Six special leave grants this quarter

This week, the United States Supreme Court heard its first case connected to a major true crime podcast- the superb second season of American Public Media’s superb anthology series, In The Dark – and seems likely to quash the result of the sixth trial of Curtis Flowers for a Mississippi multiple murder. Today, the High Court also heard its first case connected to a true crime podcast – the first of The Australian‘s efforts in the genre – and refused the Attorney-General special leave to appeal the NSW Court of Appeal’s ruling that NSW’s double jeopardy statute did not permit a retrial following the defendant’s acquittal on charges for multiple murders in Bowraville.

In the first quarter of this year, the High Court granted special leave to appeal in six cases: two in its February oral hearings, three in its March oral hearings and one grant on the papers. The cases the High Court will hear appeals from later this year are: Continue reading

News: Vexatious litigants and the High Court

It is sometimes difficult to judge when enough is enough with unrepresented litigants. Anecdotally, when I worked as a litigator and in the court system, I observed that a fair proportion of unrepresented litigants possessed one or more of the following characteristics:

  1. An obsessive fixation on their grievance;
  2. A tendency to produce giant wads of documents in support of their claims (some of which are irrelevant);
  3. A tendency to file documents which use quasi-legal jargon but from which it is very difficult to glean any real issues. Such documents also often have combinations of CAPITALS, underlining and bold text to highlight certain points;
  4. A refusal to listen to advice on their claims, and a corresponding tendency to get angry when someone suggests that the claim is not valid; and
  5. A tendency to generate conspiracy theories as to their lack of success.

However, there are occasional success stories, even before the High Court of Australia. For example, in the High Court case of Gambotto, the Gambottos represented themselves in a case involving oppression of minority shareholders, and were successful. Courts and lawyers can’t automatically write off litigants in person, because everybody deserves a chance to make their case. Consequently courts tend to be reluctant to declare someone a vexatious litigant (meaning that they are unable to file any further proceedings). In the High Court, this is achieved by a vexatious proceedings order made pursuant to s 77RN(2) of the Judiciary Act 1903 (Cth). Continue reading

News: The Court and the Conferences

Last week, the High Court spent the better part of four days on a single case, a challenge to Queensland’s ban on political donations by property developers. Such lengthy hearings no doubt impose all manner of burdens on the many judges and lawyers involved — all seven High Court justices and eight of Australia’s nine Solicitors-General (with only the Northern Territory’s Sonia Brownhill absent) together with the challenger’s counsel, Jeremy Kirk, not to mention the various associates, juniors and solicitors tending to each of them. Chief Justice Kiefel repeatedly indicated that ‘the Court would be assisted if it concluded around lunchtime on Friday.’ Her timetable was met, in no small part, because of her statement to Queensland’s Solicitor-General on the case’s third day:

Mr Solicitor, the Court will not require further submissions on whether the basis for or justification for the Queensland legislation is distinguishable from that in McCloy.

Half an hour later, he checked her meaning: ‘I take it your Honours want no submissions — your Honours are not looking for any submissions on the implied freedom at all?’ ‘That is correct’, Kiefel CJ confirmed. The argument that the political donations law breached the Constitution’s free speech rule was over, but the other arguments that the law breached the Constitution’s federalism rules remained.

When the law breaks so slow or so fast, spare a thought for the organisers of Australia’s constitutional law conferences. Continue reading

Northern Territory v Griffiths (Deceased) and Jones on behalf of the Ngaliwurru and Nungali Peoples

The High Court has allowed two appeals in part and dismissed one appeal from a decision of the Full Federal Court on compensation payable for the extinguishment of native title rights and interests.

Between 1980 and 1996, NT was responsible for 53 acts of granting tenures and constructing public works in the town of Timber Creek that were held to have impaired or extinguished native title rights and interests held by the Indigenous townspeople (the Claim Group). Pursuant to s 51 of the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth), the Claim Group’s compensation claim was framed as including: first, compensation for economic loss of native title rights to be determined as if each act were equivalent to the NT compulsorily acquiring a freehold estate in the land; secondly, compound interest on that loss from the date of assessment until judgment; and thirdly, compensation for loss or diminution of connection or traditional attachment to land, and the intangible disadvantages from lost rights to live on and gain spiritual and material sustenance from the land, as assessed at the time of trial (see at [11]). Mansfield J, at trial, assessed the compensation amount at $3.3 mil: $512,000 as 80 percent of the total freehold estate value, $1.4 million in simple interest, and a cultural loss of $1.3 million. The Full Court reduced the economic loss factor from 80 percent to 65 percent, but otherwise affirmed Mansfield J’s conclusions.

Before the High Court, the NT and Commonwealth contended that the FCAFC erred in assessing the economic loss at any more than 50 percent of the freehold value and erred in upholding the $1.3 million cultural loss (see [16], [17]). The Claim Group contended that the FCAFC erred in further reducing the freehold value to 65 per cent, that the economic loss should be the freehold value without any reduction at all, and that the Full Court also erred in upholding the interest on a simple, rather than compound, basis (at [15]).

The High Court unanimously allowed in part the NT and Commonwealth’s appeals, holding that the economic loss compensation should be reduced to 50 per cent of the freehold value of the land. The Court rejected the appellants’ arguments against the cultural loss amount, upholding the trial judge’s original determination of $1.3 million. The Court also dismissed the Claim Group’s arguments against any reduction, and on compound rather than simple interest. Continue reading

News: High Court protects Lawyer X’s children

While the nation debates the verdict and sentencing of George Pell – topics that may perhaps reach the High Court one day – the Court itself has been working on a matter that will dominate Victorian news this afternoon: the identity of Lawyer X, the Victorian barrister who spent years speaking to the police about some of her criminal clients. Victoria’s Court of Appeal recently rejected Lawyer X’s last plea for that court to keep her identity secret (or, more precisely, off our TV screens and mainstream newspapers. However, her identity remained protected by an order made by the High Court’s seven justices when they threw out her earlier effort to keep her name from some of the nation’s worst criminals. That temporary order was due to expire on 5 February, but the Court extended it twice, t to 15 February and then to 12 April, without any (publicised) hearing or reasons. However, two days ago, the Court varied the order for (presumably) the last time, again without explanation. At 4.15pm today, she will become the Lawyer Formerly Known as X. (The 12 April date remains in place for the unusual secrecy around her court file and the earlier Court hearings in her case.)

Yesterday saw a further published judgment in the case from Nettle J (the High Court justice assigned to manage the whole case), giving Lawyer X her first court victory. Continue reading