitcase lined with drugs prompted Australia’s most important — and its most difficult — High Court case on the criminal law. A person’s criminal responsibility (or lack of responsibility) for what is in her luggage continues to be fine-tuned three decades later, including in two High Court cases last year.
Last month, the High Court’s judges split four to three on another, recurrent drug law puzzle: proving who is responsible for drugs sent unaccompanied in the mail. The complex appeal in Kalbasi v Western Australia  HCA 7 is an object lesson, not only in how very difficult it is for police to net the biggest players, but also how Australian courts can punish someone for being a Mr Big without ever affording him a fair trial before a jury.
This morning, the High Court ended Eddie Obeid’s formal challenge to his conviction for misconduct in public office, refusing the former MP special leave to appeal to the nation’s apex court. He wasn’t alone in being disappointed. There were just six matters listed for oral hearing today (compared to thirteen a month ago) and only one application was granted) compared to six a month ago. On the other hand, the Court had already granted special leave in two matters on the papers this Wednesday, albeit out of around fifty dealt with without a hearing.)
The three cases where the Court will hear appeals some time this year are: Continue reading
The High Court unanimously allowed an appeal from a decision of the Full Court of the South Australian Supreme Court regarding the power of a court to set aside one of its own perfected judgments on the basis of misconduct falling short of fraud. It was held that for the equitable power to set aside a judgment required actual fraud by the party who succeeded at trial, and such fraud had not been adequately proven or pleaded in this case. However, it was not necessary for the party seeking to set aside the judgment to exercise reasonable diligence to discover the fraud. Continue reading
The High Court has answered questions in a stated case brought by a common informer challenge to the capacity of a member of the House of Representatives elected at the July 2016 federal election. Section 3 of the Common Informers (Parliamentary Disqualifications) Act 1975 (Cth) provides that any person who has sat in Parliament ‘while he or she was a person declared by the Constitution to be incapable of so sitting’ is liable to pay ‘any person who sues for it in the High Court’ a sum of money. The defendant was declared elected as a member of the House of Representatives on 20 July 2016. On 7 July 2017, the plaintiff commenced proceedings under the Common Informers Act, contending that the defendant was incapable of sitting as an MP because he holds shares in a company that leased premises to Australia Post, contrary to s 44(v) of the Constitution. After a query about whether the High Court has jurisdiction to decide the anterior question of the defendant’s eligibility to sit as an MP, Bell J formulated the questions for the Full Court as follows:
(1) Can and should the High Court decide [in this proceeding] whether the defendant was a person declared by the Constitution to be incapable of sitting as a Member of the House of Representatives for the purposes of section 3 of the [Common Informers Act]?
(2) If the answer to question (1) is yes, is it the policy of the law that the High Court should not issue subpoenas in this proceeding directed to a forensic purpose of assisting the plaintiff in his attempt to demonstrate that the defendant was a person declared by the Constitution to be incapable of sitting as a Member of the House of Representatives for the purposes of section 3 of the Common Informers Act?
The Court unanimously answered Question 1 ‘no’, and consequently it was not necessary to answer Question 2.
The joint judges (Kiefel CJ, Bell, Keane and Edelman JJ) held that whether the defendant is incapable of sitting as an MP is a question to be determined by the House of Representatives, unless it resolves to refer the matter to the Court of Disputed Returns. This answer to Question 1 is determined by ss 46 and 47, and their relation to s 44, of the Constitution. Section 46 Continue reading
The High Court, sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns, has decided a matter referred to it by the Senate over the eligibility of two South Australian senate nominees. Skye Kakoschke-Moore and Timothy Storer who were third and fourth in the Nick Xenophon Team order of senate candidates for the 2016 federal election. Following that election, on 4 August, Kakoschke-Moore was returned as a senator for South Australia. On 3 November 2017, NXT resolved to expel Storer from the party, and by 6 November he purported to resign from the party. On 22 November, Kakoschke-Moore resigned as a senator after receiving confirmation from the United Kingdom Home Office that she was a British citizen. The Senate then resolved on 27 November to refer to the High Court the question of whether, by reason of s 44(i) of the Constitution, which provides that any person who is a subject or citizen of a foreign power shall be incapable of being chosen as a senator, there was a vacancy in the Senate for the place for which Kakoschke-Moore was returned. On 30 November, Kakoschke-Moore submitted the form to renounce her UK citizenship, and received confirmation on 6 December from the Home Office that her renunciation was effective on that date.
On 24 January 2018, Nettle J declared that Kakoschke-Moore was incapable of being chosen or sitting by reason of s 44(i). Nettle J also reserved three further questions for the Full Court’s determination, which the Court answered on 13 February (see order below), delivering its reasons on 21 March.
The Court unanimously held that the vacancy left by Kakoshcke-Moore should be filled by a special count of the votes cast on 2 July 2016; that Kakoschke-Moore’s renunciation of her British citizenship in December 2017 does not render her capable of now being chosen to fill the vacancy; and that Storer should not be excluded from the special count.
On questions one and two, the Court rejected Kakoschke-Moore’s contentions that the Court should declare her elected because she has now renounced her Continue reading
The High Court has unanimously dismissed appeal against a decision of the Queensland Court of Appeal on a defendant’s decision not to testify in the context of a domestic violence murder conviction. Although he told his solicitors that the killing was an accident that occurred after the victim attacked him, his defence at trial instead relied on his police interview that described the killing as a deliberate attack that occurred in the heat of the moment. The defendant’s reasons for not testifying were evidenced in the following signed instructions he gave to his solicitor before the trial:
I am not relying on self defence or provocation as defence for tactical or legal reasons. Firstly, I did not raise these defences in my interview to police and secondly it would require me to give further evidence if such defences were to be raised. I have already given my preliminary view that I do not wish to give evidence as I do not want to be cross-examined about my previous criminal history.
On appeal, the defendant’s trial counsel explained that the advice was based on a number of contingencies that might arise during the defendant’s testimony – imputations against the police or the victim, assertions of his good character or the substance of his defence that the killing was an accident – which might allow the introduction of his earlier conviction for a home invasion where a person was fatally stabbed, but admitted that he had not told the defendant that the trial judge would have to give leave for that to occur. The QCA held that the trial counsel’s advice was incorrect, but dismissed the defendant’s appeal because the decision not to testify was a sound, forensic decision where the wrong advice was merely ‘an additional, but inaccurately expressed, reason’.
A unanimous High Court consisting of all seven judges rejected the defendant’s argument that he could not be held to a forensic decision that was informed by incorrect legal advice. Continue reading
The High Court, sitting as the Court of Dispute Returns, has answered a question referred to it by the Senate on eligibility of being chosen under s 44 of the Constitution. The reference originally concerned then-Senator Jacqui Lambie’s eligibility under s 44(i), but following her resignation it focused on the eligibility of Steven Martin, another Senate candidate who, following a special count, was chosen to fill Lambie’s vacancy. The matter then focused on s 44(iv), which provides that ‘[a]ny person who … holds any office of profit under the Crown … shall be incapable of being chosen or of sitting as a senator’. Martin holds the office of mayor and councillor of Devonport City Council, a local government corporation established under the Local Government Act 1993 (Tas).
On 6 February 2018, the Court held that Martin was not incapable of being chosen or of sitting as a senator by reason of s 44(iv), and delivered its reasons for that answer on 14 March. The joint judges (Kiefel CJ, Bell, Gageler, Keane, Nettle and Gordon JJ) first emphasised the importance of s 45(i), which provides that if a senator becomes subject to any of the disabilities in s 44, that senator’s place ‘shall thereupon become vacant’ (at ). The temporal relationship between ss 44 and 45 is the process of ‘being chosen’ in s 44 remains incomplete until a person not subject to a s 44 disability is validly returned as elected, whereas s 45 operates to vacate the place of a person validly returned who later becomes subject to a s 44 disability (see ). In this matter, there was no dispute that ‘the Crown’ refers to the executive government of a State, and no dispute that the offices of mayor and councillor in Tasmania are each an ‘office of profit’ (at ). The sole issue was whether those offices are ‘under’ the executive government of Tasmania (at –).
The joint judges then turned to the pre-Federation history of s 44(iv), noting that nothing in that history suggests it had a technical meaning at Federation, and that nothing in the drafting history suggests there was any significance for that choice of words (at ). Consequently, the joint judges saw pre-Federation history as ‘more enlightening as to the purpose of the disqualification’, Continue reading
The High Court has allowed an appeal against a decision of the Queensland Court of Appeal on whether a local council can enforce planning conditions that were agreed by a previous land owner when the land was subdivided. Section 245 of the Sustainable Planning Act 2009 (Qld) provides that
(1) A development approval (a) attaches to the land the subject of the application to which the approval relates; and (b) binds the owner, the owner’s successors in title and any occupier of the land.
(2) To remove any doubt, it is declared that subsection (1) applies even if later development, including reconfiguring a lot, is approved for the land or the land as reconfigured
In 2009, the Townsville City Council approved a subdivision on the condition that the then-owner register an easement to allow pedestrian, vehicle and utilities access to the back-lot, which the owner never did. That decision was made under the Integrated Planning Act 1997 (Qld), s 3.5.28 of which is substantially reproduced in s 245. When the subdivision was registered and both lots later sold, the Queensland Planning and Environment Court granted the new back-lot owner an ‘enforcement order’ to prevent the new front-lot owner from committing a ‘development offence’ by not registering the utilities easement. The QCA unanimously quashed the order on the basis that the Council’s subdivision conditions did not attach to the land following the subdivision.
The High Court (Kiefel CJ, Bell, Keane, Gordon and Edelman JJ) unanimously allowed the appeal, holding that s 245 obliges a successor to title after a reconfiguartion to comply with the condition of the approval of that recondition even if it was not satisfied by the original owner, and that QPEC may make an enforcement order requiring the successor to fulfil that condition.
After reviewing the facts (at ff), the statutory provisions (at ff), and the decisions of the lower courts (at ff), and the submissions of the parties (at ff), the Court ruled that the appellants’ second submission — that even if the respondents were not a party to the development approval, that does not preclude an enforcement order from being made against them — Continue reading
The High Court dismissed, by majority, an appeal against a decision of the Western Australian Court of Appeal on a conviction and sentencing for drug importation. The appellant was convicted for attempted possession of 5kg of methylamphetamine with intent to sell or supply them to another, after police intercepted the drug shipment in two tool cases, substituted salt for the drugs, and then surveilled a Perth man take the cases home and unpack them in front of the appellant. The trial judge directed:
I’m now going to deal with the fourth element upon the jury aid, that the accused intended to sell or supply the prohibited drug or any part of it to another. Members of the jury, you can give that element a tick. It is not an issue for you in this trial.
The WASCA dismissed the appeal, holding that, although this direction was incorrect (as a statutory presumption of intent to sell or supply did not apply to the offence of attempted possession), the so-called ‘proviso’ to Western Australia’s criminal appeal statute (that the Court ‘may dismiss the appeal if it considers that no substantial miscarriage of justice has occurred’) applied.
The High Court formed a bench of seven judges to address the meaning of its 2005 precedent on the ‘proviso’, Weiss v The Queen, which held:
No single universally applicable description of what constitutes “no substantial miscarriage of justice” can be given. But one negative proposition may safely be offered. It cannot be said that no substantial miscarriage of justice has actually occurred unless the appellate court is persuaded that the evidence properly admitted at trial proved, beyond reasonable doubt, the accused’s guilt of the offence on which the jury returned its verdict of guilty.
The appellant argued that the WASCA’s approach that regards the ‘negative proposition’ as determining the application of the proviso unless there was a ‘fundamental’ error of ‘process’ either ‘misapplies the principles explained in Weiss or, if it does not, Weiss should be qualified or overruled.’ The Court unanimously declined to overrule Weiss, but divided on whether the ruling was correctly applied in this case. Continue reading
The High Court unanimously dismissed an appeal against a decision of the Queensland Court of Appeal on the defence of accident to a grievous bodily harm conviction. The appellant and his former business partner fell out over business dealings and an adultery claim, leading to a fight in a Gold Coast shopping mall. The jury convicted the appellant of grievous bodily harm for breaking the victim’s hip after shoving him over, but acquitted him of another charge that he kicked the victim while he was on the ground. The defence of accident in s23 of Queensland’s Crimninal Code states (emphasis added):
(1) Subject to the express provisions of this Code relating to negligent acts and omissions, a person is not criminally responsible for—
(b) an event that— (i) the person does not intend or foresee as a possible consequence; and (ii) an ordinary person would not reasonably foresee as a possible consequence.
Example: Parliament, in amending subsection (1) (b) by the Criminal Code and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2011 , did not intend to change the circumstances in which a person is criminally responsible.
(1A) However, under subsection (1) (b), the person is not excused from criminal responsibility for death or grievous bodily harm that results to a victim because of a defect, weakness, or abnormality.
The QCA rejected the appellant’s claim that the hip fracture fell within s23(1)(b) in the following terms (emphasis added):
A jury may well have considered that an ordinary person in the position of the appellant could not have reasonably foreseen the complainant would in those circumstances suffer a fractured hip. That, it seems, was the trial judge’s view. But that is not the test for this Court. It was equally open to the jury on the evidence to reach the contrary conclusion, that an ordinary person in the position of the appellant could have foreseen that the complainant might suffer a serious injury such as a fractured hip from such a forceful push. The resolution of the issue was a matter for the jury. They had the advantage of seeing the height and build of the 55 year old complainant and appellant. Assuming they were of average build and height, the appellant’s push of the complainant, necessarily on the medical evidence forceful, on a slight downward sloped tiled ramp, could foreseeably result in the complainant falling badly and seriously injuring himself, even breaking his hip. Such a result was not theoretical or remote.
After reviewing the whole of the evidence, I am satisfied that the jury verdict of guilty of grievous bodily harm was not unreasonable and against the weight of the evidence. It was open to the jury to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt of the appellant’s guilt. It follows that I would dismiss the appeal against conviction.
The High Court (Kiefel CJ, Bell, Gageler, Nettle & Gordon JJ) held (at ) that s23(1)(b)’s reference to ‘would’ ‘involves a degree of probability, albeit that it need not be more likely than not, whereas’ the QCA’s referrence to ‘could’ ‘is a matter more akin to mere possibility’ and hence was ‘prone to lead to error in the application of s 23(1)(b)(ii)’ and ‘the practice should not be repeated’.However, the Court noted (at ) that the trial judge directed the jury in the correct terms and ‘there is no reason to doubt that the jury adhered to those directions, or cause to doubt the reasonableness of the verdict on that basis.’
The Court then turned to the particular reasoning of the QCA, Continue reading
By Owen Hayford and Hannah Stewart-Weeks
Senior Fellow in the Melbourne Law Masters and Partner, PwC Legal and Senior Associate, PwC Legal
If you’re a construction lawyer or construction industry professional, by now you’ve probably heard about the recent High Court decision in Maxcon Constructions Pty Ltd v Vadasz  HCA 5 (‘Maxcon’) (handed down at the same time as the decision in Probuild Constructions (Aust) Pty Ltd v Shade Systems Pty Ltd  HCA 4). Most commentators have focused on the judicial review issue which arose in both of those cases. However, the High Court in Maxcon also determined that a provision in a construction agreement which allowed a head contractor to withhold retention moneys under a subcontract until certain events had occurred under the head contract was a ‘pay when paid’ provision, and was therefore not legally enforceable under the security of payment (SOP) legislation. (See Kiefel CJ, Bell, Keane, Nettle and Gordon JJ at –. Gageler J at  and Edelman J at  agreed with the conclusions of the plurality regarding the operation of the SOP legislation, but did not consider the issue determinative of the appeal).
In this instance, the relevant SOP legislation was the Building and Construction Industry Security of Payment Act 2009 (SA) (‘SA SOP Act’), but most other States apart from Western Australia and the Northern Territory have similar provisions to the SA SOP Act. Thus, the decision has potentially broad implications for head contractors, not only in relation to retention provisions, but also in relation to other provisions which attempt to make a payment under a subcontract contingent upon an event occurring under the head contract. Head contractors may need to review their subcontracts to ensure that they don’t inadvertently contain ‘pay when paid’ provisions as a result of this decision. Continue reading
By Owen Hayford
Senior Fellow in the Melbourne Law Masters and Partner, PwC Legal
Construction lawyers were very excited last week, when Australia’s highest court handed down two decisions on the rights of principals to construction contracts to seek judicial review of adjudications made under security of payment legislation — Probuild Constructions (Aust) Pty Ltd v Shade Systems Pty Ltd  HCA 4, and Maxcon Constructions Pty Ltd v Vadasz  HCA 5.
Security of payment legislation has been enacted in every Australian state and territory to ensure that that construction contractors and sub-contractors are promptly paid for the work that they have performed. Although different in each state and territory, the legislation establishes a fast-track process for the interim resolution of progress payment disputes under construction contracts by an adjudicator. The two cases arose when decisions by adjudicators in relation to progress payments were sought to be challenged by principals for alleged errors of law.
The High Court answered the question of when an error by an adjudicator will entitle the principal to apply to the court to have the adjudication declared void and set aside. Numerous judges have provided different answers to this question since it was first considered in detail in the 2003 decision of Musico v Davenport  NSWSC 977. The sad news, for those who have funded the intervening litigation, is that the High Court has basically taken us back to the position that was espoused in Musico almost 15 years ago.
Sadder still, the High Court hasn’t exhaustively determined when a court will be allowed to set aside a determination because the requirements of the security of payment legislation have not been satisfied. As such, further litigation on the grey areas can be expected. Continue reading
At the start of Friday’s hearing of an application for leave to appeal Australia’s first contested determination of compensation for loss of native title, Nettle J made it clear that he and Gordon J saw the topic as clearly deserving attention from the High Court:
Ladies and gentlemen, our present inclination, which is plainly tentative, is to think that the matter raises questions of principles of general importance which would warrant the grant of special leave.
Not only did Western Australia’s Solicitor-General Peter Quinlan fail to convince the Court that the case was a poor one for testing those principles (because the Northern Territory didn’t rely on a statutory rule limiting compensation), but he seemingly opened up a major new issue for the Court to consider: whether extinguishing native title is a deprivation of property for the purposes of the Constitution’s requirement of just terms compensation. The Commonwealth’s counsel Stephen Lloyd cited that issue (which he said would likely attract interventions from every state and territory) as well as the twenty regular appeal grounds now before the Court as reasons why the usual limit of twenty pages per party for submissions on appeal should be lifted to eighty or more, and why the full court hearing would take some four or five days. Calling the latter estimate ‘a little alarming’, Nettle J raised the page limit to fifty and told the parties to find a way to limit the hearing to three days.
Buried in the transcript is a further, relatively minor, but quite unusual issue the High Court will now encounter. Lloyd drew the Court’s attention to:
some secret men’s evidence that was confidential before Justice Mansfield. Different orders were made in relation to that to go to the Full Court which only allowed female judicial officers to see it – no other females have been allowed to see it so, no other court staff or the like.
Last Wednesday, the High Court conducted an unusual sitting, where two ‘full court’ (two or more judge) benches heard final appeals simultaneously in separate Canberra courtrooms. This joint sitting is the product of two oddities: first, the High Court’s rare role hearing appeals from a single judge court, the Supreme Court of Nauru (allowing the Court to sit unusual three judge benches); and second, a recent uptick in such appeals. However, these may be amongst the last such sittings. Three weeks ago, at Nauru’s 50th anniversary of its independence in 1968, Nauru’s President Baron Waqa reportedly told the national parliament of a plan to terminate the High Court’s role:
Severance of ties to Australia’s highest court is a logical step towards full nationhood and an expression of confidence in Nauru’s ability to determine its own destiny.
The High Court has dismissed two appeals against decisions of the South Australian Supreme Court (Maxcon) and the New South Wales Court of Appeal (Probuild) on when a court can review an adjudication decision about security of payments legislation. In both of these matters, the primary courts held that an adjudicator had made an error of law in adjudicating disputes over progress payments for construction projects. The NSWCA held that the security of payment legislation removed any judicial power to quash an arbitral decision for that error of law, and the SASCFC held that it was bound to follow the NSWCA ruling. These rulings were upheld by the High Court.
The High Court has remitted a proceeding concerning a civil breach of federal industrial relations law to the Full Court of the Federal Court of Australia to consider whether to order an individual defendant to pay the penalty personally. The defendants, a building industry union and an employee of that union, admitted to breaching s346 of the Fair Work Act 2009, which prohibits coercing someone into taking industrial activity, by organising a blockade of cement supplies to a government building site in order to put pressure on the builders to hire a representative of the union. In proceedings brought by the predecessor to the Australian Building and Construction Commission, the Federal Court imposed a civil penalty of $60,000 for the union and $18,000 for the employee. The amount of penalty was not disputed before the High Court.
The issue that went to the High Court was the ‘non-indemnification’ order that accompanied the civil penalty on the employee. Continue reading
After rejecting twenty–seven special leave applications on the papers in recent weeks, the High Court granted over half of the applications in today’s oral hearings. Several of the cases raise major points of principle with significant commercial implications: compensation for loss of life, arrangements for near bankrupt companies, compensation for native title and the tax valuation of mining companies. In some instances at least, these are balanced by human elements. Notably, in one sad matter – involving the question of compensation for a shortened life expectancy – the transcript reveals that the defendant volunteered to pay the plaintiff’s High Court costs (on both appeal and cross-appeal) and that that the High Court offered to hear the matter speedily this April in light of the plaintiff’s deteriorating condition.
The six new matters that will proceed to the High Court’s appellate jurisdiction are: Continue reading
The High Court entered its summer holiday having fully resolved nine matters in the Court of Disputed Returns concerning the 2016 federal election in four full court judgments, one each concerning one of the five disqualifications for federal MPs set out in s44 of the Constitution:
Any person who:
(i) is under any acknowledgment of allegiance, obedience, or adherence to a foreign power, or is a subject or a citizen or entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject or a citizen of a foreign power; or
(ii) is attainted of treason, or has been convicted and is under sentence, or subject to be sentenced, for any offence punishable under the law of the Commonwealth or of a State by imprisonment for one year or longer; or
(iii) is an undischarged bankrupt or insolvent; or
(iv) holds any office of profit under the Crown, or any pension payable during the pleasure of the Crown out of any of the revenues of the Commonwealth; or
(v) has any direct or indirect pecuniary interest in any agreement with the Public Service of the Commonwealth otherwise than as a member and in common with the other members of an incorporated company consisting of more than twenty-five persons;
shall be incapable of being chosen or of sitting as a senator or a member of the House of Representatives.
Re Canavan resolved seven challenges under ground (i) (dual citizenship), Re Culleton No 2 a challenge under ground (ii) (criminality), Re Nash No 2 a follow-up challenge to one of the successors of one of the Citizenship 7 under ground (iv) (office of profit under the Crown) and Re Day No 2, a challenge under ground (v) (pecuniary interest.) (Ground (iii) on bankruptcy has only been considered once by the High Court, three decades ago.)
However, the Court began this year with six more election challenges on its books. While no major judgments have since been published, there has been a lot of activity and plenty of diversions in these matters in recent weeks. So, where are they now? Continue reading
The High Court has dismissed an application challenging the validity of s 501(3A) of the Migration Act 1958 (Cth). Section 501(3A) provides that the Minister of Immigration and Border Protection must cancel a visa held by a person if the Minister is satisfied that person does not pass the character test due to a substantial criminal record, which includes being sentenced to a term of imprisonment of at least 12 months. The plaintiff is a Maltese national who has lived in Australia since the age of three, but never became an Australian citizen, and instead held an Absorbed Person Visa and a Class BF Transitional (Permanent) Visa as a ‘lawful non-citizen’. In 2008, he was convicted of drug trafficking and sentenced to 11 years in prison. In March 2016 the Minister cancelled his Absorbed Person Visa, which meant that the Minister was taken to have cancelled the other visa. The plaintiff was taken into immigration detention, and sought revocation of the decision to cancel his visa. The Assistant Minister refused, and the plaintiff commenced proceedings in the High Court’s original jurisdiction. The plaintiff contended that s 501(3A) is invalid for conferring federal judicial power on the Minister, contrary to Ch III of the Constitution, because it empowers the Minister to punish him for offences he has committed.
The High Court unanimously dismissed the application. The joint judges (Kiefel CJ, Bell, Keane and Edelman JJ) held that s 501(3A) does not authorise or require detention, but merely requires that his visa be cancelled because of his criminal convictions: it changed his legal status from lawful non-citizen to unlawful non-citizen, and this change meant he was liable to removal from Australia, and detention to facilitate that removal.
After summarising the facts (at ff) and the statutory scheme (at ff), the joint judges turned to each of the plaintiff’s four propositions. The first, that the power to punish an offence against a Commonwealth law is exclusive to ch III courts was uncontroversial (at –). Continue reading
The High Court has allowed an appeal against a decision of the Court of Appeal of Queensland on the meaning and application of federal proceeds of crime legislation. The proceeds of crime proceedings follow a successful criminal prosecution of Steven Irvine Hart, the respondent in the one of the three High Court appeals, for his involvement in tax minimisation schemes. During that prosecution, the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions obtained a restraining order on property under Hart’s ‘effective control’. When Hart was convicted in 2006, the restrained property became subject to automatic forfeiture under s 92 of the Proceeds of Crimes Act 2002 (Cth). The present proceedings involve two subsequent actions: first, an action by companies against the Commonwealth under s 102 of the Act claiming an interest in some of the forfeited properties (respondents in two of the three High Court Appeals) for their interests (or an equivalent value) to be transferred to them; second, an action by the Commonwealth DPP under s 141 of the Act seeking a declaration that any property the companies recover in this way be made available to pay any pecuniary penalty Hart was liable to pay. The companies generally succeeded in both actions at the trial in Queensland’s District Court in 2013 and following the Commonwealth’s appeal to Queensland’s Court of Appeal, with the Commonwealth ordered to pay the companies the value of their interests and denied the ability to use that money to pay a nearly $15M pecuniary penalty that Hart was ordered to pay to the Commonwealth in 2010.
The High Court (Kiefel CJ, Bell, Gageler and Edelman JJ, and Gordon J) unanimously allowed the Commonwealth’s appeal against the orders to pay the companies, but dismissed the Commonwealth’s appeal against the refusal to allow it to use the interests the company’s retained to pay off Hart’s pecuniary penalty. Justice Gordon’s judgment sets out the facts, background and orders. The plurality agreed with Gordon J (at ) on the facts, the orders and the dismissal of the Commonwealth’s appeal relating to offsetting the pecuniary penalty, but provided alternative reasons for allowing the Commonwealth’s appeal relating to order to restore the companies’ interests. Continue reading
Last Friday, Kiefel CJ kicked off the High Court’s public work for 2018 with a directions hearing on the latest two referrals of MPs who were or are possible dual citizens. As occurred previously with Senator Malcolm Roberts, it is clear that both of these references will require first resolving factual (in addition to legal) disputes, including disputes about the meaning of overseas (UK) law. However, when the Commonwealth Solicitor-General told the Chief Justice that both London experts in Senator Katy Gallagher’s referral were available to appear by video link on Monday 29 January, she responded:
Mr Solicitor, I do not suppose the experts have been asked to consider the availability of dates further down the track, so to speak, in advance? I say that for this reason. The Court is of course aware of the need to determine these matters as soon as possible but there is a limit to its ability and its preparedness to do so in relation to these references when they keep coming in and to treat every matter, every reference, as one of extreme urgency.
Ruling out scheduling a hearing ahead of the Court’s coming February sitting weeks, she suggested a date in the second of those weeks, noting that the Court will then be dealing with smaller bench matters (presumably a bundle of appeals from Nauru.) However, it is not clear that her proposed timing will work Continue reading
In its final week of formal sittings, the High Court granted special leave in five matters (one on the papers, four in oral hearings in Sydney and Melbourne), taking the total of 2017’s special leave grants to 43.
The five cases that will be appealed to the High Court sometime in the first third or so of 2018 are: Continue reading
The High Court has allowed an appeal against a decision of the Supreme Court of Nauru on procedural fairness and the conduct of appeals. The appellant, a Pakistani asylum seeker, was denied refugee status and complementary protection by the Nauruan Secretary of the Department of Justice and Border Control. On appealing that determination to the Nauruan Refugee Status Review Tribunal, the Tribunal affirmed the Secretary’s decision and concluded that the appellant’s submitted materials did not support his narrative that he had been targeted by the Taliban and would be targeted if returned to Pakistan. The appellant then appealed to the Supreme Court of Nauru, and gained legal representation only the day before his hearing.
On the morning of the hearing, he filed an amended notice of appeal that raised four grounds of appeal, including that the Tribunal acted contrary to the principles of natural justice in hearing his appeal while he was detained unlawfully in breach of the Nauruan Constitution (see details at ). Judge Khan struck out the two grounds relating to natural justice on the basis that his Honour lacked jurisdiction to consider them ‘apparently because (i) the two grounds involved the interpretation and effect of the Constitution of Nauru so that under s 45(a) of the Appeals Act 1972 (Nr) there could be no appeal to the High Court of Australia from his decision on these grounds, and (ii) the Refugees Act was Continue reading
The High Court has dismissed an appeal against a decision of the Full Federal Court on the standing of employee organisations to allege breaches of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth). Section 540(6)(b)(ii) provides that an industrial association can apply for an order relating to a breach if that association is ‘entitled to represent the industrial interests’ of the person affected by the breach. The appellant airline instructed its cadet pilots that if they insisted on their right to accommodation contained in the enterprise agreement they would not be given a position of command. The respondent association alleged that this breached various provisions of the Fair Work Act, and the appellant disputed the association’s status as representing the cadet pilots because none of those pilots were members. The FCAFC held that although the pilots were not in fact members, they were eligible for membership, and thus the respondent was ‘entitled to represent’ their industrial interests.
The High Court (Kiefel CJ, Keane, Nettle, Gordon and Edelman JJ) unanimously dismissed the appeal, holding that where a person is eligible for membership of an industrial organisation, that organisation’s entitlement ‘to represent the industrial interests of the person’ can be sufficiently shown by its registration under the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act 2009 (Cth). After reviewing the legislative provisions, facts and proceedings below (at ff), the Court noted that because the Continue reading
A month or so after the last federal election, the judges of the High Court decided that the High Court’s ‘summer recess begins on Saturday 16 December 2017.’ A year later, the current judges settled on ‘Monday 5 February 2018’ as the Court’s first sitting day for next year. The dates in between are the summer holiday for the High Court (and its bar), a tradition not limited to Australia’s apex court. US Chief Justice John Roberts, in his previous role as a counsel in the Reagan Government, criticised the Court he would later lead for sitting too few weeks to handle its workload, writing ”it is true that only Supreme Court justices and schoolchildren are expected to and do take the entire summer off’ and semi-joking: ‘we know that the Constitution is safe for the summer’.
It turns out that the Australian Constitution is not so safe for this coming summer. Continue reading
The High Court has allowed an appeal and dismissed a second appeal against a decision of the Full Federal Court on protected industrial action and enterprise agreements. During negotiations over a new enterprise bargaining agreement between Esso and the AWU for employees of offshore gas platforms, onshore processing plants, and a marine terminal, AWU organised various forms of industrial action in support of its claims (at ff). AWU claimed that each form of industrial action was protected under s 408(a) of the Fair Work Act (Cth), and Esso claimed some forms of purportedly protected action — relating to bans on equipment performance testing, air freeing and leak testing (which the AWU claimed was ‘de-isolation of equipment’) — were not protected. The Fair Work Commission granted Esso’s application for an order requiring the AWU to stop the organisation of bans on equipment testing, air freeing and leak testing, and in contravention of that order the AWU continued to organise that action. Section 413(5) provides that employees and bargaining representatives must not contravene any orders that apply to them and ‘relate to, or relate to industrial action relating to’ an agreement or a matter that arose during bargaining. Sections 343 and 348 prohibits the coercing others to exercise or not exercise workplace rights or engage in industrial action. Esso claimed the AWU had contravened s 413(5) in ignoring the order, and contravened ss 343 and 348 by organising action to coerce Esso to agree to the AWU’s terms. A majority of the FCAFC upheld the primary judge’s decision to not grant Esso’s s 413(5) declaration on the basis that s 413(5) must relate to an order that is current and operative at the time of protected industrial action. The majority also upheld the primary judge’s conclusion that the AWU had contravened ss 343 and 348, dismissing the AWU’s contention that it believed the action to be lawful and therefore could not be coercive.
A majority of High Court allowed Esso’s appeal (Kiefel CJ, Keane, Nettle and Edelman JJ, Gageler J dissenting) and the Court unanimously dismissed the AWU’s appeal. Dealing Esso’s appeal first, the majority first reviewed the lower court decisions (at ff) and the parties’ contentions before the Court (at ff), before turning to the construction of s 413. Because s 413(5) is ‘poorly drafted’, Continue reading
The High Court has partly allowed an appeal against a decision of the Full Federal Court on the regional coverage of enterprise agreements and the operation of the ‘better off overall test’. ALDI offered seventeen employees currently working in ALDI stores around Australia positions in a new ‘region’ of operations in South Australia. A majority of these employees voted to approve an enterprise agreement with ALDI. The appellant unions, who were not involved in the making of this agreement, challenged it before the Fair Work Commission on the basis that it should have been a ‘greenfields agreement’ under pt 2-4 of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth), and that it did not pass the ‘better off overall test’ (‘BOOT’). The Fair Work Commission disagreed, ruling that the agreement was valid, and this ruling was upheld by the Full Bench. A majority of the FCAFC allowed an appeal against the Full Bench’s decision, holding that the agreement was not valid because it did not meet the requirement in s 186 that it be ‘genuinely agreed to’ because at the time of the vote the region had no employees at the time. The FCAFC also held that the FWCFB erred in applying the BOOT test.
The Court (Kiefel CJ, Bell, Keane, Nettle, Gordon and Edelman JJ, Gageler J agreeing) partly allowed the appeal, holding that the FCAFC erred in its holding on the coverage issue, but was correct in its view of the BOOT issue (at ). (Consequently, it was not necessary to determine the issues relating to jurisdictional error or the applicability of certiorari: at , and see  and .) Continue reading
The High Court, sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns, has decided a special case referred to it by the Senate and the House of Representatives on the question of eligibility of six Senators and one MP under s 44(i) of the Constitution: Senators Matthew Canavan, Malcolm Roberts, Fiona Nash, and Nick Xenophon, the Hon Barnaby Joyce MP, and Scott Ludlam and Larissa Waters (former Senators who resigned on discovering that they may have been ineligible). In each case, material had emerged that these representatives held dual citizenship at the time that they were nominated for election. The Court permitted former MP Tony Windsor to appear as a party to the Joyce matter, and also permitted an amicus curiae to appear as contradictor in the matters of Canavan, Nash and Xenophon (on both, see at ).
Section 44(i) of the Australian Constitution provides that any person who
is under any acknowledgment of allegiance, obedience, or adherence to a foreign power, or is a subject or a citizen or entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject or a citizen of a foreign power … shall be incapable of being chosen or of sitting as a senator or a member of the House of Representatives.
On 22 September 2017, Keane J delivered a judgment on the evidence relating to Senator Malcolm Roberts’ s 44(i) matter, evaluating what Senator Roberts knew about his citizenship status at the time of his nomination and the steps he took to verify and renounce it before that nomination, and holding that he was a UK citizen prior to his recent renunciation (see below).
On 27 October 2017, the Court unanimously held that Senators Canavan and Xenophon were eligible at the time of their nomination, and that Ludlam, Waters, and Joyce, and Senators Roberts and Nash were ineligible at the time of their nomination.
Construction of s 44(i) (at –)
After restating the text of s 44(i), emphasising that the phrase ‘shall be incapable of being chosen’ relates to the electoral process, of which nomination is a central part, and noting that s 44(i) focuses on the time between that nomination and the completion of the electoral process (at –), the Court recounted the chronology of the referrals and proceedings (see ff). Turning to the different approaches to construing s 44(i), the Court noted (at ) that of the various competing submissions, only those made by the amicus contradictors and on behalf of Windsor gave s 44(i) Continue reading
By Katy Barnett
In Thorne v Kennedy, the High Court unanimously struck down both a prenuptial and a postnuptial agreement (the plurality on the basis of undue influence and unconscionable conduct, and Nettle J and Gordon J on the basis of unconscionable conduct alone). The agreements had been entered into by a impoverished 36-year-old woman from overseas (known by the pseudonym ‘Ms Thorne’) who married a 67-year-old wealthy Australian property developer (known by the pseudonym ‘Mr Kennedy’). Prior to and after the wedding, Ms Thorne agreed that she would have very little claim on Mr Kennedy’s assets (worth between $18 million and $24 million) if her relationship with her husband broke down because he wanted his money to be kept for his three children from his first marriage. Ms Thorne’s English was poor; she had no assets; she was desperate to have a child; her Australian visa was about to expire, and she would not be able to get a new visa without her marriage; and Mr Kennedy asked her to sign the prenuptial agreement four days before the wedding, when all her family had come to Australia from her home country to attend. She was told that if she did not sign the wedding would not go ahead and the relationship would end, and so she signed the agreement. This was despite the fact that the independent solicitor whom Mr Kennedy arranged to advise Ms Thorne implored her not to sign it and pronounced it the worst agreement she had ever seen. Pursuant to the prenuptial agreement, Ms Thorne was obliged to sign a postnuptial agreement in the same terms, which she did, although the independent solicitor again advised her not to. Ms Thorne and Mr Kennedy divorced just under four years later.
Some have argued that this signals the death-knell to ‘binding financial agreements’ under pt VIIIA of the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) (eg, here) because there will almost never be equality between partners, whereas others (eg, here and here) argue that binding financial agreements will still be viable, but care must be taken with the circumstances of entry into such agreements. Continue reading
By Mitch Clarke
Consider how many electronic Internet links you click each day on your mobile or laptop. You presumably clicked on a hyperlink to arrive at this very article. The Internet and linked content are reciprocally essential; the benefits of one cannot be realised without the other. Their invention and use has advanced how we communicate, share content, and find information. Prohibiting the use of linking content would be antithetical to the Internet. Unfortunately, Trkulja v Google  HCATrans 129 could have this effect.
Granted special leave in June, Trkulja presents two questions to the High Court. The first is procedural, predominantly as a result of the plaintiff initially being self-represented. The second is about whether a person who collated third party posts and linked-content on the Internet can be held liable if the content is defamatory. Generally speaking, the contentious issues in Trkulja and similar cases involve the liability of an Internet company for hyperlinking, collecting, collating, or reproducing content posted by third parties on the Internet.
There was a possibility that the second question would not be addressed and instead referred back to the Victorian Court of Appeal. I use past tense (‘was a possibility’) because of the October decision on a similar question from the Full Court of the South Australian Supreme Court in Google v Duffy. The Duffy judgment begs — and hopefully necessitates — a more critical adjudication from the High Court on the question of indexed and re-communicated Internet content. Without comment, there could be an unfortunate impairment — however unintended — on the operation of the Internet in Australia.
Precedent Spells Trouble for ‘Publication’
A defamation claim requires three elements: a ‘publication’, ‘identification’ of a third party, and ‘defamatory’ content about that third party. Without the presence of each element, there is no claim to be made. Much of the Australian case law has focused on the specificity of information reproduced on a webpage via hyperlinks, and the inclusive degree of such needed to constitute the re-publication of defamatory content underlying the hyperlink. However, it is the operation of hyperlinks and the associated reproduced content constituting a ‘publication’ which is deserving of more scrutiny.
‘Publication’ is not defined in the uniform legislation which is how we wind up with common law principled cases like Trkulja. Continue reading
As the High Court presumably braces for its next ‘job lot‘ of s. 44 cases, it has also added a relatively small number of new cases to its regular docket. While all special leave applications heard on the papers were rejected this month, the Court granted leave in Friday’s twin oral hearings in three matters. One grant is a rare (and welcome) instance of the High Court intervening in a criminal proceeding that has not yet gone to trial, in this case a very long running prosecution of four defendants on federal charges. The fact that the trial is yet to occur may (or may not) explain why the four are only referred to by pseudonyms and that the charges in question are not identified.
The three cases that will now be appealed to the High Court are: Continue reading
This Wednesday at 10.05AM, Australians at last saw an end to the marriage law survey, the indirect product of the High Court’s 2013 decision declaring the ACT’s Marriage Equality Bill inoperative and the High Court’s September decision upholding the government’s instruction to the Australian Bureau of Statistics to perform the survey. Marriage equality is now exclusively a matter for the politicians Australians elected in 2016. But, as a decision from the High Court five hours later makes clear, the 2016 election is still ongoing and doesn’t look like ending any time soon. This time the High Court held that nominee Hollie Hughes was ineligible to be declared elected, because she took a position in the Administrative Appeals Tribunals (an ‘office of profit under the Crown’) during the 15 months that ineligible dual citizen Fiona Nash purported to take her spot in the Senate. This especially startling instance of the Court’s ‘brutal literalism‘ (when it comes to s44) will undoubtedly lead to more questioning of whether some of the people currently sitting in Parliament were actually elected.
The requirements of s44 are challenging, not just to MPs and nominees, but also to the media, which faces the difficulty of reporting on its content and the various processes for testing it. On Wednesday, the media were not assisted by the Chief Justice, Continue reading
The High Court has allowed an appeal against a decision of the Supreme Court of Nauru on procedural fairness requirements of refugee status reviews. The appellant, a Nepalese citizen of the Hindu Chhetri caste, fled Nepal, arrived at Christmas Island and was then transferred to Nauru under the regional processing arrangement. He claimed refugee status in Nauru, claiming a fear of persecution from Maoist rebels on the basis of his political opinions and from Limbu tribe Mongols on the basis of his home district and caste membership. The Secretary of the Department of Justice and Border Control’s made a determination that he was not a refugee and could be returned to Nepal, which was upheld by the Nauruan Refugee Status Review Tribunal and the Supreme Court of Nauru. Before the High Court, the appellant contended that the Supreme Court erred in failing to hold, first, that the Tribunal denied him procedural fairness because it did not put him on notice of information that was relevant to its ruling — namely, the changed political circumstances in Nauru, the proportion of Chhetri caste members in the Nepalese army, and persons targeted by Limbuwans — and, secondly, that the Tribunal applied the incorrect test in evaluating the determination (at ).
The Court (Bell, Keane and Nettle JJ) rejected the second ground, but allowed the first in relation to the army composition point: the Tribunal was under a common law obligation Continue reading
The High Court has allowed an appeal against a decision of the Full Family Court on the enforceability of binding financial agreements before and after marriage. Pt VIIIA of the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) allows parties to a marriage to enter into binding financial agreements before or after a marriage to clarify their respective positions on asset redistribution in that the relationship breaks down. The parties met on an online website for potential brides, and the appellant moved to Australia to marry the respondent. The respondent was a wealthy Australian property developer with significant assets; the appellant had no significant assets, basic English skills, no family in Australia and, at the time of the marriage, was in the country on a tourist visa. Shortly before the wedding, the repsondent insisted that the appellant sign a binding financial agreement, which she did, over legal advice that it was ‘entirely inappropriate’ and that she should not sign it (see at –). The parties also entered into a second, post-marriage binding financial agreement, which again the appellant was advised not to sign. The Full Family Court overturned the trial judge’s finding that the agreements were the result of duress and undue influence, holding that the trial judge failed to provide adequate reasons for making those findings, and concluding that the agreement bound both parties.
The High Court unanimously allowed the appeal. The plurality (Kiefel CJ, Bell, Gageler, Keane and Edelman JJ) held that the Full Family Court erred in disturbing the findings of the trial judge; the agreements were voidable due to both undue influence and unconscionable conduct (at ). After reviewing the facts (at ff), and statutory context (at ), the plurality reiterated that this appeal focused on whether the agreements should be set aside because the appellant was subject to the vitiating factors applied according to the principles of the common law and equity: duress, undue influence or Continue reading
The High Court has dismissed an appeal against a decision of the Supreme Court of South Australia on the requirements for reopening a conviction on the basis of fresh evidence. Van Beelen was convicted of murdering a schoolgirl on a beach in 1971 on the basis of evidence that he was present at the beach at the time of her death, that he was the only person whose actions were unaccounted for at that time, and the fibres the jumper he was wearing matched those found on the deceased’s clothing. In 2013, the South Australian parliament inserted Section 353A(1) into the Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935 (SA), which provides that the Court may allow a convicted person to bring a second appeal where it is satisfied that there is fresh and compelling evidence that should, in the interests of justice, be considered on appeal. The appeal itself may only be allowed if the Court is satisfied that there was a substantial miscarriage of justice. A majority of the SASCFC rejected the appellant’s s 353A(1) application, holding that while new expert evidence based on more recent work on stomach contents analysis showed that the earlier evidence was wrong and satisfied the ‘freshness’ and reliableness requirements, it was not substantive, reliable, highly probative or compelling: it was consistent with the initial defence expert witness’s testimony, and it did not disprove the other prosecution evidence about the time of death.
The High Court (Bell, Gageler, Keane, Nettle and Edelman JJ) unanimously held that the SASCFC erred in refusing permission to appeal because the new evidence does meet the criteria of being fresh and compelling and it is in the interests of justice that it be considered on appeal. However, the Court also held that that consideration revealed no substantial miscarriage of justice, and consequently the appeal was dismissed.
After reviewing the facts of the case (at ff), the new evidence (at ff), the provisions of s 353A (at ff) and the SASCFC’s reasoning (at ff), and the parties’ submissions (at ff), the Court turned to the scope of s 353A and its application here. Continue reading
Apologies to all readers for the strange display issues. This change happened automatically a few days ago, and seem to be part of either a WordPress or University of Melbourne blog platform update that we were not told about, and did not approve. Unfortunately due to the University’s platform restrictions we also cannot manually change the theme at the moment. We are aware that the page is not functioning properly and is not easy to read, and that the pictures of cacti don’t make a lot of sense. Rest assured we hope to fix this and revert to the old theme shortly.
Mikado. Ha! ha! ha! I forget the punishment for compassing the death of the Heir Apparent.
Ko-Ko, Pooh-Bah & Pitti-Sing. Punishment.
Mikado. Yes. Something lingering, with boiling oil in it, I fancy. Something of that sort. I think boiling oil occurs in it, but I’m not sure. I know it’s something humorous, but lingering, with either boiling oil or melted lead. Come, come, don’t fret — I’m not a bit angry.
Ko-Ko. If your Majesty will accept our assurance, we had no idea—
Mikado. Of course —
Pitti-Sing. I knew nothing about it.
Pooh-Bah. I wasn’t there.
Mikado. That’s the pathetic part of it. Unfortunately, the fool of an Act says “compassing the death of the Heir Apparent.” There’s not a word about a mistake —
Gilbert & Sullivan’s Mikado is a staple of both amateur theatres and Australian criminal law classes. Law lecturers routinely quote it (or, in some unlucky classes, sing it) to students because it illustrates a common problem in statutes: drafters’ penchant to ignore people’s minds when they devise rules of behaviour.
A case in point is s44(i) of Australia’s federal Constitution. Most constitutional provisions are about institutional, not individual, behaviour. But s44(i), which determines when otherwise eligible people are disqualified from Australia’s federal parliament, states:
Any person who: (i) is under any acknowledgment of allegiance, obedience, or adherence to a foreign power, or is a subject or a citizen or entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject or a citizen of a foreign power; … shall be incapable of being chosen or of sitting as a senator or a member of the House of Representatives.
This provision duly identifies a situation the drafters wanted to avoid – a person with certain status in a foreign country in a position of (legislative) power in Australia – but says nothing at all about what (if anything) is going on inside the mind of that person.
Ko-Ko, Pitti-Sing & Pooh-Bah. No!
Mikado. Or not knowing —
Mikado. Or having no notion —
Mikado. Or not being there —
Mikado. There should be, of course —
Ko-Ko, Pitti-Sing & Pooh-Bah. Yes!
Mikado. But there isn’t.
Ko-Ko, Pitti-Sing & Pooh-Bah. Oh!
Mikado. That’s the slovenly way in which these Acts are always drawn. However, cheer up, it’ll be all right. I’ll have it altered next session.
The central holding of Re Canavan; Re Ludlam; Re Waters; Re Roberts [No 2]; Re Joyce; Re Nash; Re Xenophon  HCA 45 is that s44(i) means exactly what it says and what it doesn’t say:
Section 44(i) does not say that it operates only if the candidate knows of the disqualifying circumstance. It is a substantial departure from the ordinary and natural meaning of the text of the second limb to understand it as commencing: “Any person who: (i) … knows that he or she is a subject or a citizen …”
The High Court unanimously rejected suggestions from the parties to the seven references before it that it read requirements of voluntariness (the Attorney-General’s suggestion), wilfulness (ex-MP Barnaby Joyce’s) or constructive knowledge (the Green ex-Senators’) into s44(i).
So much, so constitutional, you may say. But reading in words (aka ‘implications’) into constitutional provisions is very standard constitutional fare. Implications were the entire basis of the High Court’s decision landmark decision a week before the Citizenship 7 case, striking down some Tasmanian anti-protest laws. As well, given that s44(i)’s accepted purpose is to avoid an MP’s dreaded ‘split allegiance’ between Australia and some other nation, some sort of knowledge requirement (constructive, actual, whatever) of that foreign link would make a lot of sense.
The case for reading in a mental requirement into s44 is especially strong because the provision doubles up as something close to a criminal offence, complete with its own (initial) penalty provision:
46 Penalty for sitting when disqualified Until the Parliament otherwise provides, any person declared by this Constitution to be incapable of sitting as a senator or as a member of the House of Representatives shall, for every day on which he so sits, be liable to pay the sum of one hundred pounds to any person who sues for it in any court of competent jurisdiction.
As all criminal law students learn, Australian courts routinely read mens rea requirements into criminal offence provisions, applying either general criminal codes (often based on one drafted by Samuel Griffith, one of the Constitution’s drafters) or a detailed system set down by the High Court itself in a 1985 drug offence decision. So, Australian criminal law lecturers use The Mikado to illustrate exactly how criminal offences aren’t interpreted by Australian courts.
The High Court has now unanimously ruled that The Mikado is good law when it comes to s44. Continue reading
The United Kingdom’s Supreme Court is not shy about changing course on major legal issues, such as complicity law and (just last week) state immunity. On Wednesday, it dropped another criminal law bombshell. The case in question was a civil dispute between a champion poker player, Phil Ivey, and a London casino, on whether Ivey was entitled to 7.7 million pounds he seemingly won at Baccarat over two days. The issue was whether Ivey’s method, which included tricking the croupier into turning particular cards around and then making plays by relying on his ability to tell which cards had been turned from the pattern on their back, was cheating. The Court upheld lower court rulings in favour of the casino, surprising those who thought it took the case to hold that Ivey’s (undisputed) belief that his play was an honest ‘advantage’ one meant that he was no cheat . Instead, the Court not only found for the casino, but overturned the 1982 Court of Appeal decision, R v Ghosh, that held that criminal dishonesty requires proof that the defendant knew others would regard his or her actions as dishonest. The Supreme Cuurt’s ruling not only reversed thirty-five years of English theft and fraud law, but also seemingly left Ivey to prosecution for criminal cheating (not that any such prosecution is on the cards.)
While Ghosh‘s many fans in the academy are currently working their way through the five stages of grief, some Australian High Court judges may be feeling quite different emotions. Continue reading
At last Friday’s oral special leave hearings, it was easier to ask which cases didn’t get special leave. There were just two and they were both quite interesting – a NSW decision upholding a high-interest short-term loan (now $670K plus $2.4M interest!) even though the lender (correctly) believed that the borrower had fallen for a Nigerian fraud scam; and a Victorian holding that a pregnancy the military failed to detect is not a ‘service injury’ (and therefore is not limited by a statutory military compensation scheme.)
The five new appeals that made the grade were: Continue reading
The High Court has determined a special case on Tasmanian forestry protest laws and the implied freedom of political communication, holding that the central anti-protest provisions of the challenged legislation were invalid because they impermissibly burdened the freedom of political communication implied in the Commonwealth Constitution.
The Workplaces (Protection from Protesters) Act 2014 (Tas) contains a range of provisions that prohibit persons from engaging in protest activities. Section 4 defines protest activities as activities taking place on a business premises or an ‘access area’ in relation to a business, that is ‘in furtherance of’ or ‘for the purposes of promoting awareness of or support for’ an ‘opinion, or belief’ about a ‘political, environmental, social, cultural or economic issue’. Business premises also include forestry land and land on which forestry operations are being carried out, and ‘access areas’ include the areas around and outside those premises. Section 6 provides that a protester must not enter or do an act on a business premises that prevents, hinders or obstructs the carrying on of a business activity. Section 6(4) makes it an offence to disobey a police officer’s order, made under s 11, to leave the premises, directed at a person that the officer reasonably believes has committed, is committing or is about to commit a contravention of s 6. Section 8(1) makes it an offence to re-enter an area near where that person received a s 11 direction to leave, within four days of receiving that direction. That area is not limited to the area in which the direction was issued: it extends to any area outside ‘forestry land’. Section 11 also contains police powers to direct groups to leave areas, and s 13 contains powers for police to make warrantless arrests for contraventions of the Act for specified purposes.
The plaintiffs were present in the Lapoinya Forest while forestry operations were being carried out there, and engaged in raising public and political awareness about the logging operations and voicing protests against it. They were arrested and charged under the Act for offences against s 8(1) and s 6(4), though the charges were ultimately not proceeded with and dismissed. Before the High Court, they challenged the validity of provisions of the Act noted above (ss 6, 8, 11, 13 and pt 4 of the Act). While the stated Special Case contained a first question on the standing of the plaintiffs to seek relief, the defendants conceded that the plaintiffs had standing and the question no longer needed to be answered (see , and see below for the full order).
The High Court held, by majority (Kiefel CJ, Bell and Keane JJ, Gageler J, Nettle J) that the impugned provisions did impermissibly burden the implied freedom of political communication and were thus invalid. Gordon J held that only s 8 was invalid, and Edelman J held the Act was valid in its entirety.
The Joint Judgment (Kiefel CJ, Bell and Keane JJ)
After reviewing the background to the matter, the history of the Act, and the impugned provisions (see –), the joint judges (Kiefel CJ, Bell and Keane JJ) turned to analyse the terms, operation and effect of the Protesters Act. The impugned provisions together had a significant deterrent effect on protestors, Continue reading
The High Court has published its reasons for allowing an appeal against a decision of the Supreme Court of Queensland on whether an unwilled criminally negligent act combined with an intention to kill or cause grievous bodily harm constitutes murder under s 302(1)(a) of the Criminal Code 1899 (Qld). Following a breakdown in their relationship and during a violent confrontation in front of witnesses, the appellant loaded and aimed a shotgun at the deceased, saying ‘I don’t give a fuck, I’ll kill you … I’ll go back to jail’, which then discharged (see –).
The appellant pleaded guilty to manslaughter charges but claimed he was not guilty of murder; the prosecution declined to accept that plea and, following a jury trial, he was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. During the trial, expert evidence established that shotgun had been altered, with the effect that it was prone to discharge ‘half-cocked’, that is, pulling the trigger 10mm, then letting it go, accidentally or intentionally. The prosecution’s main case was that the appellant discharged the gun deliberately, intending to kill the deceased. The alternative case was Continue reading
On 14th June this year, the High Court heard a Crown appeal against an incest sentence, an appeal that turns in part on a practice of Victoria’s Court of Appeal. Since 2007, the Victorian Court has sought submissions and made rulings on the topic of ‘current sentencing practices’ in particular classes of case, simultaneously with but separate from resolving particular sentencing appeals. A year ago, the Court of Appeal ruled that sentencing practices for incest were too low, but also dismissed a Crown appeal about a particular incest sentence. In his written submissions on appeal, Victoria’s Chief Crown Prosecutor said:
It is not apparent that any other State or Territory in Australia struggles with the question of consistency of sentencing in quite the manner experienced in Victoria. It is respectfully submitted that the correct role to be played by “current sentencing practices” should be decided. From what appears above, it might be said that there is not a united position in the Victorian Court of Appeal on the issue.
In the High Court hearing, he used sharper language, describing the Victorian approach as ‘inimical’ and ‘not permissible’. One exchange went like this:
KEANE J: But as I understand it, it seems to be said against you that the Director somehow accepted that there was this limit on the appeal and that the result is essentially something for which the Director is responsible.
MR SILBERT: Your Honour, this has been going on for something like 10 years. The Director has no option, when requested to make these submissions, but to make them. When the court refers to an uplift the Director cannot simply say, “I refuse to be involved in this uplift.” If the Director is lodging an appeal on the basis of manifest inadequacy he has to go along with it or else he has no basis for appealing. So it is a procedure that is imposed by the court and has been for something like 10 years. It has actually never been used by the Director effectively, I do not think, to produce any result in any concrete case.
There are dicta that emanate from various cases where the court considers this uplift and says well, sentencing is inadequate, and they have said it here, but they do not determine the dispute in issue between the parties. There is obiter, as referred to by Justice Ashley in Ashdown, that emanates from these discussions but they are more philosophical discussions than disputes between the Crown and an accused. The Crown is not complicit in the exercise – it did not invent the exercise – and it is dragged kicking and screaming into each one of these contests. I do not know whether that answers your Honour’s question.
KEANE J: It just does seem odd.
On Wednesday, the High Court unanimously upheld the DPP’s appeal, drawing on its recent ruling in Kilic (on the relevance of the maximum sentence) and holding that the decision to uphold a sentence that was based on then current, but wrong, sentencing practices, was ‘an error of principle’. Indeed, the plurality concluded that it ‘might’ be that the Court of Appeal’s practice ‘is inconsistent with [Victoria’s] Sentencing Act’.
The High Court has allowed an appeal against a decision of the Victorian Court of Appeal on ‘ranges’ of sentences and the evaluation of current sentencing practice. The respondent plead guilty to four charges of incest and was cumulatively sentenced to five years and six months imprisonment. The sentence for charge one, which related to committing incest and impregnating his 13-year old stepdaughter, whose pregnancy was subsequently terminated, was three years and sixth months. The DPP appealed against both the sentence for charge one and the cumulative total imposed, contending that both were manifestly inadequate. While the VSCA noted that the sentence on charge one could be seen as lenient, and that the range was so low that it revealed an error in principle as being not proportionate to the objective seriousness of the offence or moral culpability of the offender here, the Court ultimately held that in light of what were the then current sentencing practices, it was within the range open to the sentencing judge, and that the Court of Appeal was constrained by those sentencing practices to dismiss the appeal.
The High Court unanimously allowed the appeal. The joint judges (Kiefel CJ, Bell and Keane JJ) held that the VSCA erred in treating a range of sentences established by current sentencing practice as decisive of the appeal (at ). After noting the sentencing Continue reading
The High Court has decided two proceedings challenging the legal basis for the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey, dismissing the first application and answering questions stated in the special case in the second proceeding, holding that the Minister’s determination to fund the Survey was not invalid, and was validly authorised under the most recent appropriations act.
Following the Government’s 7 August 2017 announcement of a ‘voluntary postal plebiscite’ on whether Australian law should be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry, to be run by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the Finance Minister (and respondent in the second matter) made a determination entitled ‘Advance to the Finance Minister Determination (No 1 of 2017–2018)’ to provide the ABS with $122 million for the plebiscite. That determination was purportedly supported by s 10 of the Appropriation Act (No 1) 2017–2018, which allows the Finance Minister to make a determination to provide for expenditures not exceeding $295 million where the Finance Minister ‘is satisfied that there is an urgent need for expenditure, in the current year, that is not provided for … in Schedule 1 … because the expenditure was unforeseen until after the last on which it was practicable to provide for it [in the original Bill]’. The Finance Minister stated in the instrument and in an affidavit that because the 2017–18 budget was tabled in May 2017, and Government policy on holding the plebiscite and using the ABS to do so was not changed until August, he was satisfied that there was an urgent need for the expenditure (see further at –). Continue reading
After a lengthy break for renovations (and rare full court hearings in Sydney and Melbourne), the High Court will return to its Canberra headquarters next month. The first case on the business list for Tuesday 10th October is:
In the matter of questions referred to the Court of Disputed Returns pursuant to section 376 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (Cth) concerning Senator Matthew Canavan, Mr Scott Ludlam, Ms Larissa Waters, Senator Malcolm Roberts and the Hon. Barnaby Joyce MP (C11/2017, C12/2017, C13/2017, C14/2017 & C15/2017)
These are five of the seven matters referred to the High Court concerning possible ineligibility under s44(i) of the Constitution, specifically its disqualification of ‘a citizen… of a foreign power’. It is likely that the remaining two matters (concerning Senators Nick Xenaphon and Fiona Nash) will be heard at the same time. (An eighth pending matter about MP eligibility – Labor’s challenge to David Gillespie over his ownership of a shopping centre company with Australia Post as a tenant – is not yet listed and involves entirely separate issues and processes.)
The seven matters to be heard in October aren’t regular High Court challenges where one person sues someone else. Continue reading
Last week, the federal Parliament released a large set of documents from 1986’s ‘Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry’ into the conduct of High Court justice Lionel Murphy, which ended without resolution after the sad news broke of the judge’s imminent death. Justice Murphy’s family have strongly objected to the release, noting that the papers include many wholly unsubstantiated allegations and that there is now no possibility of them being formally investigated; instead, the papers can only contribute to the much more ambiguous judgement of history. None of the allegations relate to Murphy J’s actual work as a High Court judge, but instead are concerned with his alleged activities off the bench (albeit ones that may have led to his resignation or removal from the Court.)
The High Court has partly allowed an appeal against a decision of the Full Court of the Supreme Court of South Australia on special and general jury verdicts on the offence of persistent sexual exploitation of a child. Section 50(1) of the Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935 (SA) prescribes the offence of ‘persistent sexual exploitation of a child’, defined as committing more than one act of sexual exploitation over a period of not less than three days, where an act of sexual exploitation means an act that could be subject of a sexual offence charge. The appellant was convicted under s 50 after the prosecutor gave the jury a list of six alleged abusive acts and asked the jury to convict if it was unanimous that at least two of these acts occurred over a two year period, and the trial judge sentenced him to ten years imprisonment with a non-parole period of six years. The SASCFC rejected the appellant’s contention that the trial judge erred in not taking a special verdict or asking questions of the jury after they returned the general verdict of guilt; specifically, to state which incidents they found had been proved, and in the absence of such information the trial judge should have sentenced him only for the two least serious acts alleged.
The High Court allowed the appeal against the sentence by majority, and unanimously dismissed the appeal against conviction. Continue reading
The High Court has dismissed an appeal against a decision of the Supreme Court of South Australia on the offence of persistent sexual exploitation of a child. The appellant was tried under s 50 of the Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935 (SA) of ‘persistent sexual exploitation of a child’, defined as committing more than one act of sexual exploitation over a period of not less than three days, where an act of sexual exploitation means an act that could be subject of a sexual offence charge. After a trial by judge alone, the trial judge held that the general nature of the complainant’s evidence meant that it was not possible to identify two or more specific proven sexual offences, and thus there was no case to answer. The SASCFC allowed a Crown appeal against that decision and remitted the matter for retrial. Before the High Court, the appellant contended that the SASCFC erred in concluding there was a case to answer, and erred in not addressing the appellant’s argument that the Crown should not have been granted permission to appeal owing to the Court’s failure to consider the appellant’s arguments on double jeopardy concerns.
The High Court (Kiefel CJ, Bell, Keane, Nettle and Edelman JJ) unanimously dismissed both arguments and the appeal. The Court noted that the appellant’s contention on the operation of s 50 was that the provision did not alter or ameliorate the requirement that the prosecution must prove each ‘distinct occasion’ Continue reading
The High Court has allowed an appeal against a decision of the Victorian Court of Appeal on the adequacy of jury directions in a murder trial. The respondent and his partner attacked a former employer, intending to ‘teach him a lesson’, which ended in the death of the employer caused either by the respondent choking him or sitting on his back. After rejecting the respondent’s contentions on the adequacy of jury directions on intention and cause of death, the VSCA accepted the argument that the trial judge’s statement to the jury that the prosecution ‘has to have satisfied you of this not beyond any doubt, but beyond reasonable doubt’ was in error, given the High Court’s prohibition on directions on the meaning of reasonable doubt. Before the High Court, the Crown contended that while the trial judge had strayed from the traditional formulation by contrasting reasonable doubt with ‘any doubt’, it was not an error to do so, and, in any case, had not produced any substantial miscarriage of justice.
The High Court (Kiefel CJ, Bell, Gageler, Keane, Nettle and Edelman JJ) allowed the appeal, holding that while it is generally ‘undesirable’ for a trial judge to contrast reasonable doubt with ‘proof beyond any doubt’, it was not an error to do so in the circumstances of this case (at ). After noting historical changes in understandings of the expression ‘reasonable doubt’ among the general population (at ff), the Court stated that today there may be reasonably differing views on whether it is well-understood: while popular media makes frequent use of it, trial judges appear to be frequently asked to define ‘reasonable doubt’ or Continue reading
The High Court has dismissed two appeals against a decision of the Full Federal Court on the refugee protection criteria applicable to persons who would face detention for unlawfully leaving their country of origin if returned. SZTAL and SZTGM, both Sri Lankans, arrived in Australia and applied for protection visas under the ‘complementary protection regime’. Under s 36(2)(aa), one criteria of granting that application is that the Minister has substantial grounds for believing that, if the applicant were returned, there is a real risk that they will suffer significant harm, including ‘cruel or inhuman treatment or punishment’ and ‘degrading treatment or punishment’. Under the definition in s 5, these must, respectively, be ‘intentionally inflicted’ and ‘intended to cause’ extreme humiliation. The Minister rejected the applications.
The Refugee Review Tribunal found that, if returned to Sri Lanka, the appellants would be arrested, charged and detained for leaving the country illegally, and would be held in prisons that may not meet international standards. The RRT concluded that the requirement of ‘intention’ was not satisfied: the poor conditions were due to a lack of resources, rather than an intention to inflect cruel, Continue reading
The High Court has dismissed an appeal against a decision of the ACT Court of Appeal on incitement to procure a third person to commit a criminal offence. The respondent was in custody awaiting prosecution when he asked a fellow prisoner to arrange for a third person, outside the prison, to kidnap two potential witnesses, convince them to adopt an exculpatory statement the respondent had written, and then kill them. The other prisoner did not go through with the plan and instead reported the respondent, who was then convicted on charges of attempting to pervert the course of justice (contrary to ss 44 and 713(1) of the Criminal Code 2002 (ACT)) and incitement to kidnap (contrary to s 47 of the Code and s 38 of the Crimes Act). On appeal, the ACTCA unanimously upheld the respondent’s conviction on the perversion of justice count, but set aside the convictions on the incitement to kidnap charges; Murrell CJ held that a person cannot be charged with inciting someone to procure a third person to commit a crime, and Wigney J held that such a charge was possible, but requires that the crime is actually committed. At issue before the High Court was whether incitement to procure a substantive offence was an offence under the Code; and whether Continue reading
The High Court has determined a special case on the validity of ss 501(3) and 503A(2) of the Migration Act 1958 (Cth). Section 501(3) provides that the Minister may cancel a visa where its holder does not pass the ‘character test’ — which may occur where, among other things, the person has a substantial criminal record, or the Minister reasonably suspects the person is associated with an organisation involved in criminal conduct — and where the visa cancellation would be in the ‘national interest’. Section 503A requires that the Minister divulge or communicate information to a court or tribunal that is reviewing a purported exercise of the character test-cancellation power. The plaintiff and applicant were both New Zealand citizens resident in Australia who held Class TY Subclass 444 Special Category (Temporary) Visas. In each case, the Minister issued them with a decision to cancel the visa, purportedly made under s 501(3), on the basis that they were members of the Rebels Outlaw Motorcycle Gang, which had been involved in criminal conduct, and noted that in making the decision the Minister had considered information that was protected from disclosure to them under s 503A, but with no further details beyond that.
The first question in the special case agreed by the parties requested that the High Court determine
whether either or both of ss 501(3) and 503A(2) of the Act Continue reading
The High Court’s current rectification works at its Canberra headquarters are said to be urgent, but foreseen. The Court could not have foreseen that they would coincide with a series of urgent, high profile cases that may determine the future of the present government. This week’s hearing into the legality of the same-sex marriage postal poll takes place in premises that have never before held a major hearing and are ill-suited to housing so many judges and barristers, let alone journalists and interested members of the public. The Court’s current Melbourne home, on Level 17 of the Commonwealth Courts building above Flagstaff Station, has just a single modest sized courtroom designed for special leave applications, and an even more modest lobby. The Federal Court warns its users:
It is anticipated that there will be delays through security screening at Commonwealth Law Courts building in Melbourne over the next few days. This is due to the High Court sitting in Melbourne over September and the expected increase in visitor numbers to the building. Please allow extra time for screening ahead of your court event.
The High Court’s contribution is to permit its hearing to be ‘broadcast to‘ a second courtroom on Level 8 of the same building, one usually used for Federal Court hearings (and the odd lecture.)
This isn’t a first – the Court has previously had overflow facilities for high profile cases such as the Gerard Baden-Clay appeal in Brisbane. An apparent first is the Court’s permission for live tweeting to occur in the overflow room, presumably because there is no possibility of the arguments being interrupted by a ringing phone. Video and audio recordings, and photographs, remain forbidden.
This week’s hearing is also a significant event in the history of the Court, Continue reading
Thursday morning’s directions hearing relating to the possible of ineligibility of sitting federal MPs due to their possible dual citizenship began with a series of ‘determinations‘ by the Kiefel CJ under this section of the Commonwealth Electoral Act:
The Court of Disputed Returns may allow any person who in the opinion of the Court is interested in the determination of any question referred to it under this Part to be heard on the hearing of the reference, or may direct notice of the reference to be served on any person, and any person so allowed to be heard or so directed to be served shall be deemed to be a party to the reference.
Most actions before the High Court have two clear parties, because one of the parties starts the action and names their opponent. By contrast, the present five (and counting) applications are just ‘questions’ referred to the Court of Disputed Returns by parliament, and the Court needs to work out who (if anyone) will actually be making arguments. Hence, the Court itself advertised the references on its webpage and called for submissions from prospective parties. Kiefel CJ then determined who were the lucky (or unlucky) parties for each reference, for example:
In relation to the reference concerning Mr Ludlam, the orders of the Court are: The following persons shall be allowed to be heard on the hearing of the reference and shall be deemed to be the parties to the reference pursuant to section 378 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (Cth): (i) Scott Ludlam; and (ii) the Attorney-General of the Commonwealth. Ian Bruce Bell, Bret Busby and John Lewis Cameron will not be heard by the Court. The submissions of Joe Bloggs, Deearne Gould, Ian Bruce Bell, Bret Busby and John Lewis Cameron will not be received by the Court and will not be taken into account on the hearing of the reference.
Senator Scott Ludlam was the first of the five MPs whose dual citizenship became an issue. He has since resigned and, according to the Commonwealth Solicitor-General, isn’t going to argue that he was ever eligible to be a Senator. However, Kiefel CJ said that she wasn’t willing to resolve his position separately from the rest, so he became a (unwilling?) party, as did the Commonwealth Attorney-General (who said he won’t necessarily be arguing either way on Ludlam’s eligibility.) But Kiefel CJ rejected nearly all the remaining hopefuls, including barrister John Cameron (who revealed Ludlam’s dual citizenship) and the ubiquitous ‘Joe Bloggs’ (who made submissions on all five candidates.) The Chief Justice’s detailed reasons for these determinations (if any) have not yet been published.
On Friday’s oral special leave hearings, the High Court added three new cases to its docket, while rejecting leave in a high profile matter, former army reservist, Bernard Gaynor, whose sacking by the ADF over anti-gay and anti-Islam views he posted online will accordingly stand. However, in the week after June’s oral hearings, the High Court granted leave on the papers in a connected set of five disputes concerning the powers of state tribunals, which include an anti-discrimination complaint against Gaynor over his alleged anti-homosexual remarks.
The four matters that can now be appealed to the High Court are: Continue reading
The High Court has dismissed an appeal against a decision of the Full Federal Court on the circumstances in which a bankruptcy court may ‘go behind’ an earlier debt judgment. In a 2015 judgment, the NSW Supreme Court held that Compton, who had guaranteed the Ramsay’s debts, now owed almost $10 million to the company, and rejected his contention that he was not aware of the debts as they were not attached to the guarantee papers he had signed. When Compton himself went bankrupt, Ramsay presented a creditor’s petition to the Federal Court to sequester the debt to preserve it from the demands of other creditors, and Compton, in response, submitted new evidence that he contended showed he never actually owed anything to the company. Section 51(1)(c) of the Bankruptcy Act 1966 (Cth) provides that
At the hearing of a creditor’s petition, the Court shall require proof of: …
(c) the fact that the debt or debts on which the petitioning creditor relies is or are still owing;
and, if it is satisfied with the proof of those matters, may make a sequestration order against the estate of the debtor.
The FCAFC unanimously held that the primary judge should Continue reading
The High Court has allowed an appeal against a decision of the Western Australian Court of Appeal on the statutory preconditions for the grant of mining leases. In 2011, two of the respondents made applications to have their mining exploration licences converted into lining leases. Those applications did not include a ‘mineralisation report’ (which arrived four months later) or a ‘mining operations statement’ (which never arrived), both of which the Mining Act 1978 (WA) required an application ‘shall be accompanied by’. Nonetheless, the Mining Warden recommended the leases be granted and the Minister made the decision to do so. The WASCA held that while the applications failed to meet the requirements of the Act, that failure did not preclude the warden or Minister from considering or granting the applications, as they were not factors that had to be considered before the leases could be recommended or granted.
The High Court held, 4:1, that the WASCA erred in its construction of the statutory regime (Kiefel CJ, Bell, Gageler and Keane JJ, Nettle J dissenting).
The majority (Kiefel CJ, Bell, Gageler and Keane JJ) emphasised that considering the WASCA’s reasoning must begin with a consideration of the majority judgment in Project Blue Sky v ABA  HCA 28. Whereas the WASCA had relied on that approach to conclude that the document submission were not conditions precedent to a hearing or recommendation by the warden (see ff), the majority held Continue reading
The High Court has decided a special case on the legality of the Australian Government’s designation of Papua New Guinea as a regional processing country and the effect of a PNG Supreme Court decision on those arrangements.
The plaintiff is an Iranian national claiming refugee status who was detained as an ‘unauthorised maritime arrival’ and later taken to PNG (pursuant to s 198AD of the Migration Act 1958 (Cth)) in line with the ‘regional processing’ arrangements that had been put in place, namely, the 2012 designation of PNG as a regional processing country (under s 198AB(1)) and a direction made by the Minister in 2013 to move the plaintiff there (under s 198AD(5)). Once in PNG, the plaintiff became subject to PNG law and the directions of the PNG Minister for Foreign Affairs and Immigration, which required that he remain at the Manus Regional Processing Centre, which is run by Broadspectrum (Australia) Pty Ltd pursuant to a contract between that company and the Commonwealth. The PNG Minister rejected the plaintiff’s application for refugee status, though he has not yet been removed from Manus. Prior to this determination, the PNG Supreme Court handed down its decision in Namah v Pato  PGSC 13, in which the PNGSC held that the Continue reading
Gregory Wayne Kable is the person of that name who was convicted in New South Wales on 1 August 1990 of the manslaughter of his wife, Hilary Kable.
The law allowed a Supreme Court judge to detain Kable (and only Kable) for six months at a time, if the judge thought that Kable was still a danger to the community. Today, nearly twenty-one years later, the High Court unanimously rejected a challenge to a Victorian law that applies to only one person:
In this section a reference to the prisoner Julian Knight is a reference to the Julian Knight who was sentenced by the Supreme Court in November 1988 to life imprisonment for each of 7 counts of murder.
That law forbids Victoria’s parole board from ever releasing Knight (and only Knight, who perpetrated 1987’s Hoddle St Massacre), even if the parole board thinks he is no danger to the community. Kable’s law was struck down because it placed his freedom in the hands of the courts. Knight’s was upheld because it left his freedom in the hands of no-one at all.
When Kable was decided in 1996, some hoped it was the start of judicial scrutiny of laws that sought to impose punitive outcomes by unjust means Continue reading
The High Court has dismissed an appeal from a decision of the Victorian Court of Appeal on statutory assessments of whether a mental disorder is ‘severe’ in the context of transport accidents. The appellant was injured in a car accident and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Section 93 of the Transport Accident Act 1986 (Vic) allows for a transport accident victim to recover damages for injuries suffered, including ‘severe’ mental disorders. While the Act does not define the meaning of ‘severe’, the ‘narrative test’ in Victoria was stated in Humphreys v Poljak  VicRp 58 (emphasis added by the High Court, at ):
To be ‘serious’ the consequences of the injury must be serious to the particular applicant. Those consequences will relate to pecuniary disadvantage and/or pain and suffering. In forming a judgment as to whether, when regard is had to such consequence, an injury is to be held to be serious the question to be asked is: can the injury, when judged by comparison with other cases in the range of possible impairments or losses, be fairly described at least as ‘very considerable’ and certainly more than ‘significant’ or ‘marked’?
The trial judge held that the appellant’s PTSD was due to the accident, but given the wide range of social, recreational and domestic matters that she participated in, it failed to reach the threshold of ‘severity’ require by the statue and the test. The VSCA held, by majority, that the trial judge erred in approaching Continue reading
The High Court has determined a special case on whether s 74AA of the Corrections Act 1986 (Vic) is invalid as contrary to ch III of the Constitution, holding that it is not. The plaintiff pleaded guilty to seven counts of murder and 46 counts of attempted murder, and was sentenced to a total non-parole minimum term of 27 years, which expired on or around 8 May 2014. A month before, the Parliament of Victoria enacted s 74AA, which purported to prevent the Adult Parole Board from releasing the plaintiff, who is named in the section, unless it is satisfied that the plaintiff is in imminent danger of death or is seriously incapacitated and thus unable to harm any person. The plaintiff brought a special case before the Continue reading