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Cuts could confine High Court to Canberra

Australia's most senior judge has taken aim at federal government cut-backs, warning that if there are more cuts, the High Court will be forced to abandon its long-standing tradition of holding hearings across the country.

Like other public institutions, the High Court has been subjected to so-called "efficiency dividends" of 2.25 per cent per year between 2014 and 2017.

Write-downs in the value of the court's buildings and other assets led to the institution finishing the year nearly $5 million in the red, with an actual operating deficit of just under $30,000.

In the High Court annual report, released on Wednesday, Chief Justice Robert French said if the government made any further cuts, the court would be forced to abandon its long-standing practice of holding hearings interstate, instead forcing all those appearing before the court to travel to Canberra.

"The court has undertaken comprehensive reviews of its registry and administrative processes and structures since 2008," Justice French said.


"The position continues to be that there is no material scope to reduce the court's administrative costs without cutting significant elements of its operations including circuit visits which it undertakes from time to time to Perth, Adelaide and Brisbane dependent upon the workload in those capitals."

About two-thirds of all sitting days of the full court are held in Canberra.

The High Court is the highest court in Australia, and decides cases of federal significance including challenges to the validity of laws.

Australian Bar Association vice-president Patrick O'Sullivan​ said it would be "a very retrograde step" if the court were to be fixed in Canberra.

"It would be a very significant matter's important as the highest court in the country to move around on circuit and be seen."