News: The High Court sets a time and venue

You are cordially invited…:

Please be advised that the High Court will deliver the following judgments in the next week:

Thursday, 12 December 2013 at 12:15 pm in Court No.2 Parkes Place, Canberra

Plaintiff M76/2013 v Minister for Immigration Multicultural Affairs and Citizenship & Ors(M76/2013)

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission v TPG Internet Pty Ltd(M98/2013)

The Commonwealth of Australia v. The Australian Capital Territory(C13/2013)

The third case is the same-sex marriage case. This announcement (from the High Court’s Judgment Delivery Notification alert service) confirms the ‘hopes’ that French CJ expressed at the end of Tuesday’s hearings. Barring an unlikely retraction, the validity of the ACT’s marriage law will be known on December 12. Indeed, it will be known not too long after 12.15pm that day. The announcement also reveals two further details: the venue and who else is in the order of ceremonies.

The listed venue means that the same sex marriage issue will be heard and decided in different rooms. The case’s preliminary hearings before French CJ (described here and here) occurred in Courtroom No. 3, designed for single judge matters (and featuring a rarely used jury box.) Tuesday’s full court hearing was heard in Courtroom No. 1, the Court’s grand ceremonial courtroom that is used for special events and also (typically) for hearings before all seven (or six) judges. On the other hand, Courtroom No. 2, the venue for next week’s decision, is the Court’s ‘working court’, for the much more common hearings before three or five judges. Its use to announce decisions is not unusual, nor is the implication that only some of the Court’s judges will attend. However, its selection has implications for members of the public or the media who wish to witness the moment. While Courtroom No. 1 has ‘[p]ublic seating for nearly 200 people provided on the floor of the court and on a mezzanine level’, Courtroom No. 2 lacks a mezzanine. I haven’t been able to locate any official figures for the seating in its public gallery, but my count of a blurry picture on the Court’s website suggests that there are 32 seats on the bride’s side of the aisle and 40 seats on the groom’s. That is likely to suffice for the various honeymooning couples from this weekend’s weddings, but only a handful of extra guests apiece.

The Court’s announcement also informs the parties to Cth v ACT that they will have to share the occasion with two other matters. One, ACCC v TPG Internet, is a moderately interesting consumer protection case concerning television ads for bundled internet deals. However, the other, Plaintiff M76/2013 v Minister for Immigration, is one of the year’s most anticipated judgments. In 2004’s Al-Kateb v Godwin,  the Court split narrowly on whether a non-citizen who is to be deported can be detained forever in some circumstances. Plaintiff M76/2013 has asked the present Court to narrow or overrule the decision, which has become a symbol of the lack of human rights protection in Australia. The listing of two such closely watched proceedings for judgment on the same day means that there might be double the delight or disappointment for some in the audience. Alternatively, mixed blessings from the Court may leave the Commonwealth, the common party in both matters, simultaneously with many happy returns and alone at the altar on December 12.

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About Jeremy Gans

Jeremy Gans is a Professor in Melbourne Law School, where he researches and teaches across all aspects of the criminal justice system. He holds higher degrees in both law and criminology. In 2007, he was appointed as the Human Rights Adviser to the Victorian Parliament's Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee.