date: 10th Jun 2015

tags: Australian history, Biography, Law

Mabo and Wik may have been two of the biggest cases to ever be heard in the High Court of Australia, but who were the people behind the scenes? Who were the decision makers? This documentary goes beyond the cases and looks at those behind the scenes.


Most people 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 judgments 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.

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 have had 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 judgments 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 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 asks, 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 that 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.

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