High Court of Australia
The High Court of Australia is the court of last resort for the jurisdiction of Australia. It is mandated by Section 71 of the Australian Constitution. Although the Constitution came into effect in 1901 upon the federation of the former British colonies of Australia, the High Court was not in fact established until 1903. It finally became the court of last resort in 1986 upon passage of the Australia Act. This legislation abolished recourse to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. For more detail on these developments, see Constitutional history of Australia.
Role of the court
The functions of the High Court are to interpret and apply the law of Australia; to decide cases of special federal significance including challenges to the constitutional validity of laws and to hear appeals, by special leave, from Federal, State and Territory courts.
As well as its appellate role, the High Court also exercises some original jurisdiction, especially in regard to the administrative overview of the activities of Federal ministers and public servants. In practice, this most often involves attempts to overturn immigration-related decisions.
Some of the court's decisions have had profound effects on the course of Australia's history. Some particularly notable ones include the 1948 finding that the Chifley government's legislation to nationalise Australia's private banks was unconstitutional, the 1950 finding that Robert Menzies' attempts to ban the Communist Party of Australia were unconstitutional, and the 1988 Mabo decision.
Since 1980 the High Court ordinarily sits in Canberra, where it is located in its own building within the Parliamentary Triangle , on the shore of Lake Burley Griffin. (Prior to this, the court's facilities were shared between the cities of Sydney and Melbourne). The building was designed by Edwards Madigan Torzillo and Briggs Pty Ltd and constructed between 1975 and 1980. It is an unusual and distinctive structure, built in the brutalist style, and features an immense public atrium with a 24 metre high roof. The High Court building houses three courtrooms, Justices' chambers, and the Court's main registry, library, and corporate services facilities. In addition, there are offices of the High Court Registry in Sydney and Melbourne, staffed by officers of the High Court.
In Brisbane and Perth registry functions are performed on behalf of the High Court by officers of the Federal Court of Australia, and in Adelaide, Hobart and Darwin they are performed by officers of the Supreme Court of the respective State or Territory. Once a year, the court travels on circuit to some of Australia's more remote cities, such as Perth, Western Australia.
High Court justices
The first three justices of the High Court were:
- The Chief Justice, Sir Samuel Griffith, former Premier and former Chief Justice of Queensland.
- Sir Edmund Barton, the first Prime Minister of Australia and Leader of the Australian Constitutional Conventions of the 1890s
- Richard Edward O'Connor .
In 1906, an additional two justices were appointed, and in 1912 the bench was expanded to seven justices. During the Great Depression, two of the seats were left vacated due to the decline in the volume of work.
The current (as of 2004) sitting justices of the High Court are:
- Chief Justice Anthony Murray Gleeson
- Justice Michael McHugh
- Justice William Gummow
- Justice Michael Kirby
- Justice Kenneth Hayne
- Justice Ian Callinan
- Justice John Heydon