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«Upholding the Australian Constitution Volume Seventeen Proceedings of the Seventeenth Conference of The Samuel Griffith Society Greenmount Beach Resort, ...»

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52. Shearer; quoted in Alston, C h i a m (eds), Trea ty Making and A u s t r a l i a :

Globalisation Versus Sovereignty? (1995), Federation Press, L e i c h h a r d t, a t 93-98.

53. Chhu Kkeng Lim v. Minister for Immigration, Local Government and Ethnic A f f a i r s (1992) 176 CLR 1 at 38, 53 per Brennan, Deane and Dawson J J.

54. Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs v. Ah Hin Teoh ( 1 9 9 5 ) 1 8 3 A L R 353 at 362, per Mason C J and Deane J, noted reasons for rejecting a narrow conception of ambiguity. If the language of t h e l e g i s l a t i o n i s amenable t o construction which is consistent w i t h the provisions of an i n t e r n a t i o n a l instrument, which imposes obligations upon Australia, then a construction which is consistent with international law should prevail.

55. Horta v. Commonwealth (1994) 181 CLR 183 per Mason C J, Brennan, Deane, Dawson, Toohey, Gaudron and McHugh J J at 188, 189.

56. The High Court has determined that issues arising from an exercise of the

P a r l i a m e n t ’ s prerogative power are not susceptible to j u d i c i a l review:

K o o w a r t a v. Bjelke-Petersen (1982) 153 CLR 168 a t 229, per Mason J;

Minister for the Arts v. Peko-Wallsend Ltd (1987) 15 FCR 274.

57. The Commonwealth P a r l i a m e n t can make laws in accordance w i t h t h e heads of power established in the Constitution, but it cannot make laws to remove High Court j u r i s d i c t i o n (ss 75, 76, 77 of the A u s t r a l i a n Constitution). The consequence of this doctrine in Australia is that a court cannot deny the validity of an exercise of legislative power merely on t h e grounds t h a t the legislation abrogates freedoms which in the court’s opinion should be preserved: N a t i o n w i d e N e w s P t y L t d v. Willis ( 1 9 9 2 ) 1 7 7 CLR 1, at 43 per Brennan J, and at 85–6 per Dawson J.

58. The Commonwealth of Australia has inherited all of the sovereign rights of the Queen: Davis v. Commonwealth (1988) 166 CLR 79 a t 93. The prerogative powers of the Commonwealth include the power to enter international treaties, deal with other states and declare war, etc; Simesk v. Macphee (1982) 148 CLR 636 at 641-2.

59. Rt Hon Sir Harry Gibbs, loc. cit., p. xx.

–  –  –

Competing Australian and international law Some A u s t r a l i a n legal a c a d e m i c s have begun to describe the prevailing Australian attitude to international law as anxious, worrying and defensive. It h a s been viewed a s a legal expression of the i n s u l a r politics of A u s t r a l i a n f u n d a m e n t a l i s m. 9 However, skepticism concerning the roles of international l a w w i t h i n A u s t r a l i a n laws is achieving higher profile and t a k i n g on a sense of immediacy for several more plausible reasons.

These i n c l u d e t h e r a p i d expansion of the scope, volume and prescriptive d e t a i l of i n t e r n a t i o n a l norms, and the f a c t t h a t these norms increasingly i m p a c t on m a t t e r s t h a t concern the internal governance of countries, r a t h e r than merely aspects of their international relations. These norms are sometimes made by means of procedures t h a t do not require the direct consent of a n a f f e c t e d S t a t e, o r t h a t a t t e n u a t e the requirement of i n d i v i d u a l S t a t e consent, where the norm is formed by the broader will of the “international community”.

I n t e r n a t i o n a l m e c h a n i s m s t o m o n i t o r, p r o m o t e o r coerce S t a t e compliance are emerging, lending to these norms new and substantial consequences. 10 Consequently, there is growing concern in some q u a r t e r s over perceived conflicts between national interests, set out in d o m e s t i c l a w s a n d policies, and international laws. For example, concern has been articulated by some members of the current A u s t r a l i a n Government, especially about i n t e r n a t i o n a l h u m a n rights norms that address aspects of Australian domestic governance.

Of course, not all A u s t r a l i a n s express such concern. Some members of A u s t r a l i a n civil society support those same i n t e r n a t i o n a l norms, and see in government unease advantageous opportunities to exert influence. Indeed, t h e tension between i n t e r n a t i o n a l and domestic rules is often the product of a p o l i t i c a l struggle between domestic players projected onto an i n t e r n a t i o n a l stage. For example, in t h e h u m a n r i g h t s f i e l d, t h e d o m e s t i c p l a y e r s m i g h t be generalised a s lobby groups leveraging i n t e r n a t i o n a l norms a g a i n s t n a t i o n a l governments. While m a j o r i t a r i a n governments see the engagement of international institutions against them as an international interference in their democratically l e g i t i m a t e d domestic m a n d a t e, the lobby groups see i t a s international legitimation of their rights.

This brings us directly to the question of whether the legal position articulated by an international institution about a State’s domestic obligations should take precedence over a conflicting political position held by that State. In other words, should the State consider itself bound by an international norm in the absence of i t s s p e c i f i c sovereign consent to i t, especially an i n t e r n a t i o n a l norm concerning its internal governance?





Sovereign consent to international laws According to the t r a d i t i o n a l p a r a d i g m, i n t e r n a t i o n a l laws derived t h e i r legitimacy from the consent of sovereign S t a t e s. The idea t h a t a sovereign’s consent is required a s a precondition to i t being legally bound in i t s i n t e r n a t i o n a l relations is a s old a s the idea of the S t a t e itself. T h i s international principle reflected the reality in Italy when the legal notion of the State evolved during the Renaissance. Italian city States found i t convenient t o recognise each other a s equals and to r e s p e c t t h e i m m u n i t i e s of each other’s ambassadors. The doctrine of sovereign equality that they developed was l a t e r applied to the geographically wider modern State.

In 1648, the Peace of W e s t p h a l i a s h a p e d m u c h of Europe a s we know i t today, defining some contemporary borders and f o r m a l i s i n g sovereigns a n d n a t i o n a l polities. The T r e a t i e s certify the b i r t h of the modern S t a t e, a n d recognise the respective secular sovereigns’ r i g h t s to make alliances among themselves and w i t h foreign powers. 11 Thus, the notion of sovereign equality, meaning t h a t one sovereign S t a t e may not legally impose on another a n obligation without the other’s consent, became a f u n d a m e n t a l f e a t u r e of both the main sources of international law: treaties and customs.

The development of i n t e r n a t i o n a l law a t the global level continues to be p r e m i s e d o n t h e t r a d i t i o n a l theory of sovereign State consent. Nevertheless, in contemporary practice, direct consent is becoming less i m p o r t a n t. The increasing globalisation of all aspects of human life – economic, technological, social, cultural and political – has required increased levels of legal cooperation and c o o r d i n a t i o n a c r o s s n a t i o n a l b o r d e r s. I n t e r n a t i o n a l law h a s developed in range, depth and complexity, and i n t e r n a t i o n a l i n s t i t u t i o n s have developed procedures to make i t easier to a d o p t and apply i n t e r n a t i o n a l laws. Modern States have effectively ceded aspects of their sovereignty, in the sense of t h e i r absolute internal legal independence, to f a c i l i t a t e g r e a t e r i n t e r n a t i o n a l cooperation and coordination.

C o n c e r n i n g t h e f o r m a t i o n, a p p l i c a t i o n and i n t e r p r e t a t i o n o f t r e a t i e s, t h e Vienna Convention on t h e Law of T r e a t i e s is an a u t h o r i t a t i v e s t a t e m e n t of traditional principles. It provides that no agreement may impose obligations on a t h i r d p a r t y w i t h o u t i t s consent. 12 Conversely, every t r e a t y obligation i s premised on the consent of t h e p a r t i e s to it. Nevertheless, the prerequisite of consent by States before they may be bound by t r e a t y provisions is becoming a t t e n u a t e d a s a result of the adoption of new procedures for negotiation, amendment, interpretation and enforcement of treaties.

In the negotiation of m u l t i l a t e r a l t r e a t i e s in which many S t a t e s p a r t i c i p a t e, t h e u s e of “package deal” t e x t s to which no reservation can be made, and of consensus or m a j o r i t y v o t i n g procedures for adoption of t e x t s, reduce S t a t e negotiators’ opportunities to incorporate n a t i o n a l goals in a n international text. Nevertheless, the State might find itself compelled to adopt the package deal because of the m a j o r d i s a d v a n t a g e s of exclusion from t h e multilateral regime.

In relation to amendments, non-objection and m a j o r i t y v o t i n g procedures are used to expedite entry into force without the requirement that States ratify amendments. For example, under the “tacit consent” procedure, if a Party does not object within 90 days after adoption of amendments to technical annexes of some International M a r i t i m e Organisation conventions, t h e a m e n d m e n t s enter into force w i t h o u t the S t a t e ’ s r a t i f i c a t i o n or explicit consent. Under t h e Montreal Protocol on Substances t h a t Deplete t h e Ozone Layer, c e r t a i n amendments (called “ a d j u s t m e n t s ” ) to the Protocol can be adopted by twothirds majority vote, and will then enter into force automatically for all parties as specified in the adjustment.

Concerning the interpretation of treaties, independent experts c o m m i t t e e s and compulsory dispute resolution provisions have reduced State influence over the interpretation of some treaty texts. Trends that attenuate the prerequisite of consent a r e a l s o evident in t h e i m p o s i t i o n o f obligations on non-parties t o comply with communal resource regimes. For example, parties to the H i g h S e a s Fish S t o c k s Agreement are bound by subsequent related regional high seas fisheries agreements, even though not parties to them.

Concerning the formation of i n t e r n a t i o n a l legal custom, called c u s t o m a r y international law, sovereign consent is also a traditional feature. The theory is that custom is formed by the concurrence of two complementary components: a particular pattern of practice by States in their international relations (“State p r a c t i c e ” ), t o g e t h e r w i t h t h e o p i n i o n of those S t a t e s t h a t t h e i r p r a c t i c e is a legal obligation ( “ opinio j u r i s ”). Both S t a t e p r a c t i c e and opinio j u r i s a r e required to be near universal and u n i f o r m. 13 Examples of c u s t o m a r y i n t e r n a t i o n a l laws include the recognition of sovereign equality, honouring of t r e a t i e s and protection of foreign d i p l o m a t i c envoys. The consent of t h e s o v e r e i g n S t a t e t o t h e l e g a l n o r m i s i m p l i c i t i n the component of o p i n i o j u r i s.

Disagreement, i.e., lack of consent, t h a t a p a r t i c u l a r p r a c t i c e is a legal obligation, would undermine the near universal and uniform consent necessary to empirically prove the presence of opinio juris.

There are conceptual problems in the t r a d i t i o n a l theory of c u s t o m a r y international law that manifest themselves in the myriad practical difficulties concerning state consent. In relation to both practice and o p i n i o j u r i s t h e r e i s now controversy over whether mere statements (not linked w i t h other positive action) can be considered to amount to State practice and can thereby produce “instant custom”. United Nations resolutions would take on a legislative aspect if mere conference and meeting resolutions themselves were f o r m a t i v e of customary international law.

There is also a diversity of opinions as to which bodies have the authority to pronounce that there is sufficient empirical evidence to prove the existence of a customary international law at a point in time. Candidate bodies include the j u d g m e n t s of the I n t e r n a t i o n a l Court of Justice and other i n t e r n a t i o n a l t r i b u n a l s and n a t i o n a l c o u r t s, a n d the opinions of i n t e r n a t i o n a l c o m m i t t e e s, meetings and academic researchers. 14 The conclusion that must be drawn from this brief survey of contemporary developments in treaty and customary international law formation is that, in a variety of ways, the requirement of sovereign consent as a precondition to being legally bound is eroding.

In the absence of the direct consent of a sovereign State to be bound by a p a r t i c u l a r i n t e r n a t i o n a l law, whether t r e a t y or custom, some other source of legitimacy needs to be found if the international law is to bind that State. This requirement for an a l t e r n a t i v e source of legitimacy is m o s t acute where i n t e r n a t i o n a l laws address how a S t a t e m u s t conduct i t s internal a f f a i r s.

C l a i m s o f s u p e r i o r i t y f o r i n t e r n a t i o n a l law v i s á v i s n a t i o n a l law need to be assessed by criteria that indicate their relative legitimacy.

–  –  –

deliberative, etc) or the various views of liberal principles ( u t i l i t a r i a n, r i g h t s b a s e d, r e d i s t r i b u t i v e, e t c ) t h a t g u i d e d e m o c r a t i c governance. For example, i t does not address the s t r e n g t h s and weaknesses of the ways t h a t a nuanced rights-based approach to democracy m i g h t affect the balance of conflicting interests between oppressive democratic majorities and sub-national minorities in need of p r o t e c t i o n. I t m e r e l y i l l u s t r a t e s t h e c l a i m t h a t liberal democracies can and do make for the legitimacy of their domestic laws.

As an a l t e r n a t i v e source of legitimacy to direct sovereign consent, h a s international law-making developed such constitutional procedures – ones t h a t employ democratic processes guided by liberal principles?

United Nations constitutional processes The bulk of contemporary international law at the global level is formed by the adoption of treaties and resolutions, primarily through United Nations fora. An e x a m i n a t i o n o f t h e l i b e r a l d e m o c r a t i c q u a l i t i e s o f these legal norms requires study of their formal adoption processes, which a r e s e t o u t in U n i t e d N a t i o n s constitutional documents, and a survey of the implementation of those adoption processes in practice. T h a t is, law-making is examined for i t s adherence t o constitutionality, democratic authenticity and liberal principles.

Although the United Nations is not one monolithic organisation but several institutions, generically called organs, agencies and p r o g r a m s, t h e i r decisionmaking processes are s i m i l a r and inter-related. The chief c o n s t i t u t i o n a l document is the United Nations Charter. It prevails over all other treaties. 21 The Charter sets out the purposes and principles of the United Nations, its organs, and t h e i r f u n c t i o n s and decision-making procedures. The principal organs a r e the General Assembly, Security Council, Economic and Social Council, Trusteeship Council, I n t e r n a t i o n a l Court of J u s t i c e a n d t h e S e c r e t a r i a t. The Assembly a n d Councils can be likened to the legislative arm of government, and the Court and Secretariat to the judiciary and executive arms, respectively.



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