Victoria’s Supreme Court has ordered three Turnbull government ministers to front court after they accused the state’s judiciary of going easy on convicted terrorists.
Health Minister Greg Hunt, Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar and Human Services Minister Alan Tudge, who are Victorians, have been asked to appear on Friday and explain why they should not be charged with contempt, Fairfax Media reported.
Fairfax reported that Judicial Registrar Ian Irving wrote in a letter that the ministers’ comments had been made while the “judgements of the Court of Appeal were reserved”.
“The attributed statements appear to intend to bring the Court into disrepute, to assert the judges have and will apply an ideologically based predisposition in deciding the case or cases and that the judges will not apply the law,” the letter reportedly said.
The ministers have been asked to explain remarks they made to The Australian newspaper and in television interviews, which the court interpreted as relating to the case of Sevdet Besim.
He was handed a seven-and-half-year non-parole sentence for a 2015 Anzac Day terror plot, but the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions is challenging the decision.
The Court of Appeal is yet to hand down a ruling.
On Tuesday, Mr Hunt was reported as saying: “Comments by senior members of the Victorian courts endorsing and embracing shorter sentences for terrorism offences are deeply concerning, deeply concerning.
“The state courts should not be places for ideological experiments in the face of global and local threats from Islamic extremism that has led to such tragic losses.”
Mr Tudge had told Sky News that “no one should be suggesting that tough terrorism sentences are a bad thing”.
Mr Sukkar was reported in The Australian saying that “it’s the attitude of judges like these which has eroded any trust that remained in our legal system”.
“Labor’s continued appointment of hard-left activist judges has come back to bite Victorians,” he told the paper.
Their comments followed a statement from Victoria’s Court of Appeal describing the difference in sentencing for terror offences between New South Wales and Victoria as “extremely worrying”.
On Wednesday, Melbourne criminal defence lawyer Rob Stary said he had issued a formal complaint with the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.
Mr Stary said the ministers’ comments caused an erosion of trust in the courts and called on them to resign or be sacked.
He said the comments represented contempt of court.
“We must have in the separation of powers doctrine an independent judiciary who should be free from political interference,” Mr Stary told ABC Radio Melbourne.
“What we say is there has been a contempt of court.
“We say there’s been a flagrant breach of that doctrine, particularly from people who should know better.”
Victorian Attorney-General Martin Pakula had warned his federal counterparts that their comments “bordered on contempt” on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull also attacked Victoria’s justice system following the Brighton terror attack after it emerged Yacqub Khayre had been granted parole.
The Australian‘s editor and the journalist Simon Benson or their legal representatives, and representatives for its publisher News Corp have also been asked to appear on Friday, Fairfax reported.
The New Daily contacted the offices of the three ministers for comment.