The Spycatcher Case is a significant moment in Australian law. It was Margaret Thatcher’s Government’s attempt to ban the publication of Spycatcher – a memoir by Peter Wright, a retired MI5 agent – in Australia. Beginning in 1985 in the Supreme Court of New South Wales, the trial was surrounded by an international media circus. However, after the appeals in Spycatcher, the judgement of the High Court of Australia in 1988 showed the Mason court at its best in questions of private international law. It developed a general principle relating to when foreign governments could pursue litigation in Australia that integrated a body of existing law with principles of public international law, and it achieved a rare unity on a court that was not known for it.
The seminar will address the important development of Australian – and English – private international law that Spycatcher brought. It will also recount the entertaining trial; the profile it gave to introduce Wright’s lawyer, a young Malcolm Turnbull, for his later public life; and the role in Spycatcher that Australia’s relationship with the United Kingdom, Australia’s place in the Commonwealth and the emerging Australian nationalism of the 1980s had in both the international media circus and the High Court’s statement of the law. And the seminar will consider how it happened that a young, recent law graduate was the person responsible for the statement of law that the High Court adopted in Spycatcher.
For more information, please contact Sarah McKibbin.