Two significant free speech judgments were handed down by the High Court today:
- Monis v The Queen was a case that involved a man sending letters to families of soldiers killed in Afghanistan. The letters criticised Australia’s involvement in military conflict. The man was taken to court for allegedly breaching s 471.12 of the Criminal Code Act 1995, which makes it a crime to use the postal service to “menace, harass or cause offence”.
- Attorney-General (SA) v Corporation of the City of Adelaide involved a group of people preaching in a public place in Adelaide. The preachers are said to have breached a local government by-law which prohibits a person from preaching, canvassing, haranguing or otherwise soliciting for religious purposes.
The decision in both cases hinged on whether the laws were invalid for breaching an implied constitutional right to freedom of political communication. And in both cases the court decided that the law was valid.
These cases come after the High Court’s decision regarding Lex Wotten early last year. Wotten’s extraordinary parole conditions included a restriction on speaking with journalists and the public following his involvement in the 2004 Palm Island riot. The High Court upheld the validity of that parole condition.
Decisions such as these demonstrate how weak the implied right to freedom of political communication is. It simply can’t be relied upon for protection against laws that restrict our right to freedom of speech.
[Edited: a previous version of this post made an incorrect reference to the relevant provision of the Criminal Code Act 1995 at issue in Monis v The Queen.]