According to the Constitution of the Australian Lithuanian Community, the ‘Court of Honour’ has four functions. They are to:
- Interpret the Constitution,
- Advise on the legality of decisions and actions of Community institutions,
- Adjudicate disputes Community organisations and institutions, and
- Expound principles on matters of honour for Lithuanians.
There have been no questions of Constitutional interpretation put to the Court since the last Federal Council. In fact, there has only been one question of interpretation put to the Court in the last ten years and it was put shortly after the last time Council convened in Melbourne.
It was a question of the meaning of ‘majority’ in the context of voting on resolutions before the Council. The question was considered by the Court and a unanimous determination was provided. That determination was challenged by the applicant on the basis that one of the members of the Court was a member of the Panel that chaired the previous Council and therefore had a conflict of interest in the matter.
While the Court did not accept the conflict of interest argument, the affected member subsequently resigned, the reserve member was appointed, and the Court considered the question again. The reconvened Court came to the same unanimous conclusion as the original Court.
The applicant remained aggrieved and noted his disagreement with the determinations in a report to the following Council.
The Presidium already interprets and applies aspects of the Constitution necessary for the management of Council meetings. An expanded Presidium may be better placed to interpret the Constitution between Councils than a separate body.
There have been no questions of legality of organisational decisions or actions put to the Court since the last Council. There have been none put over the ten years that I have been a member of the Court.
Were the Court to provide advice of a legal nature while not being a qualified and registered (and insured) legal practitioners, the members of the Court would be putting themselves at significant personal risk.
This is arguably not an appropriate function for volunteers in the modern legal climate.
There have been no disputes brought to the Court for arbitration since the last Council. There have been none brought in the last ten years, despite there having been some very public, and at times acrimonious, disputes over that period.
It may be because the Constitution describes the role as being to ‘arbitrate’, that is, to make binding decisions on the parties involved, rather than to ‘mediate’ disputes. More likely, however, it is because the Community has either outgrown the need for a separate body to perform that function or is unwilling to accept the authority of a Federal Council appointed body to perform it.
In relation to one of those public disputes, the Council delegates from an affected local community brought a motion to the Council requesting that the dispute between a local organisation and the relevant national body be resolved by the Council. It was noted by the Council that the parties in dispute had not yet exhausted all the settlement avenues available to them, including seeking the assistance of the Court, and their motion was rejected.
Members of the Court approached representatives of the two organisations involved to offer assistance, but the dispute was never brought to the Court and the fracture between the local community organisation and the relevant national body still persists.
Many Community organisations are incorporated in one form or another and therefore have their own, legally defined, internal dispute resolution procedures. Other organisations that find themselves in dispute are not directly represented at the Federal Council and so have no reason to accept the authority of a Council appointed body to make determinations affecting them.
Whatever the reasons, recent Community history clearly demonstrates that the dispute settlement function of the Court has been redundant for practical purposes for some time.
There have been no questions of honour for Lithuanians brought to the Court since the last Council. There have been no such questions in the last ten years.
I have always assumed that in this context the term ‘honour’ is meant in the sense ‘respectful and respectable behaviour’, but I note that my dictionary includes eleven different definitions of honour when used as a noun and another five when used as a verb. I am not aware of any interpretation being made in relation to the term and hope that the Lithuanian translation provides more specific guidance.
It is more than a little ironic that after a decade as a member of the Court of Honour I find myself reporting that it serves no accepted, practical purpose in the organisational structure of the Australian Lithuanian Community. It’s future should be considered in the context of the current work being undertaken to clarify and modernise the Constitution.
President of the Court of Honour