By Thomas Bland
In Williams [No 1], the plaintiff leapt over a procedural hurdle — whether he, as a parent of children who attended a school in which a chaplain was employed pursuant to the National School Chaplaincy Program, had standing to challenge the funding arrangements underlying that program. In Williams [No 2] the Commonwealth defendants, faced with Mr Williams’ second challenge to the funding arrangements, failed to surmount a different hurdle when the Court denied them leave to challenge the correctness of the Court’s decision in Williams [No 1].
In this post, I will briefly examine how the Court in Williams [No 2] dealt with the plaintiff’s standing and the Commonwealth’s ill-fated attempt to have Williams [No 1] overruled, and I will make some observations on the Court’s approach to these issues.
One of the questions reserved for the Full Court in Williams [No 2] was whether the plaintiff had standing to bring the challenge to s 32B of the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997 (Cth). The Commonwealth conceded in its written submissions that, ‘in light of the position taken by the [intervening States]’, the plaintiff had standing. The Court accepted this concession and answered the question thus: ‘[I]n the circumstances of this case, and to the extent necessary for the determination of this matter, yes’ (at ). (The Court explained the reasons for the qualified answer, but they are irrelevant for present purposes.)
The Commonwealth’s concession was doubtless informed by the Court’s holding on the plaintiff’s standing in Williams [No 1]. Given that counsel for the Commonwealth (as discussed further below) went on to challenge the substantive holdings in Williams [No 1], it is perhaps unsurprising that they conceded the standing point. If the Court held that the plaintiff lacked standing, the Commonwealth’s opportunity to have Williams [No 1] overruled would not arise. However, the Court’s holding on standing in Williams [No 1] arguably signals a departure from its previous practice. It is worth considering whether this is so, and if so, what this might mean for future litigants. Continue reading