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High Court split on voting rights

High Court split on voting rights

In what was a significant win for the Mallesons Stephen Jaques pro bono team, this week the case of Rowe v Electoral Commissioner was signed off, following a dramatic 4-3 split decision of the…

In what was a significant win for the Mallesons Stephen Jaques pro bono team, this week the case of Rowe v Electoral Commissioner was signed off, following a dramatic 4-3 split decision of the High Court.

This week the High Court handed down its reasons for an August ruling that enabled almost 100,000 additional Australians to vote in this year's federal election.

In the landmark case, Mallesons acted for plaintiffs Shannen Rowe and Doug Thompson, who launched the urgent court challenge in July to have the Electoral Act changed to allow additional Australians to cast a ballot at Australia's 2010 federal election.

The action challenged the constitutional validity of the 2006 changes to the Commonwealth Electoral Act, which removed a seven-day grace period for voters to enrol after the writs were issued for an election.

In its reasoning, the High Court said the impugned laws had created "collateral damage" because they diminished opportunities for enrolment and transfer of enrolment. The Commonwealth's only justification for the impugned laws was that they would reduce voter fraud. However, it was admitted that such fraud had never been identified by the Australian Electoral Commission on anything but a trivial scale.

The Mallesons team was led by dispute resolution partner Robert Cooper and solicitors Amy Munro and Ben Kiely. It received support from a team of solicitors and graduates from the firm's Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra offices.

"It was a dramatic split on the bench, not some nuanced difference of opinion," Cooper said. "A progressive majority, led by Chief Justice French, outnumbered the conservative minority and has ruled that an arbitrary law which leads to disenfranchisement will be struck down by the court. The win now leaves the door open to future challenges to electoral laws."

See our coverage of the August decision here: https://www.lawyersweekly.com.au/blogs/top_stories/archive/2010/08/06/getup-wins-high-court-challenge.aspx

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