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The Principle of Legality as Clear Statement Rule: Significance and Problems
journal contributionposted on 2014-09-01, 00:00 authored by Dan MeagherDan Meagher
In Australia, the common law principle of legality has hardened into a strong clear statement rule that is applied when legislation engages common law rights and freedoms. It has transformed a loose collection of rebuttable interpretive presumptions into a quasi-constitutional common law bill of rights. However, these developments are not without controversy or issue. The analysis undertaken in this article suggests that the principle of legality as clear statement rule -- as mandated by the High Court in Coco v The Queen -- can only work legitimately if Parliament has clear and prior notice of the rights and freedoms that it operates to protect. But it is problematic if what a common law right, such as freedom of speech, requires or guarantees in any given legislative context is unclear and contested, and so must be judicially divined at the point of application. In these cases, the principle operates to enforce a (post-legislative) judicial approximation of what best protects and promotes an abstract legal value or principle. It amounts to the illegitimate judicial remaking of prior legislative decisions on rights. This undercuts the normative justifications for the principle of legality as it obscures from Parliament the common law (rights) backdrop against which its legislation is enacted and interpreted.