Chapter 20 - Relations with the judiciary

Queensland precedent

The relevant provisions of the Constitution of Queensland replicated the Act of Settlement: judges had tenure of office during good behaviour but could be removed by the Governor on the address of the Legislative Assembly. Misbehaviour was not stated to be the ground of removal.

In the case of the removal of a justice of the Supreme Court of the State in 1989, the body appointed to advise the Legislative Assembly, the Assembly in its address to the Governor and the Governor in his response to the address were all careful not to say that misbehaviour was the ground of removal. The case, however, is a significant precedent for a consideration of conduct which may be regarded as constituting misbehaviour under the federal constitutional provision, if the restricted interpretation of that provision by the Solicitor-General is not accepted and the interpretation of the parliamentary commissioners and the other authorities referred to above is followed.

After certain evidence was given before a commission of inquiry concerning the conduct of a justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Angelo Vasta, a statutory commission, called the Parliamentary Judges Commission of Inquiry, was established in 1988 to inquire into the conduct of the justice. The Commission consisted of three retired superior court justices, including a former Chief Justice of the High Court. The Commission was enjoined to advise the Legislative Assembly whether any behaviour of the justice following his appointment to the Court warranted his removal from office. The Commission was to present to the Legislative Assembly only so much of its evidence as it thought necessary to support its findings of fact and conclusions. The Commission clearly was modelled on the 1986 federal Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry.

The Commission reported that the following behaviour by the judge warranted his removal from office:

  1. giving false evidence at a defamation hearing

  2. making and maintaining allegations that the Chief Justice, the Attorney-General and the inquiry commissioner had conspired to injure him

  3. making a false statement to an accountant who prepared income tax returns

  4. arranging sham transactions to gain income tax advantages

  5. making false claims for taxation deductions.

None of the grounds of removal related to the judge’s conduct as a judge, and the Commission did not advert to the question of whether any of the judge’s actions could constitute criminal offences.

The Legislative Assembly allowed the judge to address the Assembly to show cause why he should not be removed from office. Having heard the judge’s address, the Assembly on 7 June 1989 concurred with the conclusions of the Commission and resolved to address the Governor requesting the removal of the judge on the grounds specified by the Commission. On the presentation of the address, the Governor removed the judge from office.

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