Judicial Rhetoric and Constitutional Identity: Comparative Approaches to Aliens' Rights in the United Kingdom and Australia
Author(s): Matthew Zagor
A comparison between the judicial reasoning adopted by the House of Lords in Belmarsh and Torture Evidence cases, and the High Court of Australia's administrative detention cases (especially Al-Kateb) reveals stark differences in the approach to common law rights, judicial reasoning, and constitutional rhetoric. Using the language of historically-based identity-informing constitutional values, their Lordships' speeches can be seen as exercises in public and political persuasion, made within the idiom of constitutional veneration which is enjoying a renaissance in the UK. This emerging judicial rhetoric combines an appeal to a mythologised constitutional past with an emphasis on the quintessentially 'British' nature of the rights at stake to consolidate both the constitutional status of the 'principle of legality' and an inclusive notion of 'equality'. By contrast, the High Court's majority decisions are virtually devoid of the language of values, and are silent on the nature or status of the rights which Parliament was impliedly abrogating. The decisions are instead shrouded in the equally powerful rhetoric of strict legalism. Behind this purportedly valueless methodology, however, their Honours' decisions reveal attitudes towards aliens as 'illegal,' 'unlawful' and 'unwanted' rather than rights-bearers, and a judicial deference to Parliament to 'protect' an undefined Australian community. The arrival of French CJ to the helm of the High Court might see a reinvigoration of common law rights via the principle of legality.