Last year saw a large increase in the number of High Court rulings decided by a split bench, according to a report that will be presented at the sixth Constitutional Law Conference at UNSW.

An analysis of the High Court's decisions by Dr Andrew Lynch and Professor George Williams from UNSW's Gilbert +Tobin Centre of Public Law, has found that cases in which the justices formally disagreed with each other rose significantly from 35 percent in 2005 to just over 50 percent last year. The Court maintained a rate of more than 20 percent of cases decided unanimously.

"Last year saw the Court return to its far more usual level of disagreement with one in every two cases decided by a split bench," says Dr Lynch. "What is striking though is that individual dissent rates for most justices fell in 2006."

The high number of split decisions must be largely attributed to Justice Kirby whose personal rate of dissenting judgments exceeded even his own record from earlier years. Justice Kirby disagreed with the Court in 48 percent of cases. The next most frequent minority judge was Justice Heydon who dissented in 15 percent of cases. Justice Crennan, serving her first year on the Court, did not dissent even once.

"The fact that the Court does not achieve more unanimity is not such a bad thing. Indeed it may be strongly desirable that different voices are heard," says Dr Lynch. "But, some might regret that disagreement with the majority's approach to legal problems is found so often in the decisions of the same judge."

The 2007 Constitutional Law Conference, organised by the Gilbert +Tobin Centre of Public Law at UNSW, will be held at the Art Gallery of NSW on Friday 16 February. The conference will focus on developments in the High Court and other Australian courts in 2006 and beyond. For the full program of speakers visit the website.

Media Contact: Dr Andrew Lynch, 0402 424 233, Victoria Collins, (02) 9385 3263, 0412 980 044,