The Law Council of Australia has lashed out at Immigration Minister Peter Dutton following his latest attack and questioning of the independence of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.
The peak legal body described the minister’s comments, which questioned judgments made by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT), as “unfortunate” and noted that repeating them will lead to serious repercussions.
This comes after Mr Dutton spoke to Sydney radio station 2GB about his frustration with the AAT, which he noted has overturned more than 4,300 visa decisions made by him or his delegate in the past year.
In his interview, Mr Dutton also singled out Federal Court judge and AAT president Justice Duncan Kerr, who is a former Labor MP.
“When you look at some of the judgments that are made, the sentences that are handed down, it’s always interesting to go back to have a look at the appointment of the particular Labor government of the day,” Mr Dutton said.
“Anyway, it’s a frustration we live with.”
LCA president Fiona McLeod SC has hit out at the comments made by Mr Dutton, saying they had the potential to undermine the standing and independence of the tribunal.
“The independence of the judiciary, and respect for the role of courts and tribunals, is a fundamental to the rule of law in Australia,” Ms McLeod said.
“The Administrative Appeals Tribunal plays a critical role in overseeing and reviewing decisions made by Federal government ministers, departments and agencies everyday. For members to face personal criticism for fulfilling their duties is inappropriate. They are reviewing decisions made by government in accordance with law, not personal preference or ideology.”
Ms McLeod also responded to the comments made about Justice Kerr.
“Justice Duncan Kerr is a highly respected Federal Court judge who has provided excellent service to the Commonwealth during his time as AAT president,” she said.
“Members of the government may disagree with decisions made by the AAT, but the courts and tribunals provide an important check upon the unlawful exercise of power.
“Any suggestion by government that Australian jurists are not acting with independence is dangerous and erosive to our justice system and lies outside Australia’s democratic tradition. It undermines the public perception of the legitimate role of the judiciary and weakens the rule of law.”
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, there will be changes put to the Parliament this week which will give the minister power to overrule and have the final say on citizenship decisions of the AAT – something Ms McLeod noted as “worrying”.
“That’s a very grave concern,” she told the publication.
“Any attempt to wind back review powers should be treated with concern.”