Harold White Fellow Presentation
Sir Robert Menzies, Sir John Latham and Dr H.V. Evatt (detail) c.1951
Papers of Sir John Latham, Manuscripts Collection, MS 6409/1/7
War and Extra-Judicial Activity by High Court Judges
Professor Fiona Wheeler
Thursday 25 June, 5.30 pm
Conference Room, free
The independence of judiciary from government is a fundamental feature of Australia’s democracy. Yet during World War II, key members of the High Court of Australia— the nation’s top court—temporarily ‘stepped outside the courtroom’ to serve within government ranks. Chief Justice John Latham served as Australia’s first ambassador to Japan (1940–1941) and Justice Owen Dixon served as ambassador to the United States (1942–1944). These are not the only instances of extra-judicial activity undertaken by High Court judges during the war, although much of the activity— notably executive advising by certain members of the Court— was hidden from public view. This presentation explores the extent to which High Court judges became enmeshed in the affairs of government during World War II and asks—when it comes to judicial independence and separation of powers, does war change all the rules?
Professor Fiona Wheeler lectures in constitutional law at the ANU College of Law. She holds a PhD on the doctrine of the separation of powers under the Australian Constitution.