Coe v Commonwealth [1979] HCA 68

ON THIS DAY IN 1979, the High Court of Australia delivered Coe v Commonwealth [1979] HCA 68; (1979) 53 ALJR 403; (1979) 24 ALR 118.  The appellant, Paul Coe, was unsuccessful in his appeal for leave to amend a statement of claim in proceedings seeking declarations and orders on behalf of the aboriginal community that Australia had not been validly occupied under the doctrine of terra nullius.

Gibbs J said: “The question what rights the aboriginal people of this country have, or ought to have, in the lands of Australia is one which has become a matter of heated controversy. If there are serious legal questions to be decided as to the existence or nature of such rights, no doubt the sooner they are decided the better, but the resolution of such questions by the courts will not be assisted by imprecise, emotional or intemperate claims. In this, as in any other litigation, the claimants will be best served if their claims are put before the court dispassionately, lucidly and proper form.”

The legal questions were ultimately decided in the Mabo case in 1992.

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