Fiction and Certainty in Social Security Prosecutions: DPP (Cth) v Keating

By Natalie Burgess

DPP (Cth) v Keating Case Page

In DPP (Cth) v Keating [2013] HCA 20, the High Court ruled that federal legislation imposing a backdated duty on social security recipients to inform Centrelink of changes in their circumstances had failed in its goal of shoring up the prosecution of past instances of social security fraud by omission. The Court held that an omission or failure to act can only attract criminal responsibility when, at the time of the failure, there was an existing legal duty to perform the act. The case sustains the importance of certainty in the criminal law, particularly the role it plays in the purpose and interpretation of the Commonwealth Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth), but leaves aside some important constitutional questions involving the scope of the Commonwealth legislature’s power to enact retrospective criminal law. Continue reading