Three Australian ministers may face contempt charges for criticizing judges

In Australia, the Supreme Court of Victoria has order three government ministers and two journalists to appear before it to explain why they should not face contempt charges for eroding trust in the legal system.  One minister reportedly said that “Labor’s continued appointment of hard-left activist judges has come back to bite Victorians.”  Another allegedly warned that the courts “should not be places for ideological experiments in the face of global and local threats from Islamic extremism.”

The linked article offers as excellent explanation of the two forms of contempt available in Australia.  Although these proceedings are apparently quite rare, they are still shocking to American sensibilities. First Amendment protections and respect for vigorous political speech would make prosecution of this sort unthinkable.

I would welcome any readers more knowledegable than I in Australian jurisprudence (not a high bar) to offer thoughts in the comments.

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5 thoughts on “Three Australian ministers may face contempt charges for criticizing judges”

  1. Thanks for that interesting piece of information . In the Israeli state for example ( common law system ) there is an independent offence , prescribed in the penalty code ( 1977 ) here I quote article 255 :

    Disparagement of Court
    255. If a person said or wrote anything about a judge of a Court or religious tribunal in connection with his office with the intention to injure his status, or if he publishes invective against a judge of a Court or religious tribunal in order to bring the administration of justice into suspicion or contempt, then he is liable to three years imprisonment; however, a candid and courteous discussion of the merits of a judge’s decision in a matter of public concern shall not be an offense under this section.

    End or quotation :

    Just worth to note : not quite often implied ( the article ) yet , one should notice , that the wording prescribes : ” with the intention to injure his status ” or : ” in order to bring the administration of justice into suspicion or contempt ” So , we have problem with the intent of the offender (Mens rea ) very complicated by itself of course .

    Thanks

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    1. Thank you for the response. Very interesting! As you note, the men’s rea problem is very complicated — and I would imagine that it is just as difficult to ascertain what constitutes a “candid and courteous” discussion of the merits of a decision. Have there ever been prosecutions under Article 255?

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  2. Jordan , indeed , in one case a person was convicted for such contempt ( to pay fine finally ) . He was writing so ( spontaneous translation , after being sentenced by a judge and in the appeal written ) here :

    ” I consider the conduct of the judge as an anti-Semitic act , this is because I am religious person ( having beard and so forth ….having an appearance of religious person ) ”

    The fine confirmed finally at the supreme court , although reduced .

    It is in Hebrew , here is the link ( to the appeal in the supreme court ) So , if you have special interest , here :

    http://elyon1.court.gov.il/Files/97/170/038/h05/97038170.h05.HTM

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    1. Thanks again! Fascinating — I can now see how it might apply. It’s still shocking to American sensibilities, even after two centuries of occasional, similar complaints against judges that undoubtedly *have* tarnished the reputation of the judiciary, at least for a time. I will now have to dust off my Hebrew and dig into the opinion.

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      1. Jordan , you are mostly welcomed , if you have any issue with the reading , you can address me , and I shall solve it of course . The first amendment is indeed a great deal of constitutional value in the US , yet , it has its own limits , if it has limits concerning national security , the flag and so forth…. Why not judges and the judiciary ?? One needs to explain it !! In the court room for example , respect is warranted , so , it has its own limits . You can’t curse the judge during proceedings , right ?? And what is it , if not limits on first amendment , concerning judges and judiciary ??

        Thanks

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