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State Jurisdictional Residue: What Remains to a State Court when its Chapter III Functions are Exhausted?

Helen Irving (2014) 42 (1)

Momcilovic v The Queen (2011) 245 CLR 1 provided the first opportunity for the High Court of Australia to consider the constitutional validity of a 'declaration of inconsistent interpretation' made under s 36 of the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 (Vic). The Court's ruling on this point attracted attention going well beyond the rest of the case. The constitutional status of the Charter's 'declaration' function had long been uncertain; in addition, although the case concerned a conviction under State law, the judgment of the Victorian Court of Appeal, from which Ms Momcilovic's appeal had come to the High Court, had been exercised in federal jurisdiction. This, then, raised questions about the extent to which the State Court was jurisdictionally limited, under the Kable doctrine, by its 'identity' as a Ch III court: whether the declaration power could be exercised by both, either, or neither, a State or federal court. Notably, French CJ found the power valid for a State court, but invalid for a federal court. In explaining his conclusion, the Chief Justice identified what this paper calls 'State jurisdictional residue.' In his Honour's words, 'there is no reason in principle why the Court of Appeal, having exhausted its functions in the exercise of its federal jurisdiction … could not proceed to exercise the distinct non-judicial power conferred upon it by' the Charter. Further questions were then raised about the extent to which a State court, albeit exercising federal jurisdiction, remains free to exercise a 'residual' State power relevant to the same proceedings. This paper considers such questions. It also asks what the case might be for reconsidering Kable v Director of Public Prosecutions (NSW) (1996) 189 CLR 51, particularly in light of the more recent judgment in Kirk v Industrial Court (NSW) (2010) 239 CLR 531.

Vol 42, Issue 1, 2014

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