High Court Split?

A SELF-styled Muslim cleric accused of sending offensive letters to the families of slain Australian soldiers has lost a High Court bid to have the charges against him quashed.

Man Haron Monis, also known as Sheik Haron, was charged in 2011 with 12 counts of using a postal service in a way that a reasonable person would consider menacing, harassing or offensive.

He allegedly sent letters – and in one case a recorded message – to the relatives of several diggers killed in action in Afghanistan and the mother of an Austrade official killed in the bombing of a hotel in Indonesia. His co-accused, Amirah Droudis faces eight counts of aiding an abetting Mr Monis.

The letters allegedly began by offering condolences to the families, before launching into an “intemperate and extravagant” criticism if Australia’s involvement in Afghanistan. They also allegedly insulted the dead soldiers.

Lawyers for the pair argued the charges infringed on their constitutional right to free political communication.

Whilst the six High Court judges hearing the case unanimously agreed that the section of the Criminal Code under which the pair were charged restricts political communication, the bench was split in whether the section of the act was valid and justified.

Three High Court judges – Susan Crennan, Susan Keifel and Virginia Bell – called for the appeals to be dismissed on the grounds that the section of the act protects against the misuse of the postal service to deliver seriously offensive material into a person’s home.

In their joint jugement they noted that communications restricted by the act “are limited to those which are of a seriously offensive nature”.

“This does not suggest an effect upon the freedom which could be regarded as extensive. It does not prevent communications of a political nature which do not convey such offensive material,” they said.

But in separate judgments the three other High Court judges hearing the case – Chief Justice Robert French, Kenneth Hayne, Dyson Heydon – wanted to allow the appeals, arguing the section of the act was invalid.

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