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The Australian National University

Attributes and Attribution of State Courts—Federalism and the Kable Principle

Brendan Lim (2012) 40 (1)

'State courts' can be understood in at least two ways. Their 'attributes' are the characteristics that define them as 'courts'. Their 'attribution' is the extent to which they are regarded as emanations of a 'state' in its constitutional conception as a constituent unit of the federation. The principle first articulated in Kable v Director of Public Prosecutions (NSW) (1996) 189 CLR 51 ensures the institutional integrity of state courts by protecting from legislative impairment their defining characteristics as 'courts'. It therefore understands state courts almost exclusively by their 'attributes'. This article examines the significance to the Kable principle of also understanding state courts by their 'attribution'. There are different conceptions of the proper attribution of state courts, coincident with different visions of how to accommodate simultaneous constitutional commitments to autonomous states and integrated courts. Those conceptions influence the content and application of the Kable principle in ways that are insufficiently appreciated. This insight permits a new perspective on the Kable principle as a doctrine of federalism, and its recent applications in International Finance Trust Co Ltd v NSW Crime Commission (2009) 240 CLR 319; Kirk v Industrial Court (NSW) (2010) 239 CLR 531; South Australia v Totani (2010) 242 CLR 1; and Wainohu v New South Wales (2011) 243 CLR 181. It also prompts an analysis of a contemporaneous evolution in the constitutional policy of the Commonwealth, whose Attorney-General typically intervened in Kable cases in support of the states, until recently seeking to extend to them certain Chapter III limitations.

Vol 40, Issue 1, 2012

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