previous
next

§ 288. “The High Court of Australia.”

The High Court is the crown and apex, not only of the judicial system of the Commonwealth, but of the judicial systems of the States as well. It is in the first place a court of original jurisdiction in certain enumerated matters of specially federal concern (sec. 75), and this jurisdiction may be extended by federal legislation to cover certain other enumerated matters of specially federal concern (sec. 76). In the next place, it is a court of appeal from federal courts and courts exercising federal jurisdiction (sec. 73); and this appellate power is of course confined within the same limits as the original jurisdiction in respect of which it exists—that is to say, within the matters enumerated in secs. 75 and 76. But in the third place, the High Court is a court of appeal from all decisions of the Supreme Courts of the States, utterly irrespective of the subject-matter of the suit or the character of the parties. In this respect it resembles the Supreme Court of Canada, and differs from the Supreme Court of the United States. In the United States there is only an appeal to the Federal Supreme Court in those enumerated cases to which the “judicial power” is expressed to extend. In all cases which do not come within one or other of the enumerated classes, the


  ― 725 ―
decision of the last court of resort in each State is final. That is because, in the construction of the federal judiciary of the United States, strictly federal principles were adhered to, and the union was given no more power of interfering with the administration of justice in the States than was necessary for national purposes. But in Australia, as in Canada, the appellate jurisdiction is not one of those jealously-guarded State rights which make anything more intimate than a federal union impossible. We are accustomed to a common court of appeal in the shape of the Privy Council: we are so assured of the independence and integrity of the Bench that the advantages of having one uniform Australian tribunal of final resort outweigh all feelings of localism, and the federal tribunal has been entrusted (subject to the rights reserved with respect to the Privy Council) with the final decision of all cases, whether federal or purely local in their nature.

Thus, notwithstanding the differences of laws which may exist in the different States, and the independence of their several judicial systems, there is established a complete unity of interpretation throughout Australia. This is not the case in the United States, where the federal Supreme Court has only a limited appellate jurisdiction, and where, outside the limited “judicial power,” there are as many final courts of appeal as there are States in the Union. “Where the laws of the United States are in question, uniformity is assured by the appellate jurisdiction conferred upon the Supreme Court of the United States, but there is no such common appellate tribunal in the case of questions of State law.” Story, Comm. § 1795, n. The American State Courts are the final interpreters of State laws, except so far as they may conflict with federal laws; and accordingly in cases which are governed by State law, but in which the federal courts get jurisdiction owing to the character of the parties, the federal courts do not claim any right of “independent interpretation” of the law, but follow the decisions of the State courts. In other words, they adopt the principle that the interpretation of the law of a State by its own courts is of itself part of the law of the State. (See Burgess, ii., 328.) Under this Constitution no such distinction arises. The High Court has a right of “independent interpretation” in every case that comes before it. In its jurisdiction as “general court of appeal from the courts of the States,” it is not and cannot be bound to follow the decisions of those courts in any degree whatever.

GUARDIAN OF THE CONSTITUTIONS.—The High Court, like the Supreme Court of the United States, is the “guardian of the Federal Constitution;” that is to say, it has the duty of interpreting the Constitution, in cases which come before it, and of preventing its violation. But the High Court is also—unlike the Supreme Court of the United States—the guardian of the Constitutions of the several States; it is as much concerned to prevent encroachments by the Federal Government upon the domain of the States as to prevent encroachments by the State Governments upon the domain of the Federal Government. (See Notes on “Interpretation,” § 330, infra.)

previous
next