Equity’s Australian Isolationism
AbstractIn this essay, delivered as the WA Lee Equity Lecture 2008, the author begins with a reminder of the history and original purposes of equitable doctrines and remedies. Skirting around the ‘fusion’ controversy that followed the Judicature Act reforms,starting in the 1870s, he examines the disinclination of Australian courts to develop the rules and remedies of equity by the techniques of analogous reasoning: a common engine for growth and change in the common law. By reference to several recent cases he suggests that a special Australian hostility to the development of equitable doctrine has emerged: Garcia v National Australia Bank; Farah Constructions Pty Ltd v Say-Dee Pty Ltd and Breen v Williams. After reviewing judicial and academic responses to these and other cases, he calls for a change to this attitude. He urges a restoration of the former functional approach to the ambit of the binding rule established by decisions of the High Court of Australia and recognition of the proper and necessary function of Australia’s intermediate courts in developing judge-made law by analogous reasoning. Finally, he supports calls for a restoration of civility in judicial discourse in order to maintain respect for the appellate process and to recognise the debatable character of many appellate decisions and what they stand for.
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