Public Lecture: 'Swelling the ranks of the peripatetic unemployed': The first decade of the High Court of Australia

Monday, 3 October, 2011 - 17:00 to 18:00
Western Australia

Professor John Williams, Dean of Law, University of Adelaide

'Swelling the ranks of the peripatetic unemployed': The first decade of the High Court of Australia

Theme: 'The judicial power of the commonwealth shall be vested in a Federal Supreme Court, to be called the High Court of Australia'.

Despite this confident constitutional pronouncement, the establishment of the High Court of Australia was by far the most difficult of three branches of the new Commonwealth. By the end of 1905 members of the first High Court of Australia, all of whom were involved in the design of the Constitution, could reflect upon a most difficult two years in the life of the Court.

Even before its establishment in 1903, Australia's Federal Supreme Court had proven to be an institution that attracted controversy. Denounced by some framers as an unnecessary luxury, or worse a wedge between Australia and the Mother Country, its size was diminished and the first Chief Justice was publicly criticized as unworthy of its high office. Its decisions were resented and ignored by the Supreme Courts, rejected by the Privy Council, and in 1905 two of its members seriously considered resignation after a protracted dispute with the Government of the day.

From these difficult beginnings the Court emerged to achieve the qualities that its supporters had hoped and desired. This lecture will explore the forces that were set against the High Court in the difficult decade when, to join the Court, in the words of one of its detractors, was to swell the 'ranks of the peripatetic unemployed'.

Venue: The Constitutional Centre of Western Australia

Address: 40 Havelock Street, West Perth

Admission: This is a free event, however bookings are essential. 

Contact: Betty O'Rourke


Telephone: 08 9222 6922