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Inquiry is OK ‘rule of legislation’ use: lawyers

Senior lawyers say an inquiry into a matter can legitimately be seen as exercising the rule of law.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been at pains to say an independent inquiry into Attorney-General Christian Porter would “undermine” the rule of law.

Mr Porter is on mental health leave after revealing he was the person alleged to have raped a woman in Sydney in 1988 when they were both teenagers.

He vehemently denies the claim made by the woman, who died in Adelaide in mid-2020.

There have been calls for an inquiry into the matter, after NSW police confirmed they had dropped the case after the woman withdrew her complaint.

The NSW Bar Association said in a statement on Friday the criminal justice system was “one aspect” of the way the rule of law operates.

“Civil proceedings may occur separately to the criminal process, and usually when the criminal process is exhausted (where there has been conviction or acquittal) or not engaged (where no charges have been laid),” the association said.

“They may be in public or private and they too do not require any person to prove their innocence.

“The rules of procedural fairness apply in such proceedings and the subject has an opportunity to be heard.”

There were also disciplinary processes and executive inquiries with “specific terms of reference setting out the scope of the inquiry”.

“Each of these criminal and civil processes involves the ordinary and lawful use of state authority, and comprises an aspect of the rule of law.”

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