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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