University of Southern Queensland

Author: Sarah McKibbin

Research Seminar Series: 2024 Program

Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

UniSQ’s School of Law and Justice conducts an active and successful series of research seminars on a wide variety of legal topics for staff, students, and members of the legal community. 

The research seminar series is convened by Dr Sarah McKibbin. The seminars are usually held on the fourth Wednesday of every month from February to November. The seminars consist of a formal research presentation (40–45 minutes) followed by an opportunity to ask questions. The series hosts presenters from within UniSQ, from other universities in Australia, and from universities overseas.

Unless otherwise noted, seminars take place from 12.30pm to 1.30pm (Qld time). They will be presented on campus (Toowoomba and Ipswich campuses) and online (Zoom). All are welcome to attend.

Many past research seminars are recorded and available online.

For any enquiries, please contact Dr Sarah McKibbin:

8 February*Prof Dwight Newman (Saskatchewan)Retroactive Constitutional Amendments

Q402 (TWB)† /Zoom
28 February

Assoc Prof Andrew HemmingWhich Brother? Was There One or Two Homicidal Killers in the Gilham Family?Q402 (TWB)/Zoom
27 MarchKiri Edyvean-Rouhan TBCQ402 (TWB) /Zoom
24 AprilDr Rhett MartinRegulating Natural Capital Markets: An Agricultural PerspectiveQ402 (TWB) /Zoom
22 MayDr Sarah McKibbinThe Australian Doctrine of Forum Non Conveniens in PracticeQ402 (TWB) /Zoom
26 June   
24 JulyDr Gianni Ribeiro TBCT108 (IP)‡/Zoom
28 AugustProf Noeleen McNamaraWine Law: Current IssuesT108 (IP)/Zoom
25 SeptemberProf Simon YoungFirst Nations Water Rights in the USQ402 (TWB) /Zoom
23 OctoberDr Jeremy PatrickOtiose Provisions of the Australian ConstitutionQ402 (TWB) /Zoom
27 NovemberProf Mary Keyes (Griffith) TBCQ402 (TWB) /Zoom

* This seminar is being held on a Thursday, but at the usual time of 12.30–1.30pm (AEST).

† TWB = Toowoomba campus

‡ IP = Ipswich campus

Call for Papers: Theology and Jurisprudence Symposium at UniSQ

The School of Law and Justice at the University of Southern Queensland will be hosting the Theology and Jurisprudence Symposium at the Toowoomba Campus on Friday 9 February 2024.



This annual symposium focuses on the relationship between theology and jurisprudence. Jurisprudence typically purports to provide a non-theistic account of ‘law’. However, foundational to many theories of law is some kind of theology.

Natural law, of course, is deeply influenced by its theological articulation through Thomas Aquinas and even modern ‘secular’ theories of natural law retain vestiges of this influence. The main proponents of legal positivism (such as Thomas Hobbes and John Austin) often engaged with different aspects of Christian theology.

Moreover, theological influences on legal theory are not limited to Christianity; jurisprudential viewpoints around the world have been shaped by a broad range of theological traditions. The tendency of jurisprudence to ground itself in some kind of theology is not surprising given its need for an ontological foundation for legal authority.

This symposium aims to consider jurisprudence from a variety of theological standpoints and critically examine the reliance of diverse theories of law on theological perspectives. 

Call for Papers

We invite papers that consider the prevailing theological assumptions of legal theories; unpack the different streams of jurisprudence from a theological perspective; explore how theology tends to define and undergird theories of law; or consider any other issues which engage both theology and jurisprudence.

Presenters are required to submit written papers (which can be works-in-progress) for distribution to the other symposium participants by 1 February 2024. The finalised papers may be considered for publication in a special journal issue or edited book. 


Abstracts of 100–200 words should be submitted by email to Professor Jonathan Crowe ( no later than 1 November 2023. Successful applicants will be notified by the end of November. 

Call for Papers

The Law, Religion, and Heritage Research Program Team of the University of Southern Queensland is hosting a scholarly colloquium on Religious Freedom, Sexuality and Gender Identity.

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Symbol of religious tolerance in Hamm, Germany

Recent events, including the introduction of the Human Rights Amendment Bill 2022, have placed the interaction between sexuality, gender and religious belief at the centre of public attention.

The debate surrounding this measure takes place within a broader conversation on acceptance of LGBTIQA+ communities, religious freedom, and the role of discrimination law in our society.

Date: Friday 28 October 2022

Venue: USQ Toowoomba Campus | Q Block | Q501 and Q502 (While physical attendance is warmly encouraged, a Zoom option will be available.)

Keynote Speakers: Professor Patrick Parkinson and Professor Anthony Gray

Invitation: At the colloquium, academics are invited to provide scholarly presentations that address the intersection of sexuality, gender identity, and religious belief in a legal context.

What is required to participate? Presentations should be 15-20 minutes in duration, with time for questions to follow. Presentations must be supported by a completed paper or work-in-progress suitable for distribution to other participants. The opportunity to contribute to a special issue of the Australian Journal of Law and Religion may become available after the colloquium.

Are you interested in contributing? Please register your interest in presenting at the colloquium by contacting Dr Jeremy Patrick:

Date: Friday 28 October 2022

Venue: USQ Toowoomba Campus | Q Block | Q501 and Q502 (While physical attendance is warmly encouraged, a Zoom option will be available.)

Keynote Speakers: Professor Patrick Parkinson and Professor Anthony Gray

Invitation: At the colloquium, academics are invited to provide scholarly presentations that address the intersection of sexuality, gender identity, and religious belief in a legal context.

What is required to participate? Presentations should be 15-20 minutes in duration, with time for questions to follow. Presentations must be supported by a completed paper or work-in-progress suitable for distribution to other participants. The opportunity to contribute to a special issue of the Australian Journal of Law and Religion may become available after the colloquium.

Are you interested in contributing? Please register your interest in presenting at the colloquium by contacting Dr Jeremy Patrick:

Please include a CV and a brief abstract of the planned paper (100–250 words).

You should submit your expressions of interest by 28 August 2022.

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The University of Southern Queensland is committed to the values of diversity, multiculturalism, and gender equity by fostering an inclusive environment that embraces difference and supports, values, and respects the unique perspectives and approaches of all individuals. Please visit for more information.

Legal Realism and Australian Constitutional Law

Legal Realism and Australian Constitutional Law

Jeremy Patrick, University of Southern Queensland


It has become textbook wisdom that the High Court of Australia makes its decisions in an extremely technical and (for lack of a better word) ‘legalistic’ way.[1]  This is true not only in areas of law where such a method of decision-making would seem natural, such as tax, but also in areas where it may seem surprising—such as constitutional law.  A ‘strict and complete legalism’ (in Dixon CJ’s famous words)[2] means decisions should be made purely by neutral, objective application of legal principles.  Anything else—policy considerations, personal views, broader ramifications, empathy for the persons affected, and so forth—must be excluded.  Under a legalist model of judicial decision-making, judges are just like referees at a rugby match—they objectively determine whether a try has scored or not.

However, there is another theory of jurisprudence that presents a diametrically opposed explanation for how judges make decisions: legal realism.  If legalism posits that judges apply rules to reach a result, legal realism says the opposite actually takes place, as judges first reach the result they like and then rhetorically justify those results by reference to rules. For appellate courts (like the High Court), legal realism argues that there is simply a nearly inexhaustible array of different rules, conventions, precedents, distinctions, discretions, and ambiguous standards (‘reasonable’ or ‘proportionate’) that allow for almost any outcome to be plausibly justified as ‘what the law requires’. 

This is not to say that judges are cynical liars deceiving the public; judges acting in good faith with the very best of intentions will still find any of their pre-existing inclinations ‘validated’ by a review of the authorities—at least if they look hard enough.

Legal formalism or realism?

It is clear that there is a clash between irreconcilable theories of judicial decision-making. The legalistic, positivist view publicly embraced time and again by members of the High Court is that their decisions are based on rules: rules entrenched in the Constitution by the framers, rules proclaimed in statute by Parliament, and rules carefully crafted over decades by previous courts (precedent). 

The critical realist view is that the ‘rules’ (and the ‘facts’ that they’re applied to) are so inherently manipulable that nearly any result can be announced and made to look plausible.  Thus, a realist view of High Court decision-making would posit that other factors drive actual results.  These factors might involve the personal moral and political views of the judges and their background characteristics, an implicit deference to public opinion, a reluctance to disturb established institutions and the status quo, and many more. At an abstract level, no resolution between the competing theories is possible unless one is shown to be logically self-contradictory—and neither has been.

Empirical study

However, the use of empirical data can be valuable in lending credence or doubt to an abstract theory.  A recent research project conducted by the author tested the realist model of judicial decision-making by positing a particular non-rules-based factor that could drive decisions in constitutional cases. 


The hypothesis tested was whether a single factor (whether or not the Commonwealth is a party) was enough, standing alone, to reliably predict the outcome of a constitutional law case in Australia. 

If the hypothesis was found to be validated, that could be an important indicator that the elaborate doctrinal structure of Australian constitutional law has little actual impact on decisions.  Instead of ‘the rule of law’, the primary tenet of constitutional law could become ‘the Commonwealth (almost) always wins’. 

On the other hand, if the hypothesis failed substantially, that could indicate that perhaps more weight should be given to the legalist view that neutral rules, objectively applied, determine outcomes.


The research looked at all High Court cases from the years 2000 to 2020 (inclusive). Through a set of objective binary decisions, this set of cases was narrowed by excluding:

  1. Cases that did not have a constitutional element; and
  2. From what remained any cases in which the Commonwealth was not a party.

The final set of cases which involved constitutional law and which the Commonwealth was a party was then examined to decide whether the Commonwealth prevailed. 


The research finding was that the Commonwealth prevailed in 79 per cent of these cases. 

If this finding is correct and validated with subsequent empirical research, the fact that the Commonwealth wins four out of every five constitutional cases requires explanation.

The results obviously are not the result of mere random chance, which could only exist if the outcome was closer to 50-50. 

Potential explanations

Nonetheless, correlation is not causation, and multiple ways to account for the observed effect exist.

Lawyer quality

One initially plausible explanation for the disparity in results is that parties litigating against the Commonwealth are simply finding themselves out-lawyered by the expert lawyers and experienced advocates in the Solicitor-General’s office. However, State governments also maintain experienced experts in constitutional law, and the High Court bar in this area is a small but select group of ‘repeat player’ barristers. 


Another explanation that might be proffered is that the Commonwealth has (quite literally) unmatchable financial resources for litigation—could it just be outlasting its adversaries? This explanation might make sense in some types of cases in other areas (such as environmental law), but constitutional law cases are generally decided on agreed statements of facts and by parties with sufficient resources to stay the course. 

The Constitution

Perhaps the Commonwealth usually wins just because that’s how the Constitution was drafted? Although there were clear defects in the drafting of the Australian Constitution, it is clear that it was intended and structured to create a federal system in which the national government had a limited set of enumerated powers—the dramatic growth of Commonwealth legislative and executive power at the expense of the states over the past century was certainly not by design. Interpreting powers broadly and limitations narrowly was not an inevitable outcome but a deliberate choice by the High Court, and it is begging the question to explain that the Commonwealth usually wins High Court cases by stating that is due to the Commonwealth having usually won High Court cases.

Legal realism

A legal realist explanation for the empirical observation that the Commonwealth wins four out of every five constitutional law cases would likely centre around the most common characteristics of the members of the High Court. There is no national merits selection test to become a High Court justice; appointment is purely at the discretion of the Commonwealth executive.

Historically, and still today, most individuals appointed to the High Court are white, from upper middle-class backgrounds, attended a prestigious (usually private) high school in a capital city, attended a Group of Eight university, and then went onto a successful career in private legal practice for a well-connected law firm.[3] Not every member of the High Court has held each of these typical characteristics, of course, but enough have that the members tend to share a general worldview and set of personal values that are inevitably reflected in the decisions they reach. 

The argument would be that High Court justices are, by virtue of their background and selection, establishmentarian institutionalists. They have found enormous personal and career success working within the establishment, believe they have reached their present position through merit, and are acculturated to a conservative institution known for its preservation of tradition and the status quo. High Court justices would probably not have been selected for the position if they were openly sceptical of the ever-expanding scope of Commonwealth legislative and executive power, repeatedly found against the Commonwealth as a lower court judge, or were perceived by the executive as a (potentially hostile) ‘outsider’ to the system—whatever their ‘merit’ as a lawyer, legal scholar, or judge. 

In essence, to become a High Court justice means having been well-liked and well-regarded within a particular system, with the unsurprising result that one usually supports that system against constitutional attack from outside. Building on the legalist analogy, if judges are mere referees, they are referees chosen solely at the discretion of a single team in the league, and we perhaps therefore should not be surprised that their on-the-field rulings tend to favour that team.


If legal realism as an explanatory theory better explains and predicts High Court decision-making in constitutional cases, this has major implications for how we teach about the constitution in law schools, how we advise clients on the likelihood of success or failure in contemplated claims, and how we theorise the importance (or lack thereof) of the elaborate doctrinal framework of constitutional law. Perhaps, if nothing else, we should learn that understanding the formal rules of the game may be of little benefit in predicting who will ultimately win it.

This post contained extracts from the full version of Jeremy’s research, which can be found on the Social Science Research Network.

Read more: Legal Realism and Australian Constitutional Law (SSRN)

[1] See, eg, George Williams et al, Blackshield and Williams Australian Constitutional Law and Theory: Commentary and Materials (Federation Press, 7th ed, 2018) 170 (describing the ‘triumph of legalism’ in High Court jurisprudence ever since the Engineers’ Case).

[2] Owen Dixon, ‘Address upon taking the oath of office in Sydney as Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia on 21st April’ (1952) 85 CLR xi.

[3] See, eg, Harry Hobbs, ‘Finding a Fair Reflection on the High Court of Australia’ (2015) 40(1) Alternative Law Journal 13.

Save the Date: Military Domestic Engagement in Asia-Pacific Webinar

The Philippine Political Science Association and International Society for Military Law and the Law of War (supported by the European Research Group on Military and Society) are hosting a Zoom webinar on Monday 8 November 2021 at 10 AM Central European Time (5 PM Taipei Time, 6 PM Tokyo Time).

This webinar will focus on legal regimes in the Asia-Pacific region that support the deployment of armed forces for domestic purposes (military call-out powers), such as natural disasters and counter-terrorist activities. Domestic deployment of the military raises a number of legal, policy and human rights issues, topics which will be discussed by experienced civil and military participants from Australia, Indonesia, Japan, Philippines, and Thailand. USQ School of Law and Justice academic, Professor Pauline Collins, is a confirmed speaker.

Further information and registration details are in the flyer below. Closer to the date of the webinar, another flyer will be available with all the confirmed speakers.


The Triumph of Parliament over Absolute Monarchy

Author: Riley Wilkes (USQ JD Student)

Unsurprisingly, Australia’s array of civil and institutional rights has been inherited largely from our English legacy. The same goes for many common law jurisdictions and Western democracies around the world. As ever, the history is complex but interesting.

The 1686 case of Godden v Hales has played a pivotal role in the development of many privileges enjoyed by citizens of western democracies today. To understand the origins of the case, we must consider the power struggles between the autocratic-ruling early Stuart monarchs and their respective Parliaments. These frictions took place in the context of broader religious conflict and came to a head with a constitutional crisis.

Godden v Hales focused on the central contention of this crisis: who has supremacy between the Crown and the Parliament? Its finding in favour of the Crown and subsequent continuance of autocratic rule led to the Glorious Revolution. Through this event, the English Bill of Rights was created, from which our modern systems of government are derived.

Relevance to the Modern Period

In modern Australia, we enjoy many privileges which are taken for granted. The concepts of ‘rule of law’ and ‘separation of powers’ mean very little to the lay person but have an enormous impact on the rights of citizens. For example, parliamentary privilege enables the Australian Parliament to serve its citizens and carry out its functions unhindered by the threat of legal intervention.[1]

These principles, among others, are rooted in the English Bill of Rights 1689. This Bill was the first of its kind and a precursor to the celebrated Bill of Rights 1789 of the United States and has shaped many similar pieces of legislation around the world.[2] It is the foundation of the institutions which prevent autocratic rule in modern democracies.

Unlike most other liberal democracies, Australia does not have its own Bill of Rights, but the original English statute remains in force in Queensland through the Imperial Acts Interpretation Act 1984 (Qld) and other States through similar respective legislation.[3] These principles are widespread today, but how did they come to be? And how does Godden v Hales come into it?

Historical Context

Before we delve into the issues of the case which have asserted its place in the history of common law, let us understand the world in which it took place. In England and its peripheries, the seventeenth century was beset with instances of families, factions, monarchies and legal and religious institutions vying for power. Many of these struggles were part of — if not centred on — the tension between the Catholic and Anglican Churches with roots dating back to the Reformation under Henry VIII.[4] This religious tension often contributed to the power struggles between the Parliament and the King which plagued the reigns of the early Stuart monarchs throughout the seventeenth century. 

James I and Charles I (1603–1649)

James I and Charles I believed in the divine right of Kings and often clashed with England’s Parliament, which asserted its power in governance much more forcefully than in Scotland, where James was used to ruling. Accordingly, these monarchs seldom summoned the Parliament, except when they desperately needed it to grant funds, which were often not provided.

By this time, England was very much a Protestant kingdom and Charles’ marriage to a Catholic French princess caused controversy.[5] This, along with his autocratic use of prerogative powers to obtain finances, unsuccessful military campaigns and attempt to control religious practices throughout the Kingdoms, precipitated the English Civil War fought between Parliamentarians and Royalists.

The Wars of the Three Kingdoms, which included the English Civil War culminated in Parliamentarian victory, the trial and execution of Charles I, the overhaul of the monarchy and establishment of the Commonwealth of England. This system soon failed however and Charles II (son of Charles I) was reinstated on the throne, agreeing to work in cooperation with the new Parliament.[6]

Charles II and James II (1660-1688)

Portrait of Charles II and James II

Charles II was a more diplomatic ruler who intended to implement religious tolerance, but the new Royalist Parliament was intent on suppressing Catholics and punishing Puritans (who fought against the Royalists in the civil war and were in power during the Interregnum).[7] It passed a series of statutes aimed at suppressing Catholics and non-conformist Protestants, called the Clarendon Code.

Though Charles II attempted to eschew Parliament’s strict measures, pressure from the Parliament and conservative Anglicans was too great. The Parliament implemented the Test Acts of 1673 and 1678 which excluded Catholics and Recusants from public office, including military officers and members of Parliament.[8]

Around this time, there was increasing paranoia towards Roman Catholicism. Events of the previous century set fear into the minds of English Protestants, including the punitive anti-Protestant reign of Mary I, the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in France, the Spanish Armada attack, the Gunpowder Plot and the Irish Rebellion of 1641.[9] Anyone seen to have links to Catholicism was viewed with suspicion.

This somewhat overshadowed Charles II throughout his reign for several reasons: his views on religious tolerance, having a Catholic mother, and having spent 12 years in exile in Spain and France. It is even suggested that he secretly negotiated with King Louis XIV of France to receive annual payments in exchange for eventually converting to Catholicism![10] This was nothing compared to the next King however — his brother James II.

Now, one would tend to think that, having been witness to his father’s overthrow and destruction on account of his clashes with Parliament, James II might have done more to acquiesce to the Lords who reinstalled his family on the throne. This was not the case. As young heirs to great monarchies tend to do, he felt entitled to do as he pleased, learning little from the problems of his father’s reign and even exacerbating them on his own.

Charles II may have been a ‘closet Catholic’ but James II openly converted to Catholicism, disregarding the affront caused to the Church of England and largely Protestant population.[11] He was an abrasive absolutist who made no apology for the actions he took, including re-establishing the Court of Ecclesiastical Commission.[12]

In 1685, an unsuccessful attempt at usurping the throne by his Protestant nephew, the Duke of Monmouth (the illegitimate son of Charles II) saw James II assemble forces and appoint Catholic officers within his army, overriding the Test Acts in the process. The Rebellion was quickly quashed and the subsequent Bloody Assizes, overseen by Baron Jeffreys, set an example for what any prospective traitors could expect.

Despite the threat having ceased, James II declared that he would not dissolve his army and, furthermore, that he would not dismiss his Catholic officers, despite Parliament’s requests for him to do so.[13] The King deemed that he held the power to dispense with a law in individual cases and even suspend them altogether. This issue was argued in the case of Godden v Hales.

Godden v Hales (1686)

Sir Edward Hales was one of the Catholic officers who was commissioned by the King to fight the Monmouth Rebellion. His footman, Arthur Godden, brought an action against Hales in the King’s Bench on the authority of the Test Acts, motivated by the reward of £500 to informers.[14] The case took place in 1686 and was presided over by: Sir Edward Herbert, Chief Justice; Sir Francis Wythens, Justice; Sir Richard Holloway, Justice; Sir Robert Wright, Justice; Sir Robert Sawyer, Attorney General; and Sir Thomas Powis, Solicitor General.[15]  

The First Test Act stated that ‘[A]ll that do refuse to take the said oaths and sacrament in the said courts and places … shall be ipso facto adjudged incapable and disabled in law … to have … the same office or offices.’[16] Hales argued that the colonelcy was granted to him by a royal warrant ‘dispensing [him] from taking the Oaths of Allegiance and Supremacy etc. required by various Acts of Parliament’.[17] Mr Northey, the counsel for the Plaintiff, argued on the precedent of cases relating to simony and that the disability to hold offices enacted in the First Test Act could not be waived by royal dispensation.

Importantly, six of the 12 judges were dismissed by the Crown prior to the trial for not promising to support the dispensing power.[18] Unsurprisingly therefore, the judges found in favour of Hales:

[A]ll the Judges (except Street and Powell, Justices, who doubted) were of opinion, that the Kings of England were absolute Sovereigns; that the laws were the King’s laws; that the King had a power to dispense with any of the laws of Government as he saw necessity for it; that he was sole judge of that necessity; that no Act of Parliament could take away that power; that this was such a law.[19] 

Godden v Hales


Bill of Rights 1689

King James apparently saw this as a green light to do as he pleased, putting Catholics and dissenters in many important positions, suspending the Clarendon Code, issuing a Declaration of Indulgence (1687) which promoted religious tolerance, and manipulating the Parliament by modifying electorates.[20] The birth of a Catholic son generated fears that a Catholic dynasty would eventuate and, before long, there were signs of dissent in the Kingdom. Seven bishops (including the Archbishop of Canterbury!) who had been imprisoned for questioning the King’s prerogative powers were acquitted by a jury.[21]

Just prior to the birth of the Catholic Prince, seven noblemen invited William of Orange, the Protestant nephew and son-in-law of James, to usurp the English Crown. Heeding this threat, James attempted to renege on many of his reforms, but it was too late: William landed with an army and James fled with his family, resulting in the Glorious Revolution.[22]

The new Parliament met in 1689 and set about resolving the issues of the past century. Notably, the Toleration Act repealed many of the regulations of the Clarendon Code;[23] and the Bill of Rights (fully: An Act Declaring the Rights and Liberties of the Subject and Settling the Succession of the Crown) established the doctrine of the rule of law in England which continues to reverberate throughout the legal systems of common law countries around the world. It, among other things:

  • confirmed the supremacy of Parliament over the Crown;
  • prohibited the dispensing with or suspending of laws without Parliamentary approval;
  • mandated free elections and freedom of speech within Parliament;
  • declared that Parliament had to meet frequently;
  • prohibited excessive bail, excessive fines and cruel and unusual punishment.[24]

From the summary of events provided above, we can see how the 1686 case of Godden v Hales has played a substantial role in the development of many privileges enjoyed by citizens of western democracies today. The reigns of James I through to James II demonstrate the attempts at autocratic rule and flouting of the Parliament by the respective monarchs. The results were wars, power struggles and revolutions, imbedded with religious antagonism.

Godden v Hales highlights the tensions between Crown and Parliament and can be seen as a test (albeit a rigged one) in determining which would prevail. The outcome of its finding — unrestrained ruling by James II and the subsequent backlash — resulted in the Glorious Revolution and creation of the Bill of Rights, which continues to resonate into the modern period.

We, as Australians today, enjoy freedoms that were founded in that Bill, on the other side of the world and before our nation was even colonised. Despite this, there exists concern about the lack of tangible protections of our rights and a significant movement calling for the creation of a codified Australian Bill of Rights.

I would invite readers to do their own research and give their opinion on whether Australia needs to create its own human rights legislation. Here, you can view the most recent attempt at establishing such legislation —  the Bill of Rights Bill 2019, tabled by the independent federal Member for Clarke, Andrew Wilkie.[25]

[1] ‘Parliamentary Privilege’, Parliament of Australia (Infosheet, March 2020) <>.

[2] ‘English Bill of Rights’, (Web Page, 26 February 2020) <>.

[3] Imperial Acts Interpretation Act 1984 (Qld) sch 1.

[4] ‘Christianity in Britain’, BBC (Web Page, 27 April 2011) <>.

[5] Carolyn A Edie, ‘Tactics and Strategies: Parliament’s Attack upon the Royal Dispensing Power 1597–1689’ (1985) 29(3) American Journal of Legal History 197, 215.

[6] Ibid 216.

[7] Ibid 216–7.

[8] Dennis Dixon, ‘Godden v Hales revisited – James II and the dispensing power’ (2006) 27(3) The Journal of Legal History 129, 136–7.

[9] Lachlan Malone, ‘Hellish Enfleshment: Embodying Anti-Catholicism in Early Modern English Culture’ (PhD Thesis, University of Southern Queensland, 2015) 7, 10, 14, 53.

[10] Edie (n 5) 220–1.

[11] Ibid 226.

[12] Ibid 233.

[13] Dixon (n 8) 151.

[14] Ibid 137.

[15] Godden v Hales (1686) 2 Show KB 475; 89 ER 1050.

[16] Test Act 1673, 25 Car 2, c 2, s 4 quoted in Dixon (n 8) 143.

[17] Calendar of State Papers Preserved in the Public Record Office, Domestic Series, James II, vol 2, Jan 1686-May 1687, London, 1964, entry 111 quoted in Dixon (n 8) 137.

[18] Dixon (n 8) 138.

[19] Godden v Hales (1686) 2 Show KB 475, 478; 89 ER 1050, 1051.

[20] Edie (n 5) 209.

[21] Ibid 228–9.

[22] Ibid 230.

[23] Ibid.

[24] ‘English Bill of Rights’ (n 2).

[25] Australian Bill of Rights Bill 2019 (Cth).

The Strange Fruit of Semayne’s Case: No-Knock Warrants

Author: Matthew Schleehauf (USQ JD student)


The shocking events of 2020 have shed a powerful light on the overreaching powers of police to interfere with the lives of the common people. The notoriously well-known example of George Floyd and the call to arms — ‘I can’t breathe’ — not only shone a light on police brutality and racism, but also on the police’s overreaching powers. The US Congress recently debated the issue of police powers and passed a new piece of legislation in the Senate known as the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020[1] (‘George Floyd Act’), one of the aims of which is to ban the ‘no-knock warrant’, an ability which previously allowed law enforcement officers to break into a person’s home without warning or notice. Join me as we explore together the history of the no-knock warrant,[2] going as far back as 17th century England with the landmark decision in Semayne v Gresham (‘Semayne’s Case’),[3] which set the foundation of a person’s right to call their home their castle, thereby limiting the power of authorities to gain entry.  This historical case will then be examined to establish its effect on modern legal principles in Australia and how it continues to shape the law in the common law world.

Semayne’s Case

Our story starts in 17th century England, the year 1604, the landmark decision of Semayne’s Case has just been laid down in the Court of the King’s Bench in favour of the defendant, Mr Richard Gresham, upholding his right to refuse entry to his house to law enforcement.[4]

‘The house of every one is his castle…’[5]

Sir Edward Coke in Semayne’s Case

Richard Gresham was a joint tenant of a house in Blackfriars, London, with George Berisford in the late 16th century.[6]  George Berisford owned items at the time which were inside the house.[7] Upon George Berisford’s death, the possession of the items, which remained in the house, were transferred over to the defendant through survivorship.[8] The plaintiff, Peter Semayne, obtained a writ of extent, a document allowing him to seize all of George Berisford’s items to settle a debt owed to him by Berisford at the time of his death.[9] Semayne delivered the writ to the sheriffs of London, who agreed to carry out the requirements of the writ and attend the place where Berisford’s items were held and seize them for Semayne.[10] Upon arrival at Richard Gresham’s house, the defendant prevented the sheriff from accessing the house by closing the door, thereby preventing the plaintiff from recovering the debt.[11] The decision of the King’s Bench explored situations when a person could lawfully prevent the King’s men (the sheriff) from entering their home.[12]

The King’s Bench examined the difference primarily from a criminal and civil point of view[13] given its jurisdiction included, after the 15th century, matters involving non-payment of debt.[14]  The Court found that in all cases where the King is a party, such as that of criminal matters, then the sheriff (or King’s person) has the authority to break a person’s door in order to undertake the arrest or the King’s process.[15] The Court, however, added a qualification that ‘before he breaks it [the door], he ought to signify the cause of his coming, and to make request to open doors’.[16] The Court weighed up the impasse and inconvenience the breaking of the door would cause to the person, as well as the fact that the person could be arrested elsewhere rather than in the safety of their own home.[17] The Court, however, concluded that if there was a suspicion of a felony, then the King’s officer may break the house, after notice is given, to apprehend the felon for two reasons: first, that it is the role of the Commonwealth to apprehend felons; and secondly, that the privilege bestowed upon persons that they have liberty inside their house does not hold against the King.[18] Furthermore, the Court found that in all cases (criminal or civil) if the door is open, then the sheriff may enter the house.[19]

The Court took a very different approach with that of civil cases, such as that of Semayne’s Case, where the King was not a party to the case. The Court held that the house of every one is his castle[20] and that for a common person to break the house to execute a process would be of great inconvenience, in addition to a loss of liberty to the person whose house had been broken.[21] It was therefore found that a sheriff may not break into a person’s house in the execution of a civil matter, even after a request or notice of entry was made (although see matters involving protection not being extended to third parties and real action where this rule does not apply).[22] Furthermore, the Court even said that if the sheriff did break the house then this could constitute trespass on the part of the sheriff.[23] The Court therefore found that the defendant in this case was within his legal rights to shut the door to the sheriff and the sheriff had no right to break the door of Mr Gresham’s castle.[24]

The Broader Historical Context of Semayne’s Case

Semayne’s Case[25] established this precedent of the knock and announce principle which had a profound effect on historical English and American cases. For example, the 1757 English case of Richard Curtis confirmed that the knock and announce principle did also apply to criminal matters, allowing the sheriff to break open doors only after giving notice of the warrant allowing them to do so.[26] The Fourth Amendment to the American Constitution also highlights the historical importance of Semayne’s Case:[27] the amendment required police officers to announce their purpose prior to breaking into an individual’s home.[28] An example which discussed this amendment was Miller v United States[29] in 1958 which also confirmed in the common law that a police officer was required to comply with the knock and announce principle, solidifying Semayne’s Case in American law.[30] Later cases, such as Ker v California[31]in 1963, appear to have relaxed this rule establishing exceptions to when police can break into a premises without notice, such as when there is a risk of evidence being destroyed.[32] This led to the US Government enacting laws in 1970 legalising the ‘no knock warrant’ in certain cases,[33] which lead to controversial and disastrous occurrences of violence during such cases.[34] As a result, the American Government repealed the legislation in 1974.[35]

Modern Application of Semayne’s Case

Semayne’s Case has also had a profound effect on the Australian legal system. The case of Gardiner v Marinov[36] is a prime example. The appellant in this case, Gardiner, was ordered to pay costs by the court for a previous matter.[37] Gardiner did not pay within the stipulated period, resulting in a warrant of distress being issued to seize her goods to satisfy the debt.[38] A bailiff attended her property and attempted to enter when Gardiner refused entry.[39] The bailiff requested police assistance who attended the property and entered her premises with the bailiff.[40] Gardiner sued for trespass.[41] Citing Semayne’s Case,[42] the Court found that because this was a civil matter, it did not permit the police or the bailiff to enter the premises as entry was not authorised by the occupant.[43] As such, this case reaffirmed the role of Semayne’s Case and the knock and announce principle in Australia.


In conclusion, Semayne’s Case still stands as the leading common law authority regulating entry into a person’s home with it not only applying to Australian jurisdictions but, as explored above, still having a profound effect on other jurisdictions such as the United States. Now that you are armed with this knowledge, I implore you to go forth and learn about the George Floyd Act[44] and whether the principles in this Act can be applied to the Australian jurisdiction to curb the powers of police.

[1] George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020, HR 7120, 116th Congress (2020) (‘George Floyd Act’).

[2] Todd Witten, ‘Wilson v Arkansas: Thirty Years after Ker the Supreme Court Addresses the Knock and Announce Issue’ (1996) 29(2) Akron Law Review 447, 449–50, citing Semayne v Gresham (1604) 5 Co Rep 91; 77 ER 194, 194–95.

[3] Semayne v Gresham (1604) 5 Co Rep 91; 77 ER 194 (‘Semayne’s Case’).

[4] Ibid 199.

[5] Ibid 194.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid 194–5.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid 194.

[13] Note, ‘Right of Sheriff to Break and Enter Outer Door to Execute Process in Virginia’ (1933–1934) 20(5) Virginia Law Review 592, 596–7 (‘Virginia Law Review’).

[14] Prue Vines, Law and Justice in Australia: Foundations of the Legal System (Oxford University Press, 3rd ed, 2013) 70–1.

[15] Semayne’s Case (n 3) 195–6.

[16] Ibid 195.

[17] Ibid 198.

[18] Ibid 197.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid 194.

[21] Ibid 198.

[22] Ibid 194, 199. Also see Virginia Law Review (n 13) 598–99.

[23] Semayne’s Case (n 3) 198.

[24] Ibid 199.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Witten (n 2) 450, citing Curtis’s Case (1757) 168 ER 67.

[27] Semayne’s Case (n 3).

[28] Witten (n 2) 452, citing Ker v California, 374 US 23, 49 (1963).

[29] Miller v United States, 357 US 301(1958).

[30] Witten (n 2) 452, citing Miller v United States, 357 US 301, 313 (1958). Also see Robert J Driscoll, ‘Unannounced Police Entries and Destruction of Evidence after Wilson v Arkansas’ (1995) 29(1) Columbia Journal of Law and Social Problems 1, 16, citing Miller v United States, 357 US 301 (1958).

[31] Ker v California, 374 US 23 (1963).

[32] Driscoll (n 30) 16, citing Miller v United States, 357 US 301 (1958).

[33] Witten (n 2) 456, citing Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970, HR 18583, 91st Congress (1970).

[34] Witten (n 2) 456–57, citing Charles P Garcia, ‘The Knock and Announce Rule: A New Approach to the Destruction of Evidence Exception’ (1993) 93(3) Columbia Law Review 685, 705. Also see Driscoll (n 30) 1–3.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Gardiner v Marinov (1998) 7 NTLR 181.

[37] Ibid 181.

[38] Ibid 183.

[39] Ibid 184.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Ibid 181.

[42] Ibid 189–90, citing Semayne v Gresham (1604) 5 Co Rep 91; 77 ER 194, 197–98.

[43] Ibid 189–91.

[44] George Floyd Act (n 1).