The ‘almost equal’ gender balance on the High Court of Australia has been restored with the appointment of Federal Court judge Michelle Gordon as the 52nd justice of the High Court of Australia. When Her Honour took her place on the bench in June, she returned the number of women sitting on the High Court to three out of seven judges. Her appointment comes in the wake of criticism from some quarters that the court’s gender balance was disrupted when Justice Susan Crennan was replaced by Justice Geoffrey Nettle.1 Nonetheless, recent calls for reforms to appointment processes so that the High Court might constitute a fair reflection of society,2 are as pertinent as ever. Given the way in which the politics of gender inclusion has been framed by decision-makers, the likelihood of any such reforms, or their effectiveness has important political dimensions. These dimensions are the focus of this article.
Scrutiny of Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers has not been warmly received by the Abbott government. Rather than addressing the continuing abuse of vulnerable people, the government has preferred to turn on the messenger. One such messenger has been the president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs who was the target of pernicious personal attack and demands for her resignation following the release of the commission’s 2014 report into children in immigration detention. Others include ten Save the Children workers who were ordered off Nauru by the government late last year amidst allegations that their accounts of abuse of asylum seekers were fabricated and that they had encouraged asylum seekers to engage in self-harm. The allegations against the workers were subsequently found to be baseless.
The Australian Law Reform Commission (‘ALRC’) has completed its inquiry into the native title system, tabling its final report in Parliament on 4 June 2015.
The inquiry commenced in June 2013 with the release for public consultation of draft terms of reference, which were subsequently finalised in August that year. This was followed by the release of an issues paper in March 2014 and a discussion paper in October 2014. The terms of reference related to two specific areas, namely:
- connection requirements relating to the recognition and scope of native title rights and interests; and
- any barriers imposed by the authorisation and joinder provisions of the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) (‘NTA’) to claimants’, potential claimants’ and respondents’ access to justice.
The NSW government will start trialling an online court in the final quarter of 2015. A pilot of the online court will cover civil cases in the general division of the Sydney Downing Centre Local Court.
The court will allow parties to manage cases at a preliminary stage, without having to be physically present in a courtroom. Lawyers will be able to employ the online court’s services to seek preliminary orders online, such as an adjournment or an order that documents be filed by a certain date.
An important difference to non-online court proceedings is that the 28-day waiting period before the first preliminary hearing will not apply to online proceedings. Additionally, parties will be able to start making requests immediately.
Bronwyn Naylor, Julie Debeljak and Anita Mackay (eds); The Federation Press, 2014; 294 pages; $59.59 (softcover).
According human rights in ‘closed’ environments — where individuals are detained against their will — is an inherently difficult enterprise, as this collection of essays powerfully demonstrates. The collection defines closed environments as those in which individuals are or may be deprived of their liberty because they are, by lawful authority, denied permission to leave at will. The environments considered include prisons, police cells, closed mental health and disability units, and immigration detention centres. The contributors come from academic and practice backgrounds, with many having experience on bodies with oversight responsibilities for particular closed environments. The editors propose a ‘three pronged strategic framework for implementing human rights in closed environments’ (page 2), which is developed in individual contributions and across the entire collection. The ‘three prongs’ include a regulatory regime that combines international human rights obligations, comprehensive national human rights legislation — noticeably absent in Australia — and ‘environment-specific legislation’ (page 3) translating general rights into rights, duties, and policies that are carefully targeted towards the closed environment in question. The other prongs are effective and independent external monitoring mechanisms, and ‘culture change’ — in other words, ensuring that formal commitments to rights recognition are translated into institutional cultures that are genuinely respectful of human rights.
Andrew Lynch, Nicola McGarrity and George Williams; NewSouth Publishing, 2015; 238 pages; $24.99 (paperback)
In the wake of 11 September 2001, nations around the world scrambled to enact measures responding to the elusive terror threat. Domestically, the Australian government responded by passing a barrage of new legislation — extending the reach of criminal laws, creating new terror laws, and granting extensive surveillance and policing powers to those charged with enforcing those laws.
Fourteen years after September 11, the terror threat is still alive in Australia and indeed has recently come back onto the public’s radar following the siege at the Lindt Café in 2014 and a number of terrorism-related raids in late 2014 early 2015.
There is clearly a need in Australia for laws that criminalise and prevent terrorist activities. Concerning, however, is the extent to which these laws compromise individual freedoms in the name of security.