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PM's comments split lawyers

PM's comments split lawyers

Some legal heavyweights have expressed differing views on whether recent comments about the High Court from Julia Gillard threaten the independence of the judiciary.Yesterday (1 September), the…

Some legal heavyweights have expressed differing views on whether recent comments about the High Court from Julia Gillard threaten the independence of the judiciary.

Yesterday (1 September), the Prime Minister said the High Court "missed an opportunity" in its rejection of the Federal Government's Malaysia asylum seeker swap deal. Gillard then went on to make some more general criticisms of the High Court, accusing Chief Justice Robert French of inconsistencies with regard to his rulings.

This prompted the Law Council of Australia (LCA) president Alex Ward to issue a statement rebuking the Prime Minister.

"It is highly inappropriate to single-out the chief justice for particular criticism," he said. "His honour was one of six judges who were in the majority in this case and the legal principles established by the case are very clear."

Ward also reminded critics of the High Court that "under the separation of powers in Australia, it's the High Court's role to interpret and rule on the laws passed by the Parliament".

Despite the strident criticism of the LCA and the wide support of the legal community for the High Court's decision, Julia Gillard's right to speak out has been defended by Professor George Williams, the foundation director of the Gilbert + Tobin Centre of Public Law at the Faculty of Law, University of New South Wales. The noted constitutional law expert and human rights advocate told Lawyers Weekly that Gillard had a right to speak up as a "disappointed litigant".

"The Prime Minister's comments don't compromise the independence of the judiciary," he said. "She has responded to the judgment, and the importance of courts is that they deliver judgments with reasons and they are all there so people can agree or disagree with them."

Williams said that it is not unusual for tensions to exist between the government and the judiciary, and he would be more concerned if there was a "cosy" relationship between the government and the judiciary.

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