Separation of powers

Contributed by StephenShaw and current to 27 July 2018

The division of government into three separate areas with separate powers and responsibilities is known as the doctrine of Separation of Powers. This doctrine has been inherited from the British, as have most other aspects of the Australian legal system. The Separation of Powers ensures that no one branch of government is absolute, so that each branch is constrained to act legally and within its own area. This is a very important safeguard of individual rights.

If the parliament passes a law that is not allowed under the Constitution, and some person who is affected by the law takes the government to the High Court, the High Court will declare the law invalid.

For that reason it is important that the Judiciary, and especially the various judges and magistrates, remain independent and free from political pressure. The Parliamentary and Executive branches of government cannot simply fire or punish judges that make decisions that they dislike, and for that reason judges can concentrate on decisions that are legally correct rather than politically expedient or popular. The doctrine of Separation of Powers, which is deeply ingrained in Australian government and culture, is one of the key elements that protects Australian citizens from authoritarian regimes.

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