Famous Australian Court Cases

The similarity in many historic or famous court cases is that a law has been interpreted differently than ever before. These cases can influence future cases of the same nature and stir up a lot of controversy. 

Here is a breakdown of a few of the most famous cases in Australian history.

Chamberlain vs. the Queen

In 1984 this murder trial was widely broadcast and the public was torn. The case was centred on the death of an infant that died while camping with her family on holiday. The prosecution’s claim was that the baby was murdered by her mother, while the defence argued that she was actually killed by a dingo. At the time, the eyewitness testimony was not strong and backed the defendant. Furthermore, blood testing was questionable. However, at the end of the trial the mother, Chamberlain, was found guilty. This case is a good example of an inference of guilt because the prosecution’s case was circumstantial and depended on forensic evidence. Many believed the prosecution did not prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In 1986 new evidence emerged, indicating that the infant may have actually been killed by a dingo. Chamberlain was released and eventually acquitted.

Mabo vs. Queensland

This court case took over a decade to reach a conclusion. The plaintiff’s were Meriam people, arguing that they were entitled to the Mer Islands and sought a possessory title because of long possession. Queensland government believed that when the Crown’s dominions settled into the territory the law of England became the law of that colony, giving the Crown ownership of the land. The high court’s final decision was that all laws imported from England to new land did not apply in situations where inhabitants were already present. This case rewrote the national law land and recognized Indigenous Australians as the original inhabitants. The ruling allowed Indigenous people all over Australia to claim traditional rights to land and overturned the doctrine of terra nullius.

Commonwealth vs. Tasmania

This case ended in an environmental victory and became a constitutional landmark. In 1983 the issue arose from the construction of a hydroelectric dam. Tasmanian government wanted the legal right to build the dam while the Federal government cited the World Heritage Convention as a reason to oppose construction. The Federal government won in High Court with a majority, 4:3 and preserved a large part of Australian wilderness.

These three examples are a few influential cases that showcase how law and the interpretation of it evolves. In most circumstances cases follow precedents, however, there are always exceptions.