Thursday, 11 November 2010

A Great Day for Freedom?

In the refugee case, the court (unanimously) said that the offshore processing of asylum seekers had to be conducted with procedural fairness and according to law. The fact that the former immigration minister Philip Ruddock had tried to deny legal rights to possible refugees by containing them in black holes like Christmas Island did not excuse the ministerial obligation to observe binding decisions of the Australian courts or the Migration Act itself.

Ruddock's invention, we recently discovered, was the result of some creative discussion around his family dinner table.
Already the court's decision is being flagged by the ''stop the boats'' brigade as an open invitation to asylum seekers and people smugglers to overrun our borders.
Not quite. The broader challenges to the Migration Act and the minister's discretion on granting protection visas were not upheld.
The way in which chapter three and rules of procedural fairness are applied by the High Court are far from consistent. After all, the court has held that it is perfectly legal to lock up a person indefinitely without charge. It has also held that secret evidence can be used by courts to make decisions and that can be done without showing the evidence to the party adversely affected and having it properly tested.
Chief Justice James Spigelman of NSW, who would have been chief justice of the High Court had it not been for Kevin Rudd, said something last month that we all know, but least expect judges to say publicly: ''It is all too easy to dress up a conclusion, reached on other grounds, by selecting from the smorgasbord of maxims and principles of interpretation those which assist the achievement of the predetermined result.''
Yesterday was an emphatic statement by the High Court led by Robert French. Further, ministers ignore the law and the judges at their peril. That both major decisions were scheduled to come thudding down from on high on the same day rubs in the points even more forcefully.

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