Quote of the week

Although judicial proceedings will generally be bound by the requirements of natural justice to a greater degree than will hearings before administrative tribunals, judicial decision-makers, by virtue of their positions, have nonetheless been granted considerable deference by appellate courts inquiring into the apprehension of bias. This is because judges ‘are assumed to be [people] of conscience and intellectual discipline, capable of judging a particular controversy fairly on the basis of its own circumstances’: The presumption of impartiality carries considerable weight, for as Blackstone opined at p. 361 in Commentaries on the Laws of England III . . . ‘[t]he law will not suppose possibility of bias in a judge, who is already sworn to administer impartial justice, and whose authority greatly depends upon that presumption and idea’. Thus, reviewing courts have been hesitant to make a finding of bias or to perceive a reasonable apprehension of bias on the part of a judge, in the absence of convincing evidence to that effect.

L'Heureux-Dube and McLachlin JJ
Livesey v The New South Wales Bar Association [1983] HCA 17; (1983) 151 CLR 288
26 September 2007

Manto’s advert and the Health Act

My take on the advert taken out by the Department of Health to criticise the High Court judgment which allowed the Sunday Times to comment on the Minister of Health’s health records was published in the Business Day today. It can be accessed here. The crux of my argument:
This means section 14 forbids a newspaper from publishing anything about anyone’s treatment or stay in hospital — no matter how important that person may be or what that person may have done in hospital. I would argue that this section unjustifiably limits the right to freedom of expression because it is over-broad and, in effect, prohibits newspapers from uncovering corruption, maladministration or abuse of power if it relates to hospitals.

The allegation that the health minister had abused her power to jump the queue for a liver transplant is a case in point. It is exactly the role of a free press to uncover the abuse of power by the custodians of our constitution.

If the minister had in fact abused her power in such a despicable way — which is something she denies — the public interest would overwhelmingly require newspapers to publish this relevant information to allow voters to decide for themselves what to think of the government of the day and whom to vote for in the next election.

Yet, if a newspaper published allegations of such abuse of power and relied on the medical records of the minister, it would be contravening section 14 of the National Health Act and would be committing a criminal offence. Section 14 can thus in effect be used by public figures to prevent the publication of embarrassing and damning details about corruption and abuse of power. This makes the section overly broad and, I would contend, unconstitutional.

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