Three federal ministers have been ordered to a Victorian court to explain why they shouldn’t face contempt charges.
The ministers made critical remarks about two of Victoria’s most senior judges, chief justice Marilyn Warren and judge Mark Weinberg, in relation to sentencing for terrorism offences in NSW and Victoria.
According to the president of the Judicial Conference of Australia, Justice Robert Beech-Jones, their comments were “unfounded, grossly improper and unfair”.
The request from the Victorian Court of Appeal sets the stage for an extraordinary confrontation between members of the federal government and some of the nation’s most senior judges.
Judges have broad discretion in contempt proceedings to deliver a range of sentences, ranging from fines to prison sentences.
Legal representatives for health minister Greg Hunt, a cabinet member, assistant treasurer Michael Sukkar and human services minister Alan Tudge will be to required to appear before the Court of Appeal on Friday, June 16, “to make submissions as to why you should not be referred for prosecution for contempt”.
The Australian reports that judicial registrar Ian Irving wrote to the three ministers yesterday afternoon. Similar letters were also issued to the journalist who reported on the comments for The Australian, as well as to its management, the newspaper said.
The issue stems from statements made by the two judges during a hearing in which the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions had appealed against the seven and a half year non-parole sentence imposed last year on Anzac Day plotter Sevdet Ramadan Besim.
“These comments are a slur on the character of the Victorian judiciary,” justice Beech-Jones said.
“They are capable of undermining public confidence in the judiciary. They should have never have been stated by any Minister but especially by a minister in a government about a decision involving that government which is before the Court.”
The Australian has more.