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The Highest Court

By September 21, 2011films

The Highest Court trailer from Film Art Media on Vimeo.

Most Australians know about the Mabo and Wik decisions, but few know much about the decision makers — The High Court of Australia. Having gained historic access,The Highest Court shows first hand the characters and drama of the High Court of Australia, the pinnacle of legal and constitutional processes in Australia. The role of the Court is explored as the film follows the handing down of two historic constitutional judgements, Kruger and Ha, and the appointment of two new Justices — Hayne and Callinan. For the first time cases have been filmed as they actually happen in the Court culminating with the recent Hindmarsh Island Bridge challenge.

The High Court of Australia is at the pinnacle of legal and constitutional processes in this country. No law can operate that is not considered ‘constitutional’ by the High Court. No criminal or civil appeal from a lower court has any further avenue of appeal once it has reached the High Court of Australia. The Court affects every Australian, the laws we live by and the way we live, everyday.

Few understand the role of the Court, many no doubt, are unaware of its very existence. This film shows, first hand, the characters and drama of the High Court of Australia. The filmmakers gained extraordinary access to this hallowed legal institution. For the first time cameras move into the Court and reveal the work of the seven Justices. Never before has the High Court of Australia, or any major political institution of this significance in Australia, given such access to a documentary film crew.

1998 was a period of great change for the Court. Not only was it the last year of tenure for the Chief Justice of Australia, Sir Gerard Brennan, but two new Justices are also sworn in during the course of the film. We meet all seven Justices and for the first time: five sitting Justices of the High Court are interviewed in a panel situation, speaking frankly and openly about their roles and the daunting task that faces them every day in the Court.

Two vital constitutional judgements are handed down: Kruger v The Commonwealth — the tragic ‘Stolen Generations’ case; and Ha v NSW — the State Excise case which stopped the collection of hundreds of millions of dollars of state duties. The film records the decisions handed down in the Court room and the reactions outside on the forecourt.

Two cases at opposite ends of the legal spectrum play out before the cameras. An appeal on a traffic accident and the major constitutional case Kartinyeri v The Commonwealth and the challenge to the Hindmarsh Island Bridge. Kartinyeri hangs in the balance — can the Commonwealth make laws that disadvantage Aboriginal people or for that matter people of any race? Justice Kirby ask: “What about Nazi race laws, does the Australian Constitution allow for racist Nuremberg-type laws or South African Land Area laws?” In 1998, the answer from Counsel for the Commonwealth might surprise you.

It is this human activity of the Court the film simply but accurately portrays. One day in the High Court of Australia has the potential to change profoundly the lives of all Australians.

Critical response
“This is a fascinating documentary‚Ķ Daryl Dellora and his film crew were there for it all.”
The Age Green Guide

“An absolute don’t miss ABC hour…”
The Bulletin

Directed by Daryl Dellora
Produced by Sue Maslin
Duration: 56 minutes
Format: Digital Betacam & Betacam SP Videotape, Colour & Stereo Sound
Released Nationally on ABC-TV Inside Story 8:30pm 26 May 1998
Written by Daryl Dellora
Original Music by David Bridie and John Phillips
Developed and Produced with the assistance of Film Victoria
Produced with the assistance of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Financed by the Australian Film Finance Corporation Limited
© 1998 Film Art Doco Pty Ltd and the Australian Film Finance Corporation Limited