Sir Harry Gibbs was Chief Justice for nearly six years.
Sir Harry Gibbs was Chief Justice for nearly six years. Image by Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS

Supposed ex-Chief Justice letter is ‘made up drivel’

David Williams December 21, 2022
WHAT WAS CLAIMED

The late former Chief Justice Sir Harry Gibbs wrote a letter claiming Australia's legal and political system has no basis in law.

OUR VERDICT

False. Friends of Sir Harry and legal experts familiar with his work say the letter is a clear fake.

A so-called legal advocacy group claims to have come across a letter which should send shock waves through Australia’s legal and political institutions.

Mike Palmer, from Know Your Rights Group, said the letter was penned by the former Chief Justice Sir Harry Gibbs prior to his death in 2005.

In it, Mr Palmer claims that Sir Harry concluded the entire legal and political system in Australia “has no basis in law”.

But the letter is a fake. Friends of Sir Harry and legal experts say it is without doubt a clear fabrication.

The letter is cited by Mr Palmer during a Facebook video in which he hits back at fact-checkers for calling out various claims in previous videos such as here, here, here, here, here and here.

“I would urge you to grab the letter, the explanatory statement that we have from ex-Chief Justice Sir Harry Gibbs,” Mr Palmer says in the video while holding a piece of paper up to the camera (video mark 1min 35 sec).

“Have a look at that letter. Now it’s very important because he actually states categorically here on page three ÔǪ ‘I therefore have come to the conclusion that the current legal and political system in use in Australia and its states and territories has no basis in law’.

Fake letter
 There letter is a clear fake according to experts. 

“It’s going to be very interesting to see how the fact-checkers argue with an ex-Chief Justice of the High Court.”

Dr Helen Sims, custodian of the Sir Harry Gibbs legal history collection at the Supreme Court Library in Queensland, told AAP FactCheck she had never seen the letter or even been made aware of its existence.

Dr Sims added: “I can say that my personal experience of reading his correspondence, speeches, legal opinions, personal writings etc. do not in any way support the idea that he would write material such as that, use the style of language it contains or express the ideas it espouses.”

David Jackson AM KC, a former associate of Sir Harry and the only person other than his immediate family to attend his funeral in 2005, told AAP FactCheck the letter is “a complete fabrication”.

“I don’t recognise any Gibbs in any of this stuff. I think it is made up drivel,” he said in an email.

Former Justice of the High Court Michael Kirby, who knew Sir Harry, told AAP FactCheck: “It does not sound like the authentic voice of the Bill Gibbs [as Sir Harry was known to friends] whom I knew.”

Michael Kirby and Malcolm Turnbull
 Former High Court judge Michael Kirby (right) agreed the letter was a fake. 

Professor Anne Twomey, an expert in constitutional law, said it was clear that the letter had been written by someone with no legal training.

“Sir Harry Gibbs was a lawyer,” she said in an email. “He knew how to cite statutes. He would never, for example, refer to ‘paragraph 4 of the Statute of Westminster’ or ‘paragraph 1 of the Australia Act’. This is a dead giveaway that the statement was written by someone with no legal training. Further, whoever wrote it clearly has no understanding of international law and its relationship with domestic law. Sir Harry, in contrast, was well versed in such matters.

“The statement pursues the ‘Treaty of Versailles’ conspiracy theory which has been run by conspiracy groups since the 1990s. It has been rejected by High Court Justices and in other courts on numerous occasions, including by Justice Hayne in Helljay Investments Pty Ltd v Deputy Commissioner of Taxation [1999] HCA 56 and by Justice Gummow in McKewins Hairdressing and Beauty Supplies Pty Ltd v Deputy Commissioner of Taxation [2000] HCA 27.”

Prof Twomey continued: “The statement is poorly written, riddled with legal errors and towards the end is completely incoherent. It is obvious that it was not written by Sir Harry Gibbs. It is appalling ÔǪ that someone is attributing such a document to him. They should be ashamed of themselves.”

The letter has appeared on several websites which make conspiratorial-style claims regarding the law such as here, here and here.

The earliest version of the letter AAP FactCheck came across is not actually attributed to Sir Harry. It is instead attributed to an unnamed supposed “former member of the High Court”.

That version of the letter appears below a subheading: “Summary of article by David Siminton, Principality of Camside, July 1, 2004”. 

Mr Siminton, a self-styled “governor” of the “Principality of Camside”,  set up his own bank and considered Camside the only legal government of Australia.

Sir Harry Gibbs, who died in 2005, was Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia from 1981-1987, a founding member of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy, and a founding president of the Samuel Griffith Society. He was well-known for defending the virtues of the present Australian Constitution.

His articles, major works and speeches can be accessed here

The Verdict

The claim that the late former Chief Justice Sir Harry Gibbs wrote a letter challenging the legality of the Australian legal system is false.

The letter is a fake. There is no evidence of its existence in official archives, and former colleagues and friends of Sir Harry say the content neither reflects his well-known views nor his style of writing.

False ÔÇô The claim is inaccurate.

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