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Thematic Issue: Revitalising Legal Authorities

Municipal Courts and the International Interpretive Principle: Al-Kateb v Godwin


The Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG

This article examines the decision in Al-Kateb v Godwin (2004) 219 CLR 562. It revisits the suggested ‘heresy‘ that international human rights law may influence the interpretation of the Australian Constitution and other legal texts. Accessing universal human rights law, including in constitutional adjudication, was endorsed in the Bangalore Principles on the Domestic Application of International Human Rights Norms 1988. The author suggests that interpreting statutory language in this way is not dissimilar to the common-law principle of interpreting statutes so as to uphold basic rights. But should an analogous approach be permissible in deciding the meaning of constitutional language? Although arguably invoked by the majority of the High Court in Mabo v Queensland [No 2] (1992) 175 CLR 1, in the context of declaring the common-law, so far this approach has not been accepted for constitutional elaboration in Australia. But should this be so in the age of global problems and internationalism?

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(2020) 43(3) UNSWLJ 930: