High Court Rules Culleton Disqualified from Federal Election: [2017] HCA 4

Friday 3 February 2017 @ 11.50 a.m. | Legal Research

The High Court has today (3 February 2017) unanimously held that Rodney Norman Culleton was incapable of being chosen as a Senator under s44(ii) of the Constitution at the time of the 2016 election. In the case of In the matter of Questions Referred to the Court of Disputed Returns Pursuant to section 376 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (Cth) Concerning Senator Rodney Norman Culleton [2017] HCA 4, the High Court found that Mr Culleton was convicted of a crime and was subject to be sentenced to imprisonment for one year or longer and that this disqualified him from being elected during the Federal election.


On 2 March 2016, New South Wales Armidale Local Court convicted Mr Culleton of the offence of larceny in his absence. He was liable to be sentenced to a maximum term of two years as a result. An order was issued by the Court for the arrest of Mr Culleton in order for him to be properly sentenced. On 16 May 2016, the State of Western Australia issued a writ for the election of 12 Senators to serve in the Senate of the Federal Parliament. Mr Culleton was nominated and on 2 July 2016, and was elected as a Senator.

On 8 August 2016, the warrant for the arrest of Mr Culleton was executed, and the Local Court granted an annulment of Mr Culleton's conviction pursuant to s 8 of the Crimes (Appeal and Review) Act 2001 (NSW). The President of the Senate brought the matter before the High Court on 8 November 2016 to answer the question whether Mr Culleton’s conviction had the effect of disqualifying him from Senate election. The further question of how his vacancy, in the event that he is disqualified, should be filled was also brought before the Court.

High Court

The Court unanimously held that Mr Culleton was disqualified from being elected as a Senator at the time of the Federal election. The Court reasoned that at the time of the election, Mr Culleton was convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment of one or more years within the meaning of section 44 of the Constitution. The subsequent annulment of the conviction had no effect on that state of affairs. Regarding the question of the vacancy, the High Court ordered a special recount of the WA senate vote with details to be determined by a single Justice. 

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