Friday, June 16, 2017

Australia: No free speech about the judiciary?

Members of Malcolm Turnbull's cabinet have rushed to the defence of their ministerial colleagues over remarks about the judiciary that have landed them in court and facing possible contempt charges.

Comments from three politicians criticising Victoria's judicial system could see them face contempt of court charges.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt, Human Services Minister Alan Tudge and Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar have been ordered to front the Victorian Supreme Court on Friday to explain "why they should not be referred for prosecution for contempt".

It is understood the ministers will not attend the Victorian Supreme Court on Friday, but will be represented by Commonwealth Solicitor-General Stephen Donaghue, for whom taxpayers will foot the bill.

The matter relates to criticism of the Victorian judiciary made by the three men in The Australian newspaper, which were seen by the court as relating to a live Commonwealth appeal challenging the 10-year sentence of convicted terror plotter Sevdet Ramadan Besim.

Education Minister Simon Birmingham came to his colleagues' aid, insisting they had not just a right but a duty to represent their constituents' views on issues of importance to the community.

"I think when Australian people vote for their elected representatives, they expect their elected representatives to speak their mind, and they expect their elected representatives to stand up on issues that the community are concerned about, that the community might think are unfair or bad outcomes," Senator Birmingham said.

"That applies as much in relation to sentencing decisions of courts as to any other issue."

He conceded MPs needed to be "mindful of all of our different responsibilities", referring to the duty to not prejudice cases before a court.

"But our first responsibility as members of parliament is to the people who send us here, to the voters who send us here, and to stand up for their interests, for their expectations," he said. "And I'm quite confident that that is all my colleagues were doing."

Industry Minister Arthur Sinodinos said he was "surprised" to see his colleagues hauled before a judge to explain themselves, because "this is a country which prizes free speech".

"Politicians from time to time will say some pretty colourful things and I believe that politicians should have the right to do so," he told ABC Radio National on Wednesday night.

"If they say something that's obviously defamatory or libellous or whatever, that's a separate matter, but politicians have got to have a right to make commentary on matters of public interest and public policy."

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce declined to comment other than to say: "the whole issue about contempt of court is you don't talk about court proceedings".

The ministers are believed to have the strong support of their colleagues from throughout the Coalition.

"We're all on the same page, this is outrageous," one MP said. "The judiciary is not above criticism. If they're suggesting they're above criticism that's a big problem in our democracy. I think they know this isn't contempt but I think they want to send a message."

The trio also won the backing of crossbench senator and free speech crusader David Leyonhjelm, who lambasted "unelected" judges as "dear little daffodils" who couldn't handle criticism.

"Frankly, I think contempt of the court is when you do a brown eyes," he said, referring to the practice of removing one's trousers and pointing one's posterior in someone's direction.

In a letter obtained by Fairfax Media, Judicial Registrar Ian Irving said comments by the three ministers published in The Australian, accusing the judiciary of going soft on terrorists, would appear to bring the court into disrepute.

Mr Hunt reportedly said: "The state courts should not be places for ideological experiments in the face of global and local threats from Islamic extremism that has led to such tragic losses."

Mr Sukkar was quoted as saying: "Labor's continued appointment of hard-left activist judges has come back to bite Victorians". He also said the soft attitude of judges "has eroded any trust that remained in our legal system".

Minter Ellison partner Peter Bartlett said judges were rightly subjected to public criticism from politicians and the community for their decisions.

But he said some of the ministers' comments had gone too far by suggesting the judges were ideologically motivated. "That's crossing the line. That's suggesting bias with judges," he said.

However, Mr Bartlett said it was disappointing the ministers had been required to explain their actions in the court. He believed it was unlikely they would be charged.



Spurwing Plover the fighting shorebird said...

Liberals,socialists and ISIS rejects free speech unless it gose in their favor and restrict what all conservatives say might offend them

Anonymous said...


As you seem to delight in complaining about what others say and want to restrict their speech, which one of the groups you mention do you fit into?

We all know that you are a liberal, but are you also a socialist and / or a member of ISIS as well?

Malcolm Smith said...

Perhaps the judges should be brought up before Parliament on the charge of contempt of Parliament.

Anonymous said...

Malcolm - perhaps you could point out the conduct of the Court that might amount to a contempt of Parliament?
Parliament does have this power - and will use it from time to time. However, I don't see how this is an example.

Anonymous said...

Australia does not have freedom of speech. Freedom of speech in the United States was originally intended just for this purpose because criticism of the king, and by extension, the criticism of government officials was punishable by death.

Spurwing Plover the Fighting Shorebird said...

Anon 12:48 Many liberal run campuses have free speech zones which means more why we need to defund thee leftists run campuses

Anonymous said...

The truth is that many of the Judges appointed in Australia and in particularly in Victoria have graduated through a legal system that has been influenced by the extreme leftist view held and taught in Australia's universities. The humanities campuses are thriving hotbed of people who are in teaching positions with socialist views who have never held a job outside of academia and a student union that is totally beholden to Trotsky ideals. We also have many politicians who have never worked outside of the union movement and have little real life experience as do their Greens counterparts. If this trend continues Australia's standard of living, standard of justice and freedom of speech are in severe danger.