Russell Smyth - What Determines the Institutional Legitimacy of the High Court of Australia

Russell Smyth - What Determines the Institutional Legitimacy of the High Court of Australia
Judicial legitimacy is fundamental to ensuring public acceptance of courts’ decisions when judges have no electoral mandate. Yet, in Australia, we know very little about the legitimacy of the courts in the eyes of the general public or the factors associated with judicial legitimacy. Drawing on a survey of a representative sample of Australian adults, we address the question: What is the level of legitimacy of, or diffuse support for, the High Court of Australia among the Australian public and what factors are correlated with the legitimacy of the Court? Our findings suggest that judicial legitimacy in Australia is mainly dependent upon people’s commitment to structural democracy and democratic institutions. Consistent with previous studies for the United States Supreme Court, we find that Australians’ loyalty to the High Court is not dependent on ideological commitment, for example, to ideas of tolerance or individual liberty. Instead, diffuse support for the High Court is based, primarily, on people’s level of confidence in national institutions more broadly, on their level of support for notions of the rule of law and on their commitment to the multi-party political system.


About the presenter:

Russell Smyth is Deputy Dean (Academic Resourcing) in the Monash Business School. He does empirical work at the interface of economics, law and political science on courts and judicial behaviour, primarily focusing on Australia and New Zealand. His previous research has tested several theories developed in the US political science literature using Australasian data, including,  inter alia, using citations to measure judicial reputation, whether judges experience a 'freshman effect', party capability theory, the attitudinal model of decision making, judicial promotion and retirement and  how judges allocate their time. His current research projects focus on public awareness, and perceptions, of the High Court of Australia and using machine learning to predict how judges will decide cases based on their emotional responses to argument in Court. 



Date & time

Thu 30 May 2019, 12–2pm


LJ Hume Centre, Copland Building, ANU


Russell Smyth


Feodor Snagovsky


Updated:  16 May 2019/Responsible Officer:  Head of School/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications