Federal Government Ministers to appear before the Victorian Court of Appeal

Federal Government Ministers to appear before the Victorian Court of Appeal

On Thursday June 15 Terry O’Gorman was asked by ABC Radio Current Affairs to comment on reports in the Australian that morning that the Registrar of the Victorian Court of Appeal had called on various Federal Government Ministers to appear before the Victorian Court of Appeal to make submissions as to why they should not be prosecuted for contempt. 

The letter from the Judicial Registrar of the Victorian Court of Appeal asserted that statements attributed to various Federal Government Ministers appeared to intend to bring the Court into disrepute.  The Ministers’ comments appeared to assert the Judges have and will apply an ideologically based predisposition in deciding a sentence appeal in a terrorism case and that the Judges will not apply the law.

Mr O’Gorman in his interview with ABC Current Affairs distinguished between legitimate, even robust criticism of Judges on the one hand and comments that may be found to be in contempt on the other. 

Mr O’Gorman said that criticism of Court decisions was a regular, if not daily, event in Australia.

Criticism is one thing but to suggest, particularly, that Judges in a current Appeal Court hearing would not properly apply the law but would apply their individual ideology in deciding a case is a serious allegation. 

Mr O’Gorman said that the Victorian Court of Appeal appearance was the first step in the proceedings.  If the Court found that cause had been shown as to why a matter should not be referred for prosecution for contempt, that would be the end of the matter. 

If, on the other hand, the Victorian Court of Appeal does refer the Federal Ministers for prosecution for contempt, it is then up to the prosecution authorities to themselves make the decision as to whether they will prosecute.

Mr O’Gorman said that strong criticism of Court Judgments is one thing, but to attack a Judge let alone three Judges on a Court of Appeal suggesting that their approach was ideological and that they would not properly apply the law was very close to a contempt of Court. 

Mr O’Gorman said that prosecution for contempt of Court particularly in respect of politicians was a relatively rare event, but a prosecution of this type may well be necessary in order to delineate the boundaries between robust free speech on one hand and comments by Senior Ministers in Federal Government which may be said to deliberately and calculatedly challenge the integrity of the Court itself.

 

By Terry O’Gorman

15 June 2017